On Tuesday afternoon, Mincaye, the former warrior who in 1956 speared to death Nate Saint and Ed McCully, two of the five missionary martyrs in Ecuador, passed from this life to the next. A member of the once fierce Huaorani tribe, Mincaye had come to Christ, and was a transformed man, a delightful brother who was a joy to be with.
When I became a Christian at age fifteen one of the first stories I read was about the five missionary martyrs. As it did hundreds of thousands of others, this story inspired me and taught me that there is often a price to pay in order to spread the good news of salvation in Christ. Little did I know that many years later I would connect with the family members of three of those men, as well as one of their killers, now beautifully transformed.
Last year I shared an update from Joni Eareckson Tada about Mincaye, as their Wheels for the World team had provided him, then about 90 years old, with a wheelchair suitable for the rugged terrain in Ecuador. Now he’s with Jesus, and no longer needs that chair! My friend Mart Green, producer of the documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor and the movie The End of the Spear wrote, “What a reunion. First time in 64 years that Mincaye has seen Nate, Jim, Pete, Roger, and Ed! No social distancing for that home coming.”
Steve Saint (Nate Saint’s son) and I became friends years ago, and he introduced me to Mincaye. In 2006 he and Ginnie came to my home church within a week of the 50th anniversary of the death of the missionaries, and I interviewed him and Mincaye. Of all the people I’ve met, one I felt the most privileged to spend time with was Mincaye.
Here’s a five-minute clip from that interview, in which you quickly get to know Mincaye:
(You can watch the full interview here.)
After those church services, Nanci and I and our friends Stu and Linda Weber had lunch with Steve and Ginnie Saint, Mincaye, and Ed McCulley’s son Steve and his wife Ellie at the home where Jim Elliot and his older brother Bert grew up, in Portland, Oregon, fourteen miles from our home. Bert and Colleen joined us, in their 80’s on furlough from Peru. (I share more about Bert and Colleen, who lived a remarkable life of faithful endurance, in this article.)
This photo was taken that day when we were in Jim Elliot’s bedroom. In it, three of the five missionary families are represented, with Mincaye who as a young warrior killed the fathers of Steve Saint (second from left) and Steve McCulley (far right), and then came to Jesus, a redeemed and precious brother and elder in his church in Ecuador. Bert Elliot is holding the photo of his brother Jim. I can’t wait to see Mincaye again! And Bert and Colleen! And Elisabeth Elliot, who also spoke at our church many years ago.
I also look forward to seeing Marge Saint, Nate’s wife and Steve’s mom, who I spoke with on the phone when she was in a hospital nearing her death. Steve had been reading to her my book Heaven, and he called me and said, “My mom wants to talk to you.” She only had the strength to whisper to me two words: “Thank you.” I wept, and managed to say, “No, thank YOU for your life!”
Nanci and I are rejoicing in the great reunion going on in Heaven where the missionary martyrs and their wives are. I suspect they were there to joyfully welcome Mincaye into the presence of Jesus! I think it’s no stretch to believe besides the Lord Himself, others are there to welcome home saints when they die. Second Peter 1:9 says of the faithful, “You will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Another person who I think was part of Mincaye’s welcoming committee was Stephenie Saint, Steve and Ginny’s daughter. I share this in my book If God Is Good:
Steve Saint told me about the day he and his wife, Ginny, eagerly waited to meet their daughter, twenty-year-old Stephenie, at the Orlando airport after she returned from a long trip. With the Saints stood Mincaye, one of the tribal warriors who, in 1956, murdered the five missionaries in Ecuador, including Steve’s father, Nate. Eventually the gospel his victims had brought to him transformed him. Mincaye became part of the Saint family, with the children calling him Grandfather. At the airport, Grandfather Mincaye waved a sign (upside down) reading “Welcome Home, Stephenie.”
That night, in the midst of their celebration, Stephenie developed a headache and asked Steve to pray for her. Ginny sat on the bed and held Stephenie, while Steve put his arms around both of them and started praying. While he prayed, Stephenie suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage. They rushed her to the hospital, where Mincaye saw his beloved Stephenie, whom he called Star, lying on a gurney with a tube down her throat and needles in her arm. He grabbed Steve and said, “Who did this to her?”
“I don’t know, Mincaye. Nobody is doing this.”
Mincaye grabbed Steve again and said, “Babae, don’t you see? God Himself is doing this.”
Excitedly, Mincaye addressed all the people in the emergency room: “Don’t you see? God loving Star, He’s taking her to live with Him.”
Then he told them, “Look at me, I’m an old man; pretty soon I’m going to die, too, and I’m going there.”
Finally, with a pleading look on his face, Mincaye exhorted these bystanders, “Please, please, won’t you follow God’s trail, too? Coming to God’s place, Star and I will be waiting there to welcome you.”
Within a few hours, Stephenie died. I’m confident that when she left this world a celebration erupted in another world where others, including her Lord and her Grandfather Nate Saint, who she’d never met, stretched out their arms and said, “Welcome home, Stephenie.”
Now the story of these precious and everlasting relationships, which started on Earth, continues in Heaven, and will go on forever when God brings down the present Heaven to the New Earth, where He promises to live with His people forever and where there will be no more suffering and death and He will wipe away all the tears of His redeemed (Revelation 21:1-4).
I praise God for faithful people, including the Saint family, who invested in the Huaorani tribe. (Steve’s aunt Rachel lived with the tribe for years.) They brought them the gospel, and a forged a deep family relationship with Mincaye. This small but big-hearted warrior faithfully walked God’s trail and followed his markings (see the five-minute video for the significance of this statement).
Don’t miss Steve Saint’s tribute to “Grandfather Mincaye,” as they affectionately knew him, with many more pictures and videos.
For more on the persecuted church, and God’s eternal purposes, see Randy’s novel Safely Home.