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Local family has connection to people portrayed in movie

WORTHINGTON -- As missionaries, John and Gioconda Armstrong were naturally interested in the recently released feature film, "End of the Spear," which relates the story of missionaries who were killed by the people they intended to evangelize in the jungle of Ecuador and the tribe's later reconciliation with the men's relatives.

But the movie was of special interest to the Armstrongs because they have connections to some of the characters who are central to the story.

Gioconda was born in Shell, Ecuador, which was home base for Nate Saint's family.

"I grew up in a village called Makuma, about 25 minutes southeast of Shell by air, which is where Robert Youderian, one of the five martyred missionaries, was based," she explained. "I do not have a direct connection with the Waodani tribe; however, my connection is with Frank Drown. He is the missionary that was asked by the wives to head the rescue effort. My parents were national missionaries that worked directly with Frank and Marie Drown, and he was considered my missionary grandfather."

The Armstrongs served as missionaries in Makuma from 1998 to 2000, helping the Shuar translation team. Gioconda grew up among the Shuar Indians and learned their language as a child, so she assisted in the translation process while John was responsible for general care of the mission station and keeping a hydro-electric plant running.

Now, John and Gioconda and their two children, Kattiana and Karsten, call Worthington home. John is the director of Proclaim Aviation, a ministry he helped found that prepares candidates for full-time aviation missionary service. He is also president of the International Association of Missionary Aviation, a networking agency that connects people in the mission aviation community. Gioconda is a stay-at-home mom, home-schools their children and does some free-lance Spanish interpreting and translation.

Although she notes that the feature film, "End of the Spear" took some liberties with the facts surrounding the story of the Waodani tribe, Gioconda said she was "very impressed" with the movie and how it accurately conveyed the revenge killing and savage lifestyle that the tribe lived.

"The documentary version of the movie, 'Beyond the Gates of Splendor,' goes into great detail of the facts surrounding the event and the amazing story of forgiveness that followed," she noted. "The Shuar Indians that I grew up with were Ecuador's only 'head-hunting' tribe and had a similar revenge killing lifestyle. The message of the movie was about forgiveness, a concept that literally did not exist in those tribal communities. The movie was not meant to be evangelical in nature and does not focus much attention to how the Gospel of Jesus Christ totally freed the tribes (Waodani and Shuar) from that lifestyle."

Gioconda suggests that people who are interested in learning more about the story behind "End of the Spear" and the work among the tribes of Ecuador take the time to see "Beyond the Gates of Splendor" or read "Mission to the Headhunters," by Frank Drown, which depicts missionary work with the Shuar Indians, or "Spirit of the Rainforest," by Mark Andrew Ritchie, which depicts the revenge killing lifestyle similar to that of the Waodani and Shuar.

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Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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