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Better Not Bitter
God gave him such love that his father's killer became his best friend.

When it comes to bitterness, it would seem more palatable to feed the hungry mouth of resentment than to starve it to death.

Steve Saint and Mincaye
Photo by Raul Gonzales

Nowhere is this more evident than on popular TV talk shows, mothers pitted against daughters, ex-boyfriends versus girlfriends, sisters against brothers … which makes one wonder, Is bitterness rooted in family?

In the case of the Saint family, it would seem not; they appear to be living up to their name.

January 7, 2006 marked the 50th anniversary of the massacre of five missionaries by Ecuador's Auca Indians. Steve Saint's father, Nate, was one of the five.

Nate's profession as a pilot had him transporting missionaries and taking natives to receive medical treatment.

He, along with Peter Fleming, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully and Jim Elliot, was attempting peaceful contact with the world's most violent tribe, the Waodani.

They were also there to share the most important gift they'd ever received—the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

"I remember telling my dad, 'Please Dad, if the Waodani attack you, you will defend yourself! You will shoot them?'" a 55-year-old Saint recalls in an interview. "My dad said, 'Son, we can't shoot the Waodani; they are not ready for heaven, but we are.'"

Sadly, several months after exchanging gifts with the natives, the five missionaries known as the "wood-bee" (airplane) men, were speared multiple times and then hacked to death with machetes.

"I was devastated," Saint tells Living Light News. "Everything in my little world revolved around my dad … it was excruciating … I certainly didn't understand that the story of life isn't written in one chapter."

Yet in spite of his pain, Saint says he not only learned to forgive his father's killers, but to deeply respect them because of his family's actions toward them. Saint's mom continued to pray for her husband's killers, while his Aunt Rachel and "Aunt" Betty (Jim Elliot's wife, Elisabeth, author of Through Gates of Splendour [Tyndale Publishing]) moved in with a runaway woman of the tribe, Dayumae, who lived outside of the village, soon after the killings.

Two years later, tribe members stumbled upon Dayumae living with Rachel and Elisabeth, and were astounded. They couldn't believe Dayumae had survived, for "the Waodani thought that outsiders were cannibals too," Saint explains.

Then, at Dayumae's insistence, Rachel began to share with the tribe about "Wangongi,'" the Creator: She told them that He was the one who said, no, to killing.

This was a hard lesson for the Waodani; from infancy they had been trained to be remorseless killers. More than half died at the hand of a fellow tribesman. "In their culture, you either killed and lived, or you were killed and died," describes Saint

Nevertheless, he continues, "They knew there was a creator, because they saw creation." In light of this, the entire tribe immediately accepted that Wangongi said it wasn't right for man to be hating and killing each other. "For the first time in history, they finally had an authority figure to follow." Saint relates. They became "God-followers," refusing to swerve from "God's trail."

By the time Saint went to live with the Waodani at the age of ten, "I was thinking these have got to be the most special people in the whole world." After all, "My dad had thought they were so valuable that he was willing to die for them; my mom thought they were so special that she had kept praying for them, and my aunts were … willing to risk their lives (for them)."

For the next three years Saint became fully engaged in the natives' stone-age culture. The Waodani life is centred around two things: One is their cooking fire; the other is the river. The tribe members, obsessed with bathing, wash at least twice a day; they also spear fish for food. As well, the water serves as a coolant from biting insects.

Several times a day Saint would run to the ten-foot-high riverbank just a few feet from the village houses, and jump into the river with his friends—only he would wear a bathing suit.

At 13 the water served Saint in another very special way. He and his sister Kathy decided to be baptised. They selected a couple of the Waodani to perform the baptism in the water next to the beach here their father was killed.

As they were being baptised, one of the men who had killed the missionaries, Kimo, spoke to Wangongi: "Father Creator, a long time ago we came here to do a bad, bad thing and you did not see it well. Today look! We come here to do a very good thing and I hope you do see it well."

A few years later Saint attended Wheaton College in the United States. He then returned to Ecuador following graduation, met his wife Ginny who was on a missions trip, and moved to America to start a family.

The tribe asked Saint to live with them after Rachel's death in 1994, so the successful businessman and his family moved back to Ecuador.

"What I didn't understand yet was that God, the master storyteller of the universe doesn't promise us that all the chapters will be easy," relates Saint. "But what He does promise us is that if we give Him the quill, which is our will, he will make sense of all the other chapters that didn't make sense at first."

One of the hardest chapters for Saint to understand—the death of his father—now makes sense in light of his relationship with Mincaye, the man who speared his dad.

"It is hard to believe that this is the same man," says Saint. "Mincaye is one of my dearest friends in the whole world; my second son is named for him, my children call him grandpa and my grandchildren call him Kayu."

Mincaye was one of the Waodani who not only became a "God-follower" but a "Christ-follower" turning his life over to God's Son, Jesus Christ.

In Mincaye's words, "Wangongi Himself, taking the blood from His Son, very strong blood, He used it like you foreigners use soap, and He took His Son's blood and He washed my heart."

Mincaye has also become a dentist as a result of Saint's project, I-TEC (Indigenous Peoples Technology and Education Center). Saint has developed a way to train many of the Waodani people, enabling them to treat diseases and perform dental work.

As a result of the transforming power of Christ, an entire tribe has not only stopped killing, but has come to exemplify love, hope and forgiveness.

Recently this powerful testimony was turned into a $34-million movie by Every Tribe Entertainment, adapted from Saint's book, End of the Spear (Tyndale Publishing).

The story bears a message we all need to hear: bitter doesn't make us better.

"The highest cost of bitterness is that it eats at you inside, it saps your energy and cuts off your relationship with other people, but it's a very natural human reaction," says Saint.

Because it's so natural, people are stunned not only by the movie's portrayal of forgiveness, but also by the friendship between Saint and his father's killer: UN diplomats who saw End of the Spear were so impressed that they asked for a special screening inside the UN.

Having received God's forgiveness for their own sins—by accepting Christ's sacrifice on the cross—the Saint family chose to forgive the Waodani people.

Nonetheless, Saint credits God's transforming power in their lives.

"I think that the only way true forgiveness can take place is through the use of a catalyst," concludes Saint. "Like oxygen is to burning, (we need a spiritual catalyst to come in and change our hearts."

Emily Wierenga is the associate editor of Living Light News.

Originally published in Living Light News, January 2006.




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