Beyond the Gates of Splendor
—About this Film pdf
Beyond the Gates of Splendor is more than a story of reconciliation between a violent tribe and a handful of missionary families. It is a direct parallel, or rather an incredible real-life example, of God’s forgiveness of our sins. Although the documentary “feels” more educational and PBS-like, the story itself forces you to consider what must have been going on between the Waodani and the missionary families.
Having heard this story for years through Elisabeth Elliot’s radio programs and books, I already knew the ending and was not surprised by the basic premise of the film. However, my interviews with Steve Saint and Mart Green shed some light on how this film is impacting other people’s lives. Many who see the film are shocked that this event actually happened and that it is not a fabricated storyline. Admittedly, I have an advantage over many viewers: I’ve already experienced first-hand the power of forgiveness. And like many other Christians, I have also experienced the incredible power of God to help me overcome anger, bitterness, and mistrust in order to forgive others. Although most of us have not experienced an offense as great as murder, each has experienced some level of loss at another person’s hand. The thing that surprised me about the film was just how fresh and alive the Gospel of Christ (literally translated “the Good News”) is even today.
In his interview, Steve Saint said the question he gets most is, “How did you forgive these people?” Although his response was somewhat unusual, the question itself is one of the most powerful questions of our day. How DO you forgive someone for such an atrocity? Another interviewer said, “When I tell them [prospective viewers] about the film, the first thing they say is, ‘Are you sure they weren’t mad at them? They didn’t have any resentment?’ The storyline they accept, and then that’s the first trip up.” Indeed, in a society like ours where holding grudges and justifying revenge are the standard responses to injustice, forgiveness is a curious alternative. More than curious, however, it is effective - it certainly was for the Waodani. The forgiveness and love received by the Waodani encouraged them to make peace with the other tribesmen who had slaughtered their family members using machetes and spears. Christ’s parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt. 18:21-35) suggests that those who have been forgiven much should forgive others. Even the Lord’s Prayer states, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The power of this film, however, comes from the level of forgiveness that the Waodani experienced – a level that more closely approximates God’s depth of forgiveness for us than any token of forgiveness that we have given others.
Mart Green (CEO and founder of Every Tribe Entertainment) said something that impacted me right away. He said, “This is not some, ‘I’ll forgive you, but I hope I never see you again’ kind of story. It’s, ‘I’ll forgive you and I’m gonna move my family, four kids, with no electricity and running water to Ecuador and live in a hut with you.’” It gave me chills as he spoke it. That depth of forgiveness is confounding. The idea that God forgave us on a level far deeper is even more confounding! After all, we are not perfectly changed into upright, model citizens overnight. We continue to sin and to offend God as we work through our faith. Acceptance of God’s forgiveness, however, is the first step in learning to make peace with others. Most who hear Christ’s message respond to the idea much like those prospective viewers. We ask, “Are you sure God isn’t still mad at us? He doesn’t have any resentment? The storyline of Christ’s death is fine, but that part about forgiveness trips me up!” It seems too good to be true. When we finally accept and experience that forgiveness first-hand, we can be freed from grudges, vendettas, and the bondage of hatred.
Really, the story of the Waodani is an almost exact model of how Christ and His Church operate. Through Christ’s death, God sees fit to forgive humanity much like the missionaries forgave the Waodani. And as Mart pointed out, this commitment to forgiveness is total: He comes to live in the jungles of our hearts. The Holy Spirit teaches us how to obey God, live peaceably and treat others lovingly - to become “civilized” in a sense – just like the missionaries taught the Waodani. Although we still fight the battles of forgiveness within our own tribes, the power of the Spirit and the strength of others’ examples triumph over even the deepest hatred. They help us complete the cycle of forgiveness.
I believe this is the heart of the message that the Waodani wanted us to receive. It is why they agreed to do the film. THEY wanted to make an impact on US. It was their desire that we see the death and loss that comes from hatred, the long-term damage of unforgiveness, and the beauty that God’s love and God’s laws can create in our lives.
Overall, I loved this film -not so much because it was a new idea to me, but because it was a vivid reminder. Sometimes I take this message for granted and try to be “politically correct” instead of sharing the good news that people want to hear. At a funeral last week, I was reminded of how valuable the good news of Christ is to those whose hearts this world has left broken. It is, in fact, the greatest news we could possibly encounter. It is life and peace. At least, it has been to the Waodani.
—About this Film pdf