Ask writers and readers how important the hero of a story is, and most will say the same thing: he’s critical. Strong heroes draw us in and keep us reading. But stories with great heroes, especially those who’ve overcome adversity and kept going, are the ones that end up on our “keeper” shelves.

So, what qualities make a great hero? Here, in no particular order, are my top picks:

  • Great heroes have strength of character. They do the right thing–even if it could cost them their lives.
  • Great heroes are passionate about their causes. They have clear goals.
  • They are tough, physically and mentally.
  • Great heroes are the stuff of legend. They are larger than life.
  • Great heroes scoff at the idea that they’re anything special. They think they’re just regular guys, doing what needs doing.
  • Great heroes aren’t perfect. That’s what makes them human and well, heroic.

I think the best storybook heroes are crafted using of bits and pieces of real men, so I want to introduce you to one of my real-life heroes.

I’ve always loved adventure stories, and some of my favorite childhood nights were when missionaries stopped by our house for a meal and an overnight on the lumpy pullout in the basement. I spent many evenings curled at their feet, riveted by stories of their adventures in exotic places. To me, they seemed like a cross between Superman and the apostle Paul. Tough, strong guys who were making a difference.

But the most amazing story, the one of legend, was about five missionaries who were killed by the Aucas (now called Waodani) in Ecuador in 1956. I always wondered why anyone would go there in the first place, if there was a good chance they’d kill you on sight.

Amazingly, their deaths weren’t the end of the story. Instead of harboring hate and bitterness, some of their family members went back to Ecuador and kept working with that same tribe.

Steve Saint, whose father, Nate, was one of those martyred, is one of them. Steve took his family to Ecuador and over the years, men who killed his father have become Steve’s friends and one of them, an honorary grandfather to his children.

Several months ago, I had the privilege of meeting Steve and learning about his ongoing passion for missions.

His Florida-based ministry, I-TEC (Indigenous People’s Technology & Education Center) builds innovative tools for use in remote areas of the world. They’ve developed a portable dental office that fits in a backpack, vision and medical equipment, and my personal favorite: the Maverick, a flying car. You can learn more at their website: I-TEC

But a few weeks ago, while testing some new equipment, Steve suffered an accident that left him partially paralyzed. Surgery went well and rehab is progressing, albeit slowly, but what impressed me was the interview I saw where Steve talks about his passion for his cause—from his hospital bed. Click here to watch the video.

That’s my kind of hero. And the kind of man I pattern my storybook heroes after. We’re praying for you and your family, Steve.

So, who are your real-life heroes? What traits and attributes have you borrowed from them for your stories?