A picture, it is said, is worth a thousand words. But in truth, some pictures, like the one above merit far more. The name of the man standing in the middle means little except to a relatively small circle of people that have walked this earth, and the name of the young boy mentioned on the back of the fading photo infinitely less. But the story of the two brown skinned men along with their relatives has inspired books, movies, and thousands of young men and women to venture from their comfort zones to places and peoples little known by the outside world.
The story of these two men began in the 1940’s when a girl escaped to her family in Ecuador to tell of her capture and enslavement by a fearsome tribe locals knew more as jungle ghosts and legend than flesh and blood. But the people of this ghost tribe were no legend. They were the Woorani.
The Woorani only numbered 600, split into three mutually hostile groups. Yet even the cannibalistic neighboring tribes feared them. They were Aucas, the killing people. Every tribe that encountered them considered them to be savages, and with good reason. Murder within their ranks was almost a sport, twins were routinely buried alive, and when someone got too sick or grew feeble from old age, relatives would dig a pit beneath their hammock, throw them in the pit and bury them alive.
But in 1956, the year the boy named on the back of the photograph was born, five men made contact with the Woorani. Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Peter Fleming, and Ed McCully found a way to land a small plane on a sand bar near where Aucas lived with the intent of sharing Christ with them. Elisabeth Elliot’s, Through Gates of Splendor, and the more recent film, End of the Spear, tell the story of how these five men were killed by the Aucas and how the outside world was horrified.
So how did these two Aucas in the picture end up wearing suits and smiles barely a decade later? Among others, the family of Nate Saint chose to reach out and live with the people who had murdered these five peaceful men. Nate’s son, Steve, lived with them from the time he was seven well into his teenage years. Mincaye, the Auca who speared Steve’s father became his spiritual adoptive father.
Mincaye led dozens of others, like the two men in the photograph, to abandon their murderous ways and to follow the saving path. Or as Mincaye once said:
We acted badly, badly, until they brought God’s carvings. Then, seeing His carvings and following His good trail. now we live happily and in peace.
And the man in the middle? He is Alfonso Olmedo. First a pastor in Argentina, he later moved to the United States where a pastor from Louisiana named Earl met him. A friendship developed to the point Olmedo came to spend a few days in the pastor’s home and speak to his church.
While visiting in that home this man from Argentina who had rubbed shoulders with men who were once murderous ghosts, shared their stories with a young boy. He taught the boy how to play Spanish checkers and marvel at the mysteries of God’s grace. Neither the boy nor Olmedo could have known a friend and father had only another year to live. And with the death of that boy’s father, the photo this story is about was locked away in a grieving widow’s photo album.
Until now. Now a mother, seeing the shadows of life growing longer by the day, has passed the photo story back to the boy become a man. It tells the story of two Aucas, once ghost killers, an Argentinean friend, and the words he wrote to an 11 year boy named Tim in 1967:
To my very dear friend Tim .. in remembrance of the wonderful time we had together! God bless you and make you a great servant of our Lord, whose Grace can change savages into Sons of God as it was with these once feared Auca Indians.