Fifty years ago this January, five missionaries were speared to death in the jungles of Ecuador. Beyond the Gates of Splendor (rated PG-13 for National Geographic--like nudity) is a documentary, just released on DVD, that tells their story and the remarkable aftermath of their deaths.
In 1956, Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian reached out to the Auca people, perhaps the most violent culture ever documented. They had terrorized the more peaceful people the missionaries had been working with, so the five approached the Aucas with gifts, friendly messages, and a plane ride. But just as they thought they were forming friendships, a band of Auca warriors attacked with spears and machetes, killing the men and throwing their bodies into the river.
But the most important part of the story is what happened next. One of the widows, Elisabeth Elliot, with her little girl and a sister of one of the slain missionaries, Rachel Saint, moved into the Auca village. They started evangelizing, and Christianity spread through the tribe.
The documentary shows the transforming power of Christ, both for individuals and the culture. Within two years, the homicide rate dropped 90 percent. Today, the Aucas are peaceful and happy. Though initially refusing to let their story be told in this documentary, the Aucas changed their minds when they heard of the Columbine killings. They now want Americans to know the peace they have found.
Beyond the Gates of Splendor combines missionary home-movies and archival footage with reenactments and interviews of family members and Aucan villagers. The narrator is Steve Saint, son of slain missionary Nate Saint, who after he grew up came back to serve the Auca people. Mr. Saint also served as principal advisor on a wide-release, feature-length version of the story, End of the Spear, due in theaters in January.
Most moving in this DVD release are the accounts of the relationships Mr. Saint and the others developed with some of the very men who killed his father. Though often missing from Christians' cultural witness today, nothing is more persuasive to nonbelievers than such radical love and forgiveness.