The story has been told in Christian circles for 50 years. In 1956, five missionaries were brutally murdered in the Ecuadorian jungle by members of the Waodani tribe they went to serve. And then something amazing happened; the killers became Christians.

Louie Leonardo as Mincayani

Louie Leonardo as Mincayani

The martyr's names—Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, and Roger Youderian—and their sacrifice galvanized a whole generation of missionaries who headed to foreign fields with the slain Elliot's words on their lips, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." Now, a group of businessmen turned filmmakers is hoping the story will create a dialog between Christians and non-believers here at home.

End of the Spear features the events of 1956 from the perspectives of the Waodani tribe leader, Mincayani, a quasi-fictional figure played by Louie Lenardo, and Nate Saint's son, Steve, played as a boy by Chase Ellison and as an adult by Chad Allen. Mincayani is a "composite character" primarily based on the real character Mincaye, who was one of the men who killed the missionaries. Shot in Panama using members of the Embera tribe for all but a few key roles, the movie is a stirring, lush production that elevates the visual storytelling portfolio of independent Christian movies.

Chad Allen played dual roles of Nate and Steve Saint

Chad Allen played dual roles of Nate and Steve Saint

The story reaches back into Mincayani's childhood to show the violence that shaped his culture and mindset. He was probably around 20 years old when he first saw the yellow "woodbee" that was Nate Saint's small airplane buzzing above the trees. After a series of tentative contacts involving a bucket lowered from the plane by a long rope, Saint and his fellow missionaries decided to land and meet the natives face to face.

In their enthusiasm for reaching out to the Waodani people, the missionaries, especially Elliot, are depicted a bit like frat boys—goofy, exuberant, optimistic. On the beach that would become their graveyard, the men trade quips about their evangelistic efforts and ham it up for the camera that Saint was using to document their encounter. The result is a refreshing take on these men who've become like protestant saints but were, in reality, just young men embarking on a big adventure, albeit a holy one.

Waodani warriors on the hunt

Waodani warriors on the hunt

The interaction between the Waodani and the missionaries on the beach offers a few laugh-out-loud moments born out of awkward communication, but it inevitably grows grim. End of the Spear includes a recent revelation about what motivated the Waodani people to spear the missionaries—a lie told to cover an illicit romance—and doesn't turn its eyes from the resulting violence.

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During the killings, Mincayani seems remorseful for reasons that aren't clear until much later in the movie. In fact, the movie's main weakness is the way it leaves holes in the audience's understanding of some of the characters' motivations. For example, we don't learn the reasoning behind the Waodani's murderous habits until late in the movie. And something as basic as who's related to whom within the Waodani tribe is sometimes confusing. It's likely that some of these holes in the narrative are the result of the many revisions the script went through.

But, some of the holes are by design.

Chase Ellison as the young Steve Saint, seeing his father off

Chase Ellison as the young Steve Saint, seeing his father off

If moviegoers leave the theater asking questions, so much the better as far as producer Mart Green is concerned. His company, Every Tribe Entertainment, also recently produced a companion documentary about the events of 1956, Beyond the Gates of Splendor, which has been circulating among churches. The hope is that the believer who's seen the documentary will be able to bring the non-believer, fresh from the multiplex, "deeper into the truth of the story."

And the truth of the story is this: God had a Son who was speared so that we all might know forgiveness. Mincayani and the Waodani learned this when Nate Saint's sister Rachel, along with two of the widows and their children, moved into the Waodani village in the wake of their loved ones' deaths. It was through their witness that much of the tribe converted to Christianity. And it's through the harrowing experience of two men as told in End of the Spear—Steve Saint and Mincaye, now as close as father and son—that moviegoers can learn the power of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Do you agree with the strategy of the missionaries? Would you have done anything differently if you were in their shoes?

  2. The missionaries refused to use the guns they brought, even in self-defense. Do you think that was the right decision? Why or why not?

  3. If you were Steve Saint, could you have forgiven the Waodani and Mincayani? Why or why not? How does the film's portrayal of reconciliation affect you? Are there relationships in your life that need a radical act of forgiveness?

  4. For all its focus on the big themes of depravity, forgiveness, and redemption, there are quiet comedic elements that pop up throughout End of the Spear, providing much-needed breathing room in the narrative—allowing the audience to relate to the missionaries and the Waodani alike. Consider each of the people groups. In what ways can you relate to the stone-age tribe of Waodani? In what ways can you relate to pioneer-like missionaries?

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The Family Corner

For parents to consider

The violence that characterized Waodani culture is captured in this movie and the images are unsuitable for young children. In keeping with their tradition, the Waodani sport little clothing and there are a few scenes of topless adolescent girls.

What Other Critics Are Saying
from Film Forum, 01/26/06

Directed by Jim Hanon, End of the Spear is a dramatization of the famous events in which American Christian missionaries were killed in the jungles of Ecuador.

Films about religious endeavors usually provoke mainstream critics to voice hysterical and negative reactions, but that is largely because movies made by Christians about Christians are often poorly crafted and preachy. The filmmakers have done their job well enough to earn some measured praise from the mainstream press. And The Wall Street Journal even published an editorial by David M. Howard Jr., the nephew of one of the murdered missionaries, which offered his perspective on the events that inspired the film.

But some, like Mark Holcomb of The Village Voice, are clearly overreacting based on their own extreme prejudice. Is there any word better than "bigotry" for his sneering and condescending reaction? "Coy crypto-Christian claptrap masquerading as feel-good ethnography, End of the Spear is part missionaries-in-peril potboiler (sans pot) and part Bush-era evangelical screed. It's the kind of oversweet cinematic Kool-Aid they used to force-feed us in Sunday school." He concludes that the movie's "Davey and Goliath dogmatism comes through as loud and clear as the sinister subtext behind its message of nonviolence—that the world's nonwhite, 'undeveloped' cultures continue to require prophylactic doses of Yank benevolence in order to survive and thrive." Ahhh, religious intolerance dressed up as film criticism.

Stephen Holden (The New York Times) takes a more disciplined, critical approach. He doesn't criticize the film's religious characters so much as he dislikes the tone of the storytelling, and the heavy-handed use of music. He calls it "inspiring enough to make you wish that the filmmakers had reined in their sentimental excesses. The humane message of the film … is undercut by the religio-mythic trappings attached to it, and by an inescapable air of Kiplingesque smugness in its portrayal of civilized whites enlightening rampaging dark-skinned savages. The overawed musical score by Ronald Owen is so obtrusive that it never lets you have a feeling of your own."

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Christian critics are, of course, responding differently.

Marcus Yoars (Plugged In) says the director and his co-writers, Mart Green and Bill Ewing, bring "experience, talent, heart, resources and a commitment to telling the story accurately—from the Waodani point of view." He writes, "While not shying away from depicting the near-nakedness of the tribe or the violent acts they routinely engaged in, Green, Hanon and Ewing effectively relay the myriad of godly, life-changing messages contained in this gut-wrenching story. Forgiveness. Healing. Selflessness. Family. Love. Honor. Bravery. Kindness. The list goes on, yet maybe no message stands out as much as redemption."

Lisa Rice (Crosswalk) says, "The movie lends itself to many compelling questions for the family, such as, 'What would our family be willing to suffer for the sake of the gospel?' … Filmmakers like Bill Ewing understand that audiences love watching true stories packed with drama, danger, intrigue, and spiritual inspiration, and End of the Spear will likely attract scores of families who want to so inspire their children to make a sacrificial impact in this life."

from Film Forum, 02/02/06

Denny Wayman and Hal Conklin (Cinema in Focus) write, "Without being either preachy or obvious, the film takes us through the sacrifice given by the missionary families and the effect it had upon the Waodani. The supernatural power of God is present in the moments of sacrifice as well as in the powerful transformation of this vengeful culture."

Matt Wiggins (Relevant) says, "Artistically speaking, End of the Spear is often breathtaking." He says it's "a very good movie that will probably have much more success in the Sunday school classroom than the cineplex, but that's not necessarily a bad thing either. In the final estimation, Spear is a movie that will be enjoyed by Christians and viewed skeptically by everyone else. For us it will be a great reminder of the power of forgiveness and a reminder of why we are called to make disciples of all the world. The story of Steve Saint and Mincayani needs to be told and this is a valid rendition of that tale."

Related Elsewhere:

A ready-to-download Movie Discussion Guide related to this movie is available at Use this guide after the movie to help you and your small group better connect your faith to pop culture.

End of the Spear
Our Rating
3 Stars - Good
Average Rating
(9 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (for sequences of intense violence)
Directed By
Jim Hanon
Run Time
1 hour 48 minutes
Louie Leonardo, Chad Allen, Jack Guzman
Theatre Release
January 20, 2006 by Every Tribe Entertainment
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