(Above) After the death of his father, a young Steve Saint is comforted by his aunt.


BY RUSTY BENSON | AFA Journal Associate Editor

In an epilogue to the 2005 edition of the best selling Through Gates of Splendor, author Elisabeth Elliot writes that she has sometimes wondered if audiences tire of hearing the true story of five American missionaries — including her former husband Jim Elliot — who were killed by primitive tribesmen in the jungles of Ecuador in 1956. Apparently they do not.

On the 50th anniversary of the historic martyrdom, the remarkable story is the subject of a major motion picture from Every Tribe Entertainment titled End of the Spear. The movie was scheduled for release January 20 on 1,200 screens nationwide.

The movie is based on a new book, also titled End of the Spear, by Steve Saint. Saint is the son of Nate Saint, the missionary pilot who was killed as part of the mission team working to bring the Gospel to the notoriously violent Waodani Indians.

A documentary version of the story, Beyond the Gates of Splendor, is also available on DVD.

The new movie, documentary and book all tell the story from two new perspectives: that of Steve Saint, who has maintained a close relationship with the Waodani, and from the view of the tribesmen themselves.

While the elements of a great movie are in place — an enthralling story, a competent cast, an exotic backdrop and high production values — Christian audiences may find two weaknesses.

First, the authentic and passionate Christ-centered motive of the missionaries is lacking, rendering an incomplete portrayal. In contrast, Elliot’s book clearly documents the Gospel zeal that drove the mission endeavor.

Second, Christians may be ambivalent at the choice of Chad Allen to portray both Nate Saint and a grown-up Steve Saint. Allen is an out-spoken gay activist who crusades against a federal marriage amendment.

Despite the movie’s shortcomings, it makes an important contribution to the understanding of the events surrounding the killings and to the changes that took place in the tribe in the years after. In addition, the human drama of a son losing his father, as well as the ongoing close relationship between Steve Saint and the Waodani are well done.

Hopefully, the new movie will create a renewed interest in the people and events that first shook the world a half-century ago. Still, Christians are most likely to find Elliot’s book the most satisfying account.

Available at AFA Superstore
Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot — $6.15 in paperback
Beyond the Gates of Splendor: A True Story — DVD video $17.58
End of the Spear
by Steve Saint — $20.23 in hardcover
End of the Spear
by Steve Saint — $29.03 audio book on CD