If you ever wanted an example of the verse, “What man meant for evil, God meant for good,” look no further than the famous story of Mincaye and the Auca Indians who killed Jim Elliot and the other four missionaries in 1956.
Many of us know the story of this tribe of headhunters, as chronicled in the book, End of the Spear but not many of us know the connection to the story of long-time New Covenant member Phil Conn. The recent death of Mincaye brings to the forefront, once again, of how God used this “tragedy” for good in incredible ways.
Phil Conn shares:
I was 5 ½ yrs. old when the five missionaries were killed. I can vividly remember the spot I was standing when I heard the news.
I was a missionary kid and grew up in Ecuador. We lived in a small area called Pano, which was approximately a three-hour walk through the jungles to Macuma where missionaries Jim and Elizabeth Elliot lived. We always feared the Aucas, (savages) as they were called at that time, although Pano was out of their normal range of travel. The only way to get to our station was by the Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) aircraft. Nate Saint, also killed with Jim Elliot, occasionally flew us into our station.
Mincaye was one of the five Waodani warriors to spear Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully to death on a river sandbar in 1956. God worked in amazing ways to redeem the tribe of the Waodanis. After he was saved, Mincaye used to sleep on my parent’s screened porch on his way to Dos Rios. I look forward to meeting him in heaven one day!
I remain friends to this day with Nate’s son, Steve Saint. We went to the same boarding school in the capital. I would travel with my parents to the MAF base at the edge of the jungle where Steve’s mom was living and still helping with MAF. Come to think of it, I still have a knot on the back of my head where Steve accidentally hit me there with a stone as we were trying to shoo cows off of the MAF property and away from the planes.
Steve was taken under the wing of Mincaye, the very man who killed his father. As Steve told me, one day Mincaye was complaining to his wife, Ompodae, that Steve didn’t know anything - he didn’t know how to hunt with the blowgun, or how to spear fish, etc. Ompodae responded back, ”You killed his father who was to teach him those things.” Mincaye then assumed the position of surrogate father to Steve.
Another interesting note is that Elizabeth Elliott lived with us for about a year in Pano so that my mother could teach her the Quechua language. Jim Elliott insisted she know the language it before they got married. I don’t remember any of that since I would have only been 2 or 3 years old.
I highly recommend you get the Documentary, “Beyond The Gates of Splendor” if you want to really understand the story. My friend Steve wrote the book “Beyond the Spear.” It is also very interesting. Please note that the movie doesn’t follow the book.
The Story of Mincaye – as told through his obituary by Steve Saint
He was born into a violent “Stone Age” culture in the Amazon Rain Forrest of eastern Ecuador, South America.
Mincaye, whose name means “Wasp,” died April 28, 2020, at home in the tiny village of Tzapino of natural causes related to old age. He was between 88 and 91 years of age. Mincaye is survived by his wife Ompodae (Otter), thirteen children, fifty-some grandchildren, many many great-grandchildren, and tens of thousands of people who saw him as proof of God’s redeeming and transforming power.
When “Grandfather Mincaye,” as we affectionately knew him, helped five other Waodani warriors spear my father Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Roger Youderian and Ed McCully to death on a river sandbar in 1956, there was no reason to believe anyone outside of his small clan and the five bereaved families would ever take note of that incident.
Nevertheless, millions of people in North America and Europe followed radio news releases that five North American missionaries were missing in the Ecuadorian jungle. For most of a week there was no word of their fate. When a search party finally found their five, spear-riddled bodies the question was, “Why?”
The term “Tragedy” accompanied virtually every radio, newspaper, and magazine article as the news of these vicious and seemingly senseless killings spread. But sixty-four long years later, it seems clear that Genesis 50:20 was about to come true again. “What man meant for evil, God meant for good.”
There has been no greater ambassador of that message than the life of Grandfather Wasp. Mincaye is also the main character in the feature film, “End of the Spear.” When “End of the Spear” in book and movie form became available, Mincaye traveled around the United States and Canada telling his life story. This amazing jungle warrior, who counted only up to twenty on his fingers and toes, personally impacted hundreds of thousands of people in audiences as large as forty-five thousand. The movie in which his life plays the leading role has now been translated into the mother tongues of approximately one-quarter of the world’s population.
Mincaye’s most frequent speaking theme was, “We lived angry, hating and killing, ‘ononque’ (for no reason) until they brought us God’s markings. Now, those of us who walk God’s trail live happily and in peace.” Then he would often ask, “How long did you have God’s Markings before you brought them to us?” “Waa, iñinamai” (well, I don’t know). “Maybe if we had known sooner that ‘Waengongi’ (the Creator) did not see it well that people should live angry, hating and killing for no reason, we could have walked God’s trail sooner.”
There are people who question the motives of the five missionaries who made contact with the Waodani in 1956. There are some who question Mincaye’s motives in participating in 10 speaking tours to the U.S. and Canada, trips to Europe, Panama, and even India. I can only answer that I was Mincaye’s traveling companion on all of those trips. We traveled together, ate together, shared the same room, and spoke together. I have known Mincaye since I was a little boy when he took me under his wing and had his sons teach me to blowgun hunt. He was one of my dearest friends in the world. Yes, he killed my father, but he loved me and my family. One of my grandsons is named Mincaye.
We will miss you, Maemae Mincaye, but we hold onto the certain hope that we will soon see you again. (John 3:16)
– Steve Saint