Wednesday, November 07, 2012

"Beyond the Gates of Splendor": tragic history of missionaries in South America in the 1950s


When I grew up in a protestant church, I used to hear a lot about “missionaries” as doing good things, spreading faith.  Some people (as especially with the Mormon church) see it as a matter of proselytizing.

A film made in 2002 by Jin Hanon for Bearing Fruit Entertainment (the DVD comes from 20th Century Fox, presumably “Fox Faith”, and EGM films), “Beyond the Gates if Splendor”, documents the tragedy of five missionaries who went to live among the indigenous Waodoni in the Amazon basin in eastern Ecuador. In documentary style, their widows or sons and daughters document how they went on the mission and the details of the painful day of the massacre. 

Men arrived among the people by river boat or bush plane.  Some of the scenery in the film anticipates ABC’s silly horror series last year, “The River”, but all of this is real.  One of the daughters says that it had been suggested that men go into the Amazon (e.g., “into the Wild”) only with wives and children, because natives would not attack whole families.  That did not play out.

One of the sons says that the native people lived “selfishly” and had no sense, as individuals, of the welfare of the group or of living for something beyond the self.  But this attitude changed after the 1956 massacre, as the people gradually became more civilized, even if technically backward.  In more modern times, the ministry continues with forgiveness.

The official site is here.


The film has many passages where natives speak in their unfamiliar tongue.

The DVD is presented full screen, which is less desirable for visual impact in the outdoor jungle scenes.  

A friend of mine visited a US military medical officer at a research station in the Amazon around 2002. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Ecuador map. 

For more short films about missions (like in Belize and Nacascolo, Nicaragua), see the Drama blog, label "missions". 

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