Sunday, June 24, 2012

Crossing Paths on His Trail

Steve Saint sat on the floor of my living room, reclining against one of our sofas, bespectacled and bearded. An empty bowl sat in front of him on the table. Minutes before it had been brimming with stir-fried chicken and veggies. Now it sat empty, as he relaxed, content and full.

He was speaking at my college as part of a conference that weekend, telling stories about his life and work. I had never met him, but his family meant a lot to me. His family meant a lot to a lot of people. I was sure he got told this all the time, but after his final address of the weekend, I approached him, humbly sloughing off any sort of too-cool-to-be-star-struck attitude and told him how much his words had impacted me, and how much his family's story had influenced me over the years.

Then, on a whim, I asked him if he had any plans for dinner. It was a bold invitation. Surely, the keynote speaker for a big conference had plans for the last night of the event. Surely, he must be having dinner with the president of the college, or the representatives from the various international organizations there, or the school janitor...anyone more important than me and my friends.

He didn't though. By some holy miracle, he happened to be free, so I invited him to my little mobile home on the other side of campus, where about half-a-dozen friends and I had plans to meet and eat together. He said yes and together we decided that it would be a surprise, that I wouldn't tell any of my friends who it was that was joining us for dinner. I simply told them that I had invited a last minute guest, who didn't know where we lived, and I needed to go and pick him up. So, I walked the quick 5 minutes over to the hotel to meet Steve, who had taken an afternoon nap, recuperating from the toll telling emotional stories to 2,000 people can often have on a person.

He emerged from the elevator about 5 minutes later, still wearing the same casual khakis and short-sleeved button down that he'd worn to speak in that afternoon. He was now sporting a light brown leather jacket, and looked refreshed. Suddenly, I realized that he was carrying something. As he approached, he asked me if we'd already planned desert. I told him that we were college students and that the fact that we even had clean forks was a miracle. Truth be told, my housemates and I kept a shockingly clean house for 3 single guys, but he laughed all the same and told me that he'd bought a pie to share with us, and hoped we liked chocolate cream. I told him I'd give him 10 bucks to keep the pie a secret.

As we sauntered back towards my trailer, Steve and I chatted, and I told him that when I was in high school, I'd been given a part in a readers theater style play called Bridge of Blood. The play told the story of Steve's dad, Nate Saint and his 4 friends, who had been missionaries in the 1950's. They traveled to South America together with their families, hoping to share the gospel with a native tribe who lived in the rain forest and had a reputation for violence. With wives and children waiting for them back at the base camp, the missionaries made contact with the natives, landed their little yellow plane on a wide sandbar of the river, and were slaughtered within minutes of meeting the tribesmen. I had been cast in the role of Ed McCully, one of the five. It was a powerful play, and as my nine friends and I held hands across the dark stage that night, we sang "Though none go with me, still I will turning turning back." and my life was forever changed. I had been a Christian for a couple of years , but it was as if my relationship with God before that had been courtship and engagement. This was the wedding ceremony. I was not merely playing a part. I meant every word.

If you're not familiar with Christian missionary biographies, you may have never heard of Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian or Pete Flemming. You may have never heard of Jim's wife Elisabeth, who went on to write many books, inspired by her husbands faith and sacrifice. You wouldn't know about how Nate's sister Rachel went back to that tribe of natives and spent the rest of her life living among them. You haven't heard about how one of Steve's closest friends, Mincaye, has become like a father to him...and you wouldn't know that Mincaye happens to be one of the men who speared Steve's father.

If you are unfamiliar with these stories, if you don't know about this miraculous tale of intrigue, murder, forgiveness and grace, I strongly suggest you read Elisabeth Elliot's book Through Gates of Splendor, and Steve's The End of The Spear.

Back in my living room, Steve Saint sat eating a scrumptious slice of chocolate cream pie. As he munched, he told us all about the movie he was in the process of producing, based on his father's story. The movie would go on to tell much more than just the story of his father's martyrdom, though. You see, in the decades that have passed since that tragic day, those natives had become family to Steve. Only in the past 10 years had details come to light revealing what really happened that day, explaining the surprising unlikeliness of those killings, and how those events actually came to pass. The movie goes beyond the deaths of 5 young missionaries and tells the story of of two families, intertwined by tragedy and destiny.

He also told us about iTec, the company he'd founded, which specialized in designing technology that can be utilized by indigenous peoples, who have limited access to resources and training. He's since gained public notoriety for his flying car. It's not quite The Jetsons, but it's street legal and FAA approved. You can go from the highway to the skies in a matter of minutes, needing only a decent sized parking lot for a runway.

It was while working with iTec, that Steve was recently injured. That same man that walked across campus with me, holding a chocolate cream pie, is now lying in a hospital bed, mostly paralyzed from the neck down. He retains limited mobility in his arms and hands, but no sense of feeling. It was a simple accident - a safety strap snapped, causing a heavy object to fall on his head. He's been in intense pain, and doctors don't know if he'll ever be the same again.

Yet, in the midst of all this, he holds on to hope, in faith that nothing happens outside of God's sovereign will. Even accidents like this don't surprise God. Laying in a hospital bed, Steve's focus is on God's kingdom. He says that this is just another chapter in the story God is writing.

Even from a hospital bed, unable to move his legs, Steve Saint's story continues to inspire me. I'll leave you with a video his family recently posted to YouTube. May his testimony be an inspiration to you as well, and perhaps, one day, once we cross over the horizon, walking Christ's trail, we'll all be able to sit down together, for a slice of chocolate cream pie.

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