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This article was published 6/2/2020 (235 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Known internationally in evangelical Christian circles because of his missionary family history, Florida-based mission worker Jaime Saint can also claim a unique Winnipeg connection.
Saint is the grandson of missionary pilot Nate Saint, who along with four other American missionaries was murdered in the Ecuadorian jungle in 1956. Those murders were the jumping off point for local writer Joan Thomas in her novel Five Wives, winner of the 2019 Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction.
The Florida-based Saint had not heard of the novel, not yet released in the United States, before agreeing to speak at Missionfest Manitoba, an annual missionary conference which opens on Friday at Church of the Rock in Winnipeg.
"It certainly is a huge influence in what I do now," he said of the killings by members of the isolated Waorani tribe, also referred to as Waodani.
"Just the fact (my grandfather) was obedient to the call of God in his life, regardless of the cause."
At the time, the missionaries called the tribe Aucas, and their initiative to spread Christianity to them was dubbed Operation Auca.
Saint is scheduled to address a youth event at 7 p.m. on Friday and the main conference at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
The Minnesotan-born Saint said his approach to missionary work differs from that of his grandfather since he collaborates with local partners to develop capacity and skills through Indigenous People’s Technology and Education Centre, a or I-TEC for short, a Christian non-profit agency.
"Going and doing for people is not sustainable," explained Saint, who travels about 100 days annually on training sessions. "Going and teaching them is really the biblical approach to discipleship."
Saint’s organization trains people in remote areas around the world in basic medical and dental procedures, video production and small engine repair. Steve Saint, father to Jaime and son of Nate, founded the organization in 1996 after elders from the Waorani tribe asked for training instead of having North American Christians come in to help them.
To complement those weeklong training sessions, engineers at I-TEC developed a portable dental chair that fits inside a suitcase, a lens ladder that allows people to check out different powers of corrective lenses, and an unmanned aerial vehicle for delivering goods to remote areas.
"We’re trying to train local people with services that don’t currently exist so they can help their own people," explained Saint, who has visited Ecuador more than 30 times.
He said I-TEC’s mission is to support local churches, which means the people they train are required to be Christians, although those local leaders can serve anyone who needs their help.
Winnipeg writer Joan Thomas grew up hearing the story of the murdered missionaries, and decades later read about the Waorani dealing with polluted water due to development by oil companies. Her novel imagines the lives of the five widowed women, but she created fictional names for their children and grandchildren and does not mention Jaime Saint.
Thomas calls the missionaries’ efforts to reach the remote Indigenous tribe through loudspeakers attached to an airplane a "bungled initiative and badly managed" and she doesn’t consider them Christian martyrs.
Instead, those missionaries might have done better had they tried to learn from these residents of the east Ecuadorean rainforest instead of trying to convert them to Christianity.
"It’s very interesting to me to know that the Waorani people are at the forefront of fighting for rainforest protection," said Thomas, who doesn’t plan to hear Saint while he is in Winnipeg.
"Sometimes I wish that cultural transference had gone the other way and that missionaries had become more sensitive about what the Waorani people knew about living in the rainforest and the natural order."
Saint said his organization has connections to people in the tribe but does not get involved in environmental or political lobbying.
Missionfest attracts up to 5,000 people to workshops, speeches, and displays by 130 mission and church organizations, said executive director Brian Hamilton.
"It is to inform and inspire and to encourage people to become involved in the work of mission and ministry here and around the world," he said of the annual event, which has a $100,000 budget.
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.
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