Tribes in Ecuador’s dense rainforest once followed a brutal killing code based on fear and mistrust. But after one deadly attack, several tribal members became unlikely testaments of grace, love, and the transforming power of the gospel. None were more changed than a warrior named Mincaye.
Mincaye (mink-EYE-ee) Enquedi was born between 1935 and 1938 into the Waodani tribe. No one knows the exact date because the Waodani do not measure time.
The Waodanis’ culture was vengeful and violent. Their language had no word for “peace.” Other tribes called them aucas, “naked savages.” In a small settlement near the Ewenguno (Curaray) River, Mincaye grew up learning: Kill or be killed.
In September 1955, five couples devised a plan to bring Jesus’ teachings to the Waodani. Americans Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, Pete and Olive Fleming, Ed and Marilou McCully, Roger and Barbara Youderian, and pilot Nate Saint and his wife Marj began “Operation Auca.” Their plan was so dangerous that they didn’t tell their mission board about it.
Saint began flying over a Waodani settlement. The jungle was thick. There seemed no place to land, so pilot and passenger dropped gifts—ribbons, pots, clothing—to the startled Waodani below.
After months of flyovers, the missionary men landed on a sandbar in the Ewenguno River and set up camp in January 1956. Some shouted basic Waodani phrases into the jungle. All hoped the Waodani would become curious and visit.
Mincaye and other Waodani came. Some tried to talk with the missionaries. One even took rides in Saint’s yellow plane. But after several days, confusion and fear spooked the tribespeople. Sadly, six warriors speared all five of the missionaries to death. Mincaye himself speared two men, including Saint.
Many people believed Operation Auca was a failure. Few understood why God let the killings happen. Yet years later, Steve Saint, Nate’s son, called the tragedy a shining example of Genesis 50:20: “What man meant for evil, God meant for good.”
“At first blush, their death was needless,” James Boster, an anthropologist who studied the murders, told a reporter in 2006.
But God’s love and supernatural forgiveness was on display, large and in your face and stronger than any warrior or weapon.
The media followed the story of the massacre with photographs, film footage, and interviews with the bereaved families. Articles told how some of the women stayed on in Ecuador after the killings. The efforts of Nate Saint’s sister, Rachel, and widowed Elisabeth Elliot led to the salvation of some of the very men who’d speared their family members.
“In the long run, the fact that their kin went back in peace to teach was a strong signal that the [Waodani] could trust both the messengers and the message,” Boster said.
Mincaye accepted Jesus shortly after Rachel Saint moved in with the tribe. (She stayed for 30 years!) Mincaye chose “God’s trail” instead of the trail he’d been following—one of anger, murder, and hate. He once said through an interpreter, “[God] took a very strong blood that Jesus His Son dripped and dripped for me. And with that very strong blood, He washed my heart until it was clean like the sky when it has no clouds in it.”
Nate’s son, Steve Saint, spent summers with the tribe from the age of nine. Mincaye became a tribal grandfather to him. Steve eventually began Indigenous People’s Technology and Education Center (ITEC). That organization still helps small tribes, including the Waodani, through practical instruction and the gospel.
On April 28, 2020, Mincaye died in the tiny village of Tzapino. He is survived by his wife Ompodae, 13 children, over 50 grandchildren, many great-grandchildren—and tens of thousands who marvel at his story. Several of Mincaye’s children and grandchildren are “coming-after ones.” That is what the Waodani call someone who accepts Jesus and truly lives His teachings.
Mincaye is remembered as a “sweet, silly, always smiling, always teasing, constantly giggling grandfather to many,” says Jessica Saint, wife of one of Nate’s grandsons, Jaime Nate Mincaye Saint.
Mincaye’s conversion is remarkable—as is the salvation of every sinner saved by grace. The forgiveness and acceptance that the Holy Spirit enabled in the Saint family is perhaps even more remarkable. So far, God’s amazing work in the jungles of Ecuador has included the second and third generations of at least two families.
Mincaye made several trips to America. Together, he and Steve Saint spoke to audiences about their story. “If you keep walking your own trail,” he would ask through Steve, “when you come to the end, what’s going to happen to you?” Mincaye has reached the end of his earthly trail. To God be the glory! Great things He has done!