Ocala man's memoirs inspired 'End of the Spear'

Director Jim Hanon speaks with a cast member during the making of "End of the Spear." The film opens in Gainesville today.

Special to The Sun
Published: Friday, January 20, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 19, 2006 at 11:03 p.m.
A tragic story of martyred missionaries and a heartwarming tale of forgiveness have evolved into a big-screen movie, "End of the Spear," which opens in theaters across the nation this weekend.
Steve Saint, today a resident of Ocala, is at the center of "Spear." Saint was just 5-years old when he lost his dad, Nate Saint, who piloted the plane that brought Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully and Roger Youderian to the Ecuadorian jungle, and to their death, in 1956.
The film spans 50 years, beginning with the killing of the five American missionaries and culminating with the bonding of families from two diverse cultures.
Years later, Jim Elliot's wife, Elisabeth, wrote a best-selling book, "Beyond the Gates of Splendor," detailing the events. After the men were killed, Elisabeth Elliot and Nate Saint's sister, Rachel Saint, responded to an invitation from Waodani women to live in the tribe. The ministry to the natives continued in recent years when Steve Saint and his family also went to Ecuador and lived in the Waodani village.
One of the Waodani, Mincaye, had been a member of the killing party and has since then converted to Christianity. He and Steve have become good friends and Mincaye has become a surrogate grandfather to Saint's children.
Saint teamed up with Every Tribe Entertainment in Oklahoma City to produce a film about the mission and the family involvement over the years. Saint did all the flying scenes in "Spear" using a rebuilt Piper PA-14, exactly like the one his father flew. Because the American Indians had destroyed the original plane on the beach, the registration number was released and given to a plane that was purchased by a flying club in Oregon. However, when club members learned Saint wanted the number, 5156H, they kindly relinquished it for the plane used in the film.
Before he would make the film, however, Saint wanted to be sure the Waodani were agreeable to it. At first, they were against it, but when Saint explained the shooting at Columbine High School and the violence in other schools, they agreed to allow the film.
"Mincaye says the reason he and the people in the tribe were involved, the reason they said yes, was that maybe the foreigners would see how they used to live, hating and afraid all the time," Saint said.
"Maybe they will now understand," Saint said, translating the words of Mincaye. "Many that live the same way will learn how to live happy and at peace with people who were their enemies."
"That's what I see in people's response to Mincaye and me," said Steve. "Here are two people that should be enemies and now have become friends and family."
For Saint, the actual filming, done on a beachhead in Panama, revived the pain in ways he never anticipated. He was asked to play the part of the man who led the search party.
"It was natural for me to walk around the plane, and I found Dad's hat in the plane," Saint said in a preview of the actual film. "That whole sequence was very emotional."
"Probably, the most emotionally impacting thing for me was when they went up and they were re-enacting the killings. I knew that my Dad had died, but I had never thought of the physical anguish."
In a telephone interview from her home in Lindenhurst, Ill., Olive Fleming Liefield, widow of Pete Fleming, said the film revived memories of her most difficult moment.
"It was the day they actually came back to tell us that all five of the men were dead," Liefeld recalled. "The rescue party buried the men under a tree there. We were flown out a few days later to see the beach where all this happened and saw the plane. We didn't see the grave, but it was there. It was something we needed to do. It's important for people to see their loved ones in death, so there is closure. I don't think we really had that."
Things changed after Rachel Saint and Elisabeth Elliot and her 2-year-old daughter went to live with the Waodani.
"Everything started to open up within two years," Liefeld said. "Elisabeth and Rachel went in to live with them not knowing how they would be received by the men. I couldn't have done that. I think I was far more fearful of them."
In time, Steve and Ginny Saint and their four children also went to live with the Waodani. They worked with the Indians, teaching them field medicine, basic dentistry and technology.
"It was a challenge to learn to live in an area without electricity and running water and to be connected to the outside with only an airplane," Ginny Saint said. "It also was an awesome experience. We worked together as a team. The kids learned to love the Waodani. I wouldn't trade it for anything."

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