Mincaye Enquedi (90) passed away peacefully at home in the tiny village of Tzapino on 28 April 2020. Very few people will know the name, and fewer still will mourn his passing. While he was largely unknown on earth, he is now, by God’s grace, well known in heaven.
Mincaye, meaning wasp, was born into a violent ‘stone age’ Huaorani tribe, called the Aucas or ‘savages’, in the Amazon Rainforest of eastern Ecuador, South America, around 1930. Historically, every encounter with this remote tribe had ended in death. From the 16th century conquerors to the 17th century Jesuits to the 19th century gold and rubber hunters, all outsiders had been killed. These ‘naked savages’ were the most dangerous tribe known to man.
On 8 January 1956, five American missionaries found this out, to their fatal cost, when they were tragically killed in the jungles of Ecuador. Some six months earlier, with the intention of being the first Christians to evangelise the previously unreached Aucas, the missionaries began making regular flights dropping gifts over Huaorani settlements. After several months of exchanging gifts, the missionaries established a camp at Palm Beach, a sandbar along the Curaray River (a few kilometres from Huaorani settlements) on 3 January 1956. Sadly, their valiant efforts came to an end a few days later when all five — Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian — were attacked and speared to death by the tribesmen.
The world recoiled in shock at the news. While their missionary vision was to win the Aucas for Christ, the headlines broadcasted only one fact: the five missionaries had signed their own death warrant and wasted their lives for nothing. Years later, however, it became clear that what had seemed to be a tragic ending was only the first chapter in a breath-taking story of grace, forgiveness, and mercy.
In 1958, the widow of Jim Elliot, Elisabeth, and the sister of Nate Saint, Rachel, returned to Ecuador as missionaries to live with the Huaorani tribe, the same people who had murdered the men they loved. After making peaceful contact with them, they learned their language, befriended their members, taught them the Bible, and successfully forged a friendship that transformed all of them. The blood spilled by the martyrs provided a blessed seed for the gospel to go forth. God’s powerful Word began to save and shape these once savage killers.
Not long afterwards, when the grace of God captured and conquered him, Mincaye came to faith in Christ. His new life was testimony to God’s redeeming power. After becoming a Christian, he became a much-respected elder and preacher in the village church where his ministry was richly blessed to many. On the great change that took place in the tribe, he said, ‘We acted badly, badly, until they brought us God’s carvings [the Bible]. Then, seeing his carvings and following his good trail, now we live happily and in peace with everyone.’
Years later, Mincaye met Steve, the young son of Nate Saint, whom he had murdered. Because he had killed Steve’s father, Mincaye felt a special responsibility in helping to raise him. A kinship bond was formed and Mincaye adopted Steve as his tribal son. In 1995 when Steve was older and brought his family to live permanently with the tribe, Mincaye considered Steve’s children as his grandchildren. In his testimony he 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 water next to the beach where, in 1956, he had killed their father and grandfather. Together they consider 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.’
Among those from ‘all nations and tribes and people and tongues’ recorded in Revelation 7:9 as being in heaven, we believe is Mincaye Enquedi, a great sinner from the jungles of Ecuador saved by God’s grace. He is survived by his wife Ompodae, 13 children, about 50 grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren.
Donald J. Morrison is Home Mission Worker serving under Home & Foreign Missions Committee of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). Based in Inverness.