End of the Spear (Memoir)
Author: Steve Saint
Pub Date: Dec. 2005
“The New Has Come!”
Many who read the title of Steven Saint’s book are going to assume they know what the content focuses on, especially if they saw the movie or are old enough to remember the news stories in 1988. They would not be more wrong. Although Saint does return to the murder of his father, Nate, along with four other missionary coworkers, these interludes are very brief and useful only to enhance the story of the indigenous Ecuadorian people who killed them. The focus of this book is on the Aucas (meaning savage) and their metamorphosis into the Waodani (meaning God followers).
End of the Spear has little to do with the fact that Nathan Saint and his comrades died at the end of an Auca spear on a sandbar in Ecuador 18 years ago. The title has everything to do with the transformation of a people who used their spears to define their lives, living in perpetual fear and by the maxim “strike first and kill before someone else kills you.” Whereas the expectation would be that those who actually impaled and killed the missionaries would be brought to trial, condemned, and punished, Saint’s book is the incredible true story of the power of a forgiveness that lives out the definitions of love and mercy so completely that an entire culture does a 180-degree turn. Aucas, who lived in slavery to fear, now live in a newness of freedom and peace as the Waodani. And, this forgiveness is forthright and genuine not only from the families of the murdered missionaries, who choose to return and continue the work with the Waodani, but the Waodani, too, miraculously put down their weapons and cease the decades (centuries?) long blood feud between Auca families. This stands in sharp contrast to our “enlightened” culture, which demands justice and retribution for every death.
Basically what Steve Saint has done is write a primer on how not to put conditions on salvation—a very refreshing “first do no harm” approach to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. The book is an apologetic on what evangelization of the world does not mean. It should be a textbook for anyone considering a call to the mission field, and also should be read by those who teach and prepare them.
As the information age rapidly shrinks our planet, we will not be able to ignore cultures that are very different from us. And we will not be able to continue to have the temerity to demand that people act, talk, think, and live like we do. I am not just pointing here at Americans or Christians but at every culture on the planet. But, lest you think these attitudes are not prevalent in the Christian church… just take a look at what the denominations argue about during their annual convocations! Think of the missionary movements that nearly wiped entire cultures off the planet, e.g., Hawaiians, Native Americans, and several African tribes being some of the very prominent. Some very advanced civilizations such as the Mayas and the Incas were completely destroyed by contact with Westerners who decided that God meant destroy and repopulate with “civilized” Christians. The supposition is that the old culture must be replaced with the culture of the developed and technologically sophisticated industrial nations. Forgiveness and new life = change of heart and mind—AND becoming a western capitalist. Not in the Bible I read!
Exploitation seems to be a mainstay of the Western world. Saint challenges us to consider what will be lost if outreach to the less developed parts of the planet does not change. Who is to judge what less developed means? While we are trying to make sure everybody has the opportunity to shop at a local Target Superstore or drive the latest gas-guzzling SUV, the Waodani see themselves as a very progressive people without these things. We are challenged to ask ourselves, “Were we meant to live in this stress-producing, roller coaster, ‘hell-bent for leather’ busyness that we have become addicted to?” Do we have the right to “infect” the rest of the world with our way of life? Do the ones with the most toys get to spoil life for those who aren’t even concerned that they don’t have all that stuff they don’t want anyway? Could we ever entertain the idea that we could learn something from people who love monkey for breakfast and don’t need walls or rooms in their homes?
This is an unabashedly Christian book and that is unfortunately going to keep many people from ever reading it. However, the bulk of the book deals with the way Saint and his family struggle to ensure the autonomy (sometimes with very tough love that is hard not just for the Waodani but the Americans) of this beautiful indigenous people. Steve Saint does not write self-righteously or preach in his text. I often forgot I was reading the work of a Christian because he is so strongly gentle with his message, just like Jesus was, and that will upset some believers today who will misunderstand just as people did when Jesus walked and taught on this earth.
Saint invites the reader to entertain a new way of thinking: a radical change in the way that we act around and the way that we approach other cultures as our world becomes more and more of a global village whether we like it or not. Although nonfiction, the book reads like a novel and would make a very good book club read.