Movie Review: Beyond the Gates of Splendor (Jan-Apr 2006)

By Matt Dabbs

by Patty Slack
January – April, 2006

I knew Mincaye by reputation, but not by name. I had heard of Dawuye, but I’d never seen her face. I knew a story of redemption was being played out in the Ecuadorian jungle, and now I have seen it for myself.

In 1956, Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and three other missionaries stepped out of their airplane on a sandbar in Ecuador and into eternity. Their murder at the hands of the Waodani Indians was international news. Their story was splashed on newspapers, broadcast over radio waves, even immortalized in the pages of Life Magazine. Elisabeth Elliot recorded it in her missionary classic, Through Gates of Splendor. She and some of the other families returned to live among the people who had killed their husbands. Through these women’s loving example, patient teaching, and total forgiveness, the Waodani left their murderous ways behind and embraced the love of God.

And now … the story continues. In anticipation of the theatrical release of The End of the Spear, Bearing Fruit Communications produced a documentary on the Waodani. Beyond the Gates of Splendor, now available on DVD, uses interviews, first-hand accounts and vintage video to retell what happened in 1956 and to catch us up on what has happened since then.

Beyond the Gates of Splendor is a high quality, thoughtfully produced film. The interviews of the five women whose husbands were killed are priceless. In my recollection from reading Elisabeth Elliot’s book fifteen years ago, the missionaries were super-human, spiritual giants. On watching this documentary, though, I realized that they were, actually, very human. They were just like us—silly at times, thoughtful others—and they were sometimes afraid. In a way, their human-ness adds to the power of what God was able to do through them. And if he could use them, in their faithfulness despite their fear, he can use anyone.

This film looks at the Waodoni from a cultural standpoint. Who were they before they were encountered by cowodi (foreigners) and the “words of the book”? How did they change once Rachel Saint and others lived among them? And what will happen to them now that they have been exposed to the world? Waodani elders like Mincaye are worried that their children will be lost to greed and selfishness or that their people will be assimilated into surrounding cultures.

The question is also posed, “What about us?” The strongest values among the Waodani were egalitarianism and autonomy. In other words, everyone was just as important and everyone else and everyone had the right to do as he pleased. Played out to its extreme conclusion, this resulted in a sixty percent homicide rate among adults. What do we value? Aren’t equality and individual freedoms high up on the list? If we fight for these rights above all others, where will they lead us?

Before I watched the DVD, I knew that some people were disappointed in how little Jesus is emphasized. As I watched, though, I was struck by how natural it was for both the missionaries and the Woadani to speak of praying, of God, of spiritual influences in their lives. There was no need to sprinkle extra God-talk through the story because it truly is His story. I think nonbelievers are tired of being bludgeoned with Jesus, as if he were a weapon we use to beat them down until they give in. This film gently opens the door to understanding grace and forgiveness without using our savior as a means to push our own agenda.

The first several minutes of the DVD can be a little confusing. It was difficult to sort out all the characters in the story even though I was familiar with it. For those who have never heard it before, I imagine it would be harder. But hang in there through the first ten minutes or so and things will start to sort themselves out.

Ultimately, the story of the Waodani is one of redemption. It is a story of love, not hatred—of life, not death. It is the story of how two families, two cultures, can become so intertwined that they are inseparable. It is, in fact, the story of the body of Christ at its most beautiful.New Wineskins

Patty SlackPatty Slack is a graduate of Harding University. She and her family spent 7 years as part of a church planting mission in Togo, West Africa. She currently resides in the Pacific Northwest where she home schools her 3 daughters.

 

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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