Film Title: “Beyond the Gates of Splendor” — by Jim Hannon and Kevin McAfee — 2005 — 40 minute and 90 minute versions
he Waodani Indians of Ecuador were killing six of every 10 of their tribesmen when American missionaries entered their isolated community in January 1956. Anthropologists say the tribe, identified then as the Aucas, had one of the most violent cultures ever documented and was headed toward extinction.
Missionary pilot Nate Saint had located the tribe in circling the Amazon Basin jungle. Wishing to establish contact, Saint hoped a slow, circular flying pattern would allow him to stabilize a long rope and basket dropped from the airplane down to the tribe. A difficult maneuver, it worked, and over 11 weeks in late 1955, Saint and fellow missionaries Jim Elliot, Peter Fleming, Ed McCully and Roger Youderian lowered gifts to the Waodani. When the Waodani returned the favor by sending a bird up in the basket, the missionaries sensed opportunity.
On Jan. 7, 1956, the five men left their young wives at base camp and landed their plane on a sandbar near the Waodani, making face-to-face contact for the first time. The next day, the tribesmen speared them dead.
The killings made worldwide news at the time. Life magazine devoted a spread to the story on Jan. 30, 1956, and a 1957 book, “The Gates of Splendor,” brought the story to millions of readers from the Christian perspective of Elisabeth Elliot, who was widowed by the killings.
Almost 50 years later, the tale — with updated material chronicling the tribe’s radical change — has been retold in a 40-minute documentary, “Beyond the Gates of Splendor,” available free of charge to churches, schools and para-church organizations.
A full-length, 90-minute version of the documentary debuted on the big screen in a handful of cities this year and will be available in retail stores on DVD in September, said Randy Swanson, a spokesman for Every Tribe Entertainment (www.everytribe.com), the company that produced it.
The documentary precedes a full-length theatrical movie, “End of the Spear,” which is in final production and will debut in theaters in early 2006 near the 50th anniversary of the killings, Swanson said.
The documentary focuses on the missionaries and their families, the Waodani tribesmen and the unlikely story of courage and redemption when two of the missionaries’ widows and one of the missionaries’ sisters and — years later –— the son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren of Nate Saint settle among the tribe.