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You know how fast you have to run to get away from an angry bear? Just a little bit faster than the next guy! Do you know how much missions experience you need to have to be considered to be an expert on the subject? You got it!

When people comment on what a great idea it was to start ITEC instead of just “doing missions for the Waodani,” I feel I need to confess: It wasn’t my idea.

My aunt Rachel had just died and I had flown down to represent my family in burying her out in the jungles where she had lived with the Waodani for the last 36 years of her life. After we had finished lowering her plywood coffin into a hand-dug hole, a group of older Waodani informed me that they wanted to talk to me.

Their Idea, Come and Teach Us!

When asked what they wanted us to do, they replied, “We don’t say, come to do. We say, come to teach us how to do what the foreigners do, like we taught you how to do what we do.”

The Waodani Christ-follower’s made it clear to me that they were not primarily concerned with taking care of people’s physical needs. They told me, “When the foreigners come in and do the baga beae (the tooth thing) and the medicine thing and the airplane thing, the people see them well; but not speaking Wao Tededo (Waodani language), they cannot tell them how to walk the trail the Creator’s Son marked with His blood.”

Later, when Christ-followers from another Ecuadorian tribe saw the Waodani assembling their first plane, they asked me to help them, too. But I was already way over my head trying to design tools with which to train and equip the Waodani to do what they had urged me to help them do.

When I told the Quechua group they would need to find someone else to help them, one of them whispered to another one in the group, “Where will we find anyone to teach us?”

As the Quechua delegation walked away discouraged, I was surprised to see that the Waodani group helping assemble their little airplane was upset with me. Mincaye asked me diplomatically, “Why do you say ‘yes’ to helping us, but you said ‘no’ to helping them?”

You Teaching Us, Together We Can Teach…

I reminded him how busy I was with what he and other Waodani believers were asking me to help them with. Now, he became more blunt. “Like a foreigner you are thinking. We say, you teaching us, together we can teach all the other Christ-followers to teach their own people.” Grandfather Mincaye and his contemporaries count up to twenty on their fingers and toes. After that it is just lots and lots. I couldn’t imagine trying to tell him that in just the country of Papua New Guinea, with a population of 8,606,000 people, there are 832 distinct languages spoken. I tried to imagine Mincaye going from a tribe of hunter-gatherers just emerging from the Stone Age to teach similar people halfway around the earth to meet felt needs and to teach their own people to follow Christ’s trail.

Several years later Mincaye and I were part of an ITEC training team in Hyderabad, India. As Mincaye helped our US dentist train Indian Pastors to pull teeth, I suddenly realized how short-sighted I had been thinking that the Waodani could never go to a place like Papua New Guinea to teach skills. In India, highly educated and dedicated pastors could not share Christ’s Gospel because the people they wanted to evangelize would not let Christians into their communities. Grandfather Mincaye was not on an adventure trip. The Indian pastors had specifically asked for Mincaye to go with the ITEC team. I think they knew how we North Americans prefer to do the work ourselves rather than to equip national Christ-followers with skills that open doors to once closed communities.

This Was Not a New Idea

The Waodani idea was not new. Jesus went from community to community meeting hurting people’s felt needs. That is why the multitudes followed Him. But even when thousands of people wanted to hear His message, Jesus concentrated on teaching God’s message to twelve uneducated and unprepared men (Matthew 13:36-43 & Acts 4:13).

For an Amazon warrior to travel all around the U.S., Canada, Amsterdam, Hyderabad and Panama telling hundreds of thousands of people, “We acted badly badly until they brought us God’s Markings,” is amazing. Now, because of the vision of a few Waodani Christ-followers, Dentists, Doctors, Nurses, Engineers, Optometrists, Mechanics, Agronomists, Aviators, Videographers, and soon Trauma Counselors are Developing tools to Train and Equip indigenous Christ-followers in the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia.

As most of you know, Grandfather Mincaye has now embarked on his journey to forever-land. We will miss you Maemae. Greet our loved ones, please. Thank you for so very many that will spend eternity in the Creator’s place because of the story the Creator wrote with your life.

The idea that Mincaye and the Waodani proposed is still an invitation for you, today. Partnership with our global brothers and sisters in Christ, striving towards interdependence on one another, is the vision they cast that continues to drive ITEC. Maybe one of the greatest memorials to my dad, his four friends, and the Waodani grandfathers who have passed on, is for us to continue this idea of indigenous participation in the Great Commission. The question for you, today, is how has God gifted you to participate in this great story He is writing?



Read Steve’s Obituary for Mincaye Here


  • Colby Gardner says:

    Man, I just love reading all of your stories! (There’s not a lot of blogs that keep my attention the whole way through, and yours have for years!) Thanks for continuing to push the vision and serve wholeheartedly! God bless you, Steve!

  • Roy Smith says:

    For Steve,
    Since 1956, when I was 16, I have followed in thoughtful meditation, and prayer, God’s work through us to those around us. I am hardened by my sin but softened by God’s grace. I see God at work today in you, and the Waodani. It is His doing, He is making Himself precious with the hands of His creations. We will know Him as He knows us soon. He is coming to take us to Himself, to a home He has been preparing, and to a fellowship with all our family with Him now.
    Steve, I enjoy your honest, insightful messages of God’s grace in action. I wish you to know that God is pouring out His favor on each of us as well as all of us. You are precious to Him.
    In Christ rejoicing, Roy Smith

  • william T griffin says:

    This was a great reminder of our call to “equip the saints for their work of service” (Ephesians 4:12), keep up the great work in the memory of Mincaye, to the glory of Christ and His gospel!

    • Brie Gowen says:

      You know what stuck out to me? How we North Americans want to do the work ourselves. I think so many times, even if unintentionally, it’s a pride think. We want to say “we fixed it,” checked that box of mission trip, and did the “works” to make ourselves feel better. The true mission work is to equip others, to serve best by sowing into the future. I love what ITEC does, and I look forward to seeing how God uses me to be a part of it.