The believers know that the new generation within the tribe has little interest in spiritual things. They’re consumed with posturing and are extremely materialistic. The believers realized that the Cowodie (missionaries) aren’t doing anything about it. So they asked me to come. And I said, “The Cowodie aren’t the people that God has called to reach these people. It’s you.” And I took them to the Scriptures and showed them, “This is your Jerusalem, and the priority is, first in Jerusalem.” They said, “Yes. We will do it with the tools you helped us get.”
MF: That was my next question. How do you reach the next generation? You’re acting as the catalyst for their thinking rather than imposing anything on them.
Steve: I’m sure trying and I think it’s working. In an uncanny way, I see the Holy Spirit working through the tourism.
As the people from the outside have come in, they’re not interested in seeing the Huaorani young people standing around to show off their fake Nike tennis shoes. What they’re interested in is how the Huaorani used to live, but it’s only the old people who can show them that. The old people are the ones who know how to hunt with blowguns and spears, track animals, spear fish, climb trees with climbing vines, and all those things. That’s what impresses the outsiders.
This has raised the value of the old ways in the eyes of the young people, opening a way for the elders to share the Gospel with the next generation.
MF: In what other ways are you trying to help the Huaorani and other indigenous peoples to reach their own people?
Steve: I have realized that it isn’t enough just to point out the problems. I needed to be part of the solution. So after praying, wrestling and trying to figure out what I could do, I’ve gotten together with the Huaorani and with some friends and we have started “ITEC,” Indigenous People’s Technology and Education Center. The purpose is to provide the tools, technology, and backup support to help peoples like the Huaorani reach their own people— something like JAARS is to Wycliffe. That’s something that is sadly lacking for indigenous peoples.
They can’t, in most cases, use the exact technology that missionaries use because they are unable to support, operate, and maintain it. But they nevertheless need similar tools. So it just needs to be an appropriate technology adapted to their situation. Then they need to be taught how to use it to spread the Word to the many non-believers.
MF: So through ITEC you’re trying to apply some of the technology from the outside to indigenous situations?
Steve: Yes, we’re currently using the dental equipment, solar powered radio transmitters, computers and the airplane. Veteran missionaries were scandalized when they realized that I was taking in dental equipment that the Huaorani were going to operate. They thought it was irresponsible. But those were people who had never been out there and seen people suffering when they’ve got a toothache, and then to have people just come and yank their teeth out. We’ve got teenagers that don’t have enough teeth to chew their food.
People come on almost a daily basis to get their teeth worked on there in Nemompade. Recently, two girls came over the trail wanting their teeth pulled. And the Huaorani scolded them and laughed at them, like they were ignorant. They said, “We don’t pull teeth. Here we fix teeth. And after we fix the teeth, then if they hurt, then we pull them.” The girls had never had their teeth fixed in their life. They didn’t even know what was involved. They sat down and one of the people gave them novocaine, and the son of the first Huaorani Christian martyr, drilled and filled these girls’ teeth, and sent them happily on their way; opening the door to go to their village to share the Gospel with them.
It’s working. Some things they are very good at. They have great dexterity and have quickly learned how to drill and fill teeth. I availed myself of their services one time when I cracked a tooth.
But learning how to fly an airplane is a huge step. Trying to teach them how to navigate is a challenge. When I tried to teach one of them how to navigate, I kept trying to say, “Okay, you go straight from here over to there.” But in the Huao language, they have no concept of straight. Trails aren’t straight. Rivers aren’t straight. Their houses aren’t straight. Nothing is straight. But the Huaorani want to do it and they have the vision for it.
MF: Is there some way that people can support what you are doing without creating dependency?
Steve: There was a lot of research and development that went into getting the airplane that they couldn’t afford. That is something that people could help us with financially. In the past, we have never asked for funds for ITEC, because I have been real careful—really scared—that it would open a Pandora’s Box of problems.
But now we are at the point where we have working and proven prototypes. Thanks to some dentists that have helped us, we now have a dental rig with the chair that also serves as a medical examining table with the drilling units—the whole thing. Two Wal-Mart tire pumps serve as a compressor and a generator to make the drill go. The whole thing, including hand pieces, weighs about 25 pounds and costs $600. It’s fully capable of being transported in the Huaorani’s little airplane or on somebody’s back.
These are the kinds of tools that the indigenous peoples in frontier areas can use to create the credibility that they need to share the Gospel with their own people.
As Christians we must give them that privilege of reaching their own and end the devastating practices that have created dependency among the Huaorani and thousands of peoples like them all over the world.
Steve Saint and his family also maintain a home in Ocala, Florida. For more information on Steve Saint’s work with the Huaorani, ITEC and tours, you may reach them on the WEB at: http://www.i-tecusa.org or call 352-694-1998