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“GOD USED FOR GOOD”
In 1956, Steve was five years old when his father, Nate, flew a Piper Cruiser plane with four other missionaries into the jungles of Equador and dared to make contact with the most dangerous tribe known to man, the Waodani (whoa-DONNY) also known as “Auca,” or naked savage.
After several months of exchanging gifts with the natives, the five men were speared multiple times and hacked to death with machetes.
One of the men in the tribe that fateful day was Mincaye (min-KY-yee). Years later Steve found out that Mincaye actually delivered the final spear that ultimately killed his father. (Three of the six warriors from that day are still alive.)
Today they consider themselves family and harbor no resentment. Steve says he has never forgotten the pain and heartache of losing his dad.
“But I can’t imagine not loving Mincaye, a man who has adopted me as his own, and the other Waodani,” says Steve, who made his first trip into Waodani territory when he was 9 years old.
By 1956 Steve’s Aunt Rachel had been living in the jungle but not with the Waodani for several years. Rachel loved her younger brother (Steve’s dad) like a son, but even after he was killed, she continued to live with the Waodani until her death in 1994. Her affection for them was a major influence in Steve’s life. He visited her every summer.
When he was 14, Steve and his sister, Kathy, decided to be baptized and chose a couple of Waodani to perform the baptism in the same water next to the beach where their father was killed. After Rachel died, the tribe asked Steve to live with them. (Steve and his family lived in the jungle for a year and a half.) “What the Waodani meant for evil, God used for good,” says Steve. “Given the chance to rewrite the story, I would not be willing to change it.”
Many are confounded by the relationship Steve has with Mincaye. He says that a USAToday reporter commented that if he were in Steve’s shoes, he could “forgive Mincaye, maybe. But love him, that’s morbid.” Steve says that their relationship doesn’t make sense unless you put God in the equation. Even though his dad’s death was painful, Steve says Mincaye would not have adopted him and he would not have been part of the mysterious, stoneage Waodani world. Also thousands of people, who were stirred by the missionaries’ deaths, would not have dedicated their lives to helping take the gospel to unreached groups like Waodani all over the world.
DID THEY HAVE TO DIE?
Steve remembers as a young boy standing on the bank of dirt that separated his house from the sand and gravel airstrip. He watched his dad take off to fly in the jungle each morning, and then anxiously wait for his return. Even at five years old, Steve knew this was a huge risk.
A week after Christmas 1955, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming and Roger Youderian made plans to make the first-ever-friendly contact with Waodani. After a few days, his father didn’t return. Finally one day, Steve’s mom told him his father would never come home.
“My world started to cave in as my little mind filled with all sorts of questions,” says Steve.
For years, Aunt Rachel told Steve to never ask the Waodani what led to the killings that day. If he did, they might suspect that he was trying to find out who was responsible in order to avenge his father’s death. Over time, the trust between the tribe and Steve grew strong. After Rachel’s funeral, the Waodani told Steve what happened the day he was waiting for his dad’s plane to return.
“There are too many factors that all had to work together to have allowed the events to happen as they did,” says Steve. “Too many for me to believe it was just chance.”
He believes that all of the men died as part of God’s plan. “I know that might offend some,” says Steve. “But I don’t think what happened to my dad and his four friends caught God by surprise.”
Steve says he believes God was much more involved in what happened than merely failing to intervene.
“I have personally paid a high price for what happened, but I have also had a front row seat as the rest of the story has been unfolding for half a century. I believe only God could have fashioned such an incredible story from such a tragic event,” he says. Because those five men were willing to die, everyone else in the tribe had a chance to live.
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