Mincaye – the name means ‘wasp’ – was born into the war-like Huaorani tribe in the Amazon rainforest of eastern Ecuador, South America, around 1930. Known as ‘Aucas’ – or ‘naked savages’ – the Huaorani were a stone age people, reckoned at the time to be the most dangerous tribe known to man.
Historically, every encounter with this remote people had ended in death – from the 16th century invaders to the 17th century Jesuits to the 19th century gold and rubber hunters – all outsiders who had come into contact with the tribe had been killed.
Notwithstanding these facts, in 1955, five young American missionaries – Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian – made an attempt to reach the Aucas with the gospel of Jesus Christ. They began by making regular flights over Huaorani settlements, dropping gifts for the tribesmen. They even received some back from the Huaorani, which they took as a gesture of good will.
After several months of exchanging gifts, the missionaries flew in and landed, establishing a camp at Palm Beach, a sandbar along the Curaray River, a few kilometres from Huaorani settlements, on 3 January 1956. At first they were encouraged as contact was made with the tribe, but a few days later tragedy struck when all five missionaries were attacked and speared to death by the tribesmen.
The news of the ‘mid-century martyrs’ sent shock waves round the world, with many young people volunteering for missionary service, inspired by the heroic example set them by Jim Elliot and his companions.
However, in an incredible and unlikely divine twist, it was to be Jim’s widow, Elisabeth, together with Nate Saint’s sister, Rachel, who, in 1958, braved the dangers and went as missionaries to live with the Huaorani tribe, the same people who had murdered the men they loved.
After making peaceful contact with members of the tribe, the two intrepid women learned their language, taught them the Bible, and successfully forged a friendship that transformed all of them. The blood spilled by the martyrs some years earlier proved to be a fruitful seed for the gospel as God’s Word began to save these once-savage people, and bring them into a relationship with the living God.
One of those who came to Christ was one of the original killers, Mincaye, who became a much-respected elder and preacher in the village church, where his ministry was a great blessing to many of his fellow Huaorani. On the great change that took place in the tribe, he said, “We acted badly, badly, until they brought us God’s carvings [i.e. the Bible]. Then, seeing his carvings and following his good trail, now we live happily and in peace with everyone.”
A staggering example of the grace and forgiveness of God working in the lives of redeemed people could be seen in the close friendship that developed years later between Mincaye and Steve Saint, the son of Nate Saint, one of the original martyrs. A kinship bond was formed between them and Mincaye adopted Steve as his ‘tribal son’. Later, when Steve was older and brought his family to live permanently with the tribe in 1995, Mincaye considered Steve’s children as his grandchildren.
Talking of his faith, Mincaye said, “When I killed Steve’s father, I didn’t know better. No one told us that he had come to show us God’s trail. My heart was black and sick in sin, but I heard that God sent his own Son, his blood dripping and dripping. He washed my heart clean.”
Steve Saint called Mincaye ‘father’ and Steve’s children called him ‘grandfather’. Years after the killings, Mincaye baptised Steve Saint and his sister, and then years later still, he baptised Jamie Saint and his brother — all in the same waters next to the beach where, in 1956, he had killed their father and grandfather. Together they considered themselves family and harboured no resentment.
Steve Saint said, “I have never forgotten the pain and heartache of losing my dad… I have known Mincaye since I was a little boy when he took me under his wing … he was one of my dearest friends in the world. Yes, he killed my father, but he loved me and my family. What Mincaye and his tribesmen meant for evil, God used for good… given the chance to rewrite the story, I would not be willing to change it.”
Mincaye has now joined the martyred missionaries in heaven but their testimony stands as a living example of the power of the gospel to forgive sins and transform lives – in civilisations both ancient and modern.