End of the Spear has Hollywood-production value, but it certainly isn’t like most films that come out of Tinsel Town, and it definitely doesn’t look like most other “Christian” movies out there. End of the Spear, rather, is a gripping, high-quality film that details the true-life events of Nate Saint and his four missionary companions who were speared to death in 1956 by Waodani natives in Ecuador.
Though the world saw the event as a senseless tragedy, the wives of the slain men—including Elisabeth Elliot—saw an opportunity for grace. They, along with Nate Saint’s young son Steve, went on to live with the Waodani people. The families’ forgiveness and love touched the natives, who eventually turned from the life of inner-tribal violence that was rapidly killing off their members. Ultimately Steve Saint embraced Mincaye, the man who killed his father, and to this day they are so close that they consider each other family.
Steve Saint, now 55, talks about End of the Spear (out this week on DVD), making the film with producer Mart Green and some controversy that came along the way.
RELEVANTMagazine.com: Well, how do you think it turned out?
Steve Saint I was surprised when Mart Green, who had heard me and Mincaye speaking at my son Jesse’s graduation, wanted to make this into a movie. That’s how this thing started. Mart Green is a businessman from Oklahoma, and he was in the audience and heard this. He was really hurt from what had happened at Columbine, which was really fresh back then. He thought, “If Steve and Mincaye could not hate one another, what’s that mean for our culture?” He had never even been in a theater in his life, but he started calling around to friends and said, “I just heard a story that needs to be made into a movie.”
He said he wanted to tell the story, and I told him, “You need to ask (the Waodani), not me.” I thought that would be the end of it, but the group of men who were here cleared their calendars, and we went to Ecuador. He asked if they wanted to make a movie of their history. They said no.
I told them about Columbine. They said, “Then we say yes. If (Americans) are living like that, that’s how we used to live. Maybe if we tell the foreigners our story, they will become God-followers and live in peace.” That’s how it started, seven and a half years ago.
RM: What was it like watching the movie for the first time?
SS: I saw different edits all the way along. Frankly, at the beginning, my concern all the way along was, “Guys, this can only be made one time. This is a one-shot deal. This isn’t my story, but I feel a stewardship over it.”
I told Mart, “Let’s not fudge; let’s not hold back.” He wanted to make it for broad audience, and I absolutely agreed.
RM: What do you hope this film about conversion and reconciliation that happened 50 years ago accomplishes today?
SS: I didn’t have expectations; I just had the goal of making it good. My attitude was, let’s jut tell the story and see what God will do with it. I just wanted it to be compelling for Christians and non-Christians.
I think, as Mart said, from a business standpoint, I think this was a single. From a ministry standpoint it was a homerun. I just heard that the pre-release of the DVD has far, far exceeded what the (box office) movie did.
RM: You’ve said in past interviews that you don’t regret keeping Chad Allen in the film after discovering he is a gay activist. How was Chad’s life affected by the film?
SS: Well, you’d have to ask Chad that question. But I can tell you how it affected my life. When Mart came to me first and told me that Chad—who they had picked and given the role of my dad and me to—an open homosexual, my first reaction was “Oh, no, how could this happen?” Then immediately I thought, “I think this is a God thing.” And if I hadn’t thought that, I wouldn’t have participated.
When Mart explained to me, when he first came, I thought someone in his family had died. He looked terrible. After my initial reaction, I thought, “Wait a minute, could this have been missed by God?” Either this was a mistake, or God, through a mysterious way, wanted this.
Mart explained that we had made a contract. The only option we had was for me to ask (Chad) to step down, and I said, “OK, I’ll do that.” Then I thought, what is this story about? It’s about God’s ability to transform people and take a person like Mincaye and make him a God-loving man. I realized God’s changed me, too. That’s what this story is about: God’s ability to reconcile people to himself and each other.
I realized there would be some people who would be angry, and I never expected the rage from some in the Christian community who thought they needed to protect God. But God orchestrated this opportunity. I’ll take the hit here, but I’m going to heaven with a clear conscious. Our ambassadorship is to go to people like the Waodani and tell them that God can make you new. That would be the greatest irony of all, to ask (Chad) to step down. God’s been writing this story.
RM: What do you think of the current state of Christianity in the U.S., particularly among Gen X’ers?
SS: Well contrary to popular opinion, I think the U.S is one of the hardest places in the world to be a God follower. It’s not violence that makes it hard to be a God follower; what I find in my life that makes it hard is all the distractions.
This country has distractions and one other thing really going against it—that we are presumed to be a Christian nation and that we are just to be blessed. I think it’s in peril. I think (faith) is in peril of just being an add-on to all the other things we have in our life.
I’ve been a student of the book long enough to know that when God said to the Israelites in the desert that when they were having rituals, they were just going through the motions. They were carrying the ark as well as the Asherah. God said, “You can’t have me and the other.” I think that certainly we’re flirting with that today.
On the other hand, there are people here in North America that are the most generous, most willing to serve God I’ve ever known. I think Christianity in North America is on the knife-edge of decision. Will we make Christ what we want him to be, or will we truly follow him? What is at risk now is God’s blessing on this country.
RM: What are you doing now?
SS: I haven’t done any business since the Waodani asked me to live when them in 1994. For the past 12 years I’ve either been in Ecuador or traveling back and forth.
My Aunt Rachel lived with the Waodani until 1994. When we got done burying her, my tribal family asked me to live with them again, and I realized they weren’t asking, they were telling. If I didn’t accept their charge, it would jeopardize our relationship. I lived there for a year and a half with my family, and then they said, “We need you to help others like us; how to fly, handle (our) own communication and create an economy.”
I came back to the U.S. and created I-TEC (Indigenous People’s Technology and Education Center, www.itecusa.org). For the past 10 years I’ve worked for Waodani and I-TEC. I’ve spent a third of my time in the jungle, a third in central Florida and a third on the road speaking.
RM: How has life changed for the Waodani?
SS: Probably what you’ll be most surprised to hear is that down in the Waodani territory, it hasn’t changed much. They are still hunter-gathers. There still is no government, no authority structure, no laws.
Beyond that there have been other changes, clothes and the way you can buy things. But to get things you need money, and how do you get money? So the biggest change is their desire to be part of the outside world.