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CULTURAL NEWS
The Waodani Tribe Today
23 January 2006

For the past eleven years Steve Saint has focused his life in Ecuador on helping the jungle tribe that 50 years ago killed his father, missionary pilot Nate Saint.

Steve told us, “The Waodani asked me to come out here [to them], and asked me to teach them to do things only foreigners know how to do. [Like:] how to handle medicine, and have access to a little pharmacy. And the tooth thing—doing a little dentistry. And, they wanted to build their own airplane because the jungle is extremely rugged.”

The Waodani now have an airplane, and it shows how far they've come since the days they were known as ‘the killer Aucas.’

The changes have come as tribe members have gradually embraced the Christian faith. The first thing they did was to stop their revenge-killings of one another, which were pushing them to the brink of extinction.

Today, Steve Saint returned to the jungle with a small group of visitors who included three of his own grandchildren. And he brought the granddaughter of fellow missionary martyr, Roger Yudarian, Helena Weatherall.

Helena spoke about the difficulties of missions work. “In college right now there are a lot of students who do trekking and going to Nepal for the summer for fun, And this is fun for a day or two or maybe for a week. But to imagine to dedicate your life and saying, ‘I’m going to stay here to live with the people and possibly to lose my life.’ That’s a little bit of a bigger commitment, to say the the least.”

Helena’s parents became missionaries in Germany and her husband Gary has also been a missionary, in the Middle East.

This is Helena’s first visit to Waodani territory, and life in the jungle has changed technologically very little since the 1950's.

The village of Nimonpare is one of 26 Waodani settlements in the Ecuadorian part of the Amazon jungle. The total population of the Waodani is somewhere around 2,000 people.

That's not a large group, and it certainly wasn't numbers that attracted the first missionaries. Yet, why her grandfather came is something Helena understands.

Helena said, “I think sometimes we look at how many people are in a city. [We say], ‘It's worth sending missionaries, if there’s 50,000.’ And we build our case that way. But I don't think the Lord does that.” She added, “God really cares about people that no one else thinks about.”

People like Mincaye—one of the Auca killers—became a Christian after relatives of the martyred missionaries came to live with his tribe.

In recent years, Mincaye has traveled with Steve Saint to Europe and America, telling audiences how God has greatly changed his life.

In an interview of them both, Steve translated for Mincaye, “He said his heart was dark like night, but Jesus with his strong blood, and the Holy Spirit came and washed it. So, now it's as clear as the sky when it has no clouds in it."

Steve went on translating, as Mincaye smiled and nodded agreement, “That's what Mincaye wants for other people, so they can see clearly and so will choose to walk God's trail.”

But Mincaye and his generation are facing a new problem at home. Their own grandchildren are leaving the Christian faith.

Epa is the wife of a Waodani missionary. She told me, “Now, the youth I am seeing are saying I want to be a child of God, a believer, and they are immediately baptized—and the next day they forget. They listen to music, go to stores on the outside, buy alcohol, go to dances, get drunk, and they aren't interested anymore. We need to teach them so they can learn the Word of God.”

Since many of the younger Waodani are drawn away from "God's trail", as the elders call it, young Jesse Saint hopes to reverse that trend.

Jesse, the son of Steve Saint, calls the tribe his "other family", and provides help to them through his father's organization, I-TEC.

Jesse explained, “Basically, we empower them to be missionaries themselves. To take tools and technologies the missionaries have used historically and re-invent those and make those appropriate and available for indigenous people. And to develop training for them to use it.”

This trip to Ecuador, the Saint family are introducing I-TEC's newly designed dental operatory. It will enable the Waorani to provide basic dental care in remote jungle locations. The operatory is solar powered and includes everything from a reclining chair to a high-speed drill. Yet, it all fits in a backpack.

Steve told us, “Gaba, the son of the first martyr here is a pretty good dentist—actually quite a good dentist—but just as we brought it out, we found out that there’s a dentist and a doctor here in the community for a few days. They come back here every three months, paid for by the oil company because the oil company is really making intrusion into Waodani territory, so they want to ingratiate themselves with the communities.”

That is perhaps the greatest challenge the Waodani face: the encroachment of the outside world—driven by the need for oil.

As a group and a culture the Waodani seem to be suspended between the 21st century and the old way of life--and just barely holding on. The prospect of losing their grip is prompting tribal leaders to take a long-range view of the future.

Steve warned, “The long-range outlook for the Waodani…is almost hopeless unless there's a miracle. Culture isn't sacred, all these other things aren't sacred. The living standard that’s really relatively unimportant. Long range is really eternity that counts.”

According to Steve Saint, that's why the older Waodani are trying to help their younger generation follow them as they "walk God's trail.”

Written by Stan Jeter - CWNews

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