Bruce Olson was born in Minneapolis in 1942. He grew up in the Lutheran church and learned in Sunday School how much Jesus loved him, that Jesus died for him on the cross, and, how important it was for him to believe in Jesus. He also learned that God wanted everybody in the whole world to know about Jesus. He decided that he would do his part to make that happen by becoming a missionary. He had heard about the fierce Motilone tribe in the jungles of Columbia and Venezuela that had not yet been reached by anyone, so he chose to go to them.
If you want to become a missionary, the first thing you should do is go to a school that specializes in preparing people for the mission field. Or, you might go to any college to get some education; and then, at the same time, be in touch with a mission agency about applying with their organization to receive sponsorship, salary, training, and a base to work from. The mission agencies then would have their own procedures which would include language training, cross-cultural awareness courses, education about the nation and the tribe to which you will be sent, necessary medical precautions and preparations, and so forth. The mission organization will also help you with all the paperwork and red tape involved in going to do long-term work in another country. Preparing to be a missionary can take a long time and require a lot of work.
But Bruce Olson was an energetic 19-year old and anxious to get going. So he decided to bypass all of the preliminaries. He did, at first, apply at a few mission agencies, but they rejected him as unfit for service. So, he decided he would just get a plane ticket to Columbia, South America, arrange for passage on a commercial steam-boat upstream as far as he could go, and then paddle by canoe the rest of the way to get to the Motilones.
This tribe had quite a reputation in Columbia. Up to that time (1961) they had killed every white person who had ever set foot in their territory. Bruce Olson knew that, but still was determined to go to them. He had no training, no experience, no sponsorship, no money, and he did not speak the language. He would just go to them, live with them, and see what happened. His Norwegian Lutheran parents in Minneapolis were not pleased with this decision, but what can you tell a 19 year old? He felt God was calling him to the Motilones, so off he went.
Olson almost died even before he got to his destination. With no organization to help him prepare medically for the trip, he came down with a very serious illness on the river. This happened not long after he took off on his own. He kept going as long as he could, but after a few days, he was too sick to move. He set up camp on the river bank and just laid there, waiting to either get well or die.
Olson was found by some men from the tribe that he had gone out to find. Had he been healthy when they found him, they would have immediately put a spear through his heart. But fierce as they were, this tribe was too proud to kill an animal or an enemy that was sick. They would have just left an animal, but they did not want to leave a man who might get well and make trouble for them. So they carried him back to their village, fully intending to nurse him back to health; and then they would kill him.
It is a long story, but by the time Olson got well, the people in the tribe had grown fond of him. They were intrigued by this fair skinned man and by some of the fascinating gadgets that he had brought along. They could see that he meant them no harm. So the Motilones let Bruce Olson live there, and called him Bruchko. He stayed with them for most of his life. He works with them still, though he no longer lives with them full-time as he did for over 50 years.
Bruchko went to the Motilones to tell them about Jesus, and almost all of the people of that tribe are now Christians. They have churches and schools and hospitals. Many of their children are now university graduates, and they don’t kill white people anymore. Most of them have remained in their jungle homeland, but they have undergone a tremendous transformation.
Bruce Olson accomplished all this by giving his life to them; first, by being willing to die in even going there, and then, by living among them from then on. He did not die, as he might well have, but he did give up whatever life he could have had with his own people. He has given his whole life to live among this primitive tribe, all so that they might know Christ. He moved in with them, lived like they did, learned their language, ate what they ate, and, at first, took with him none of the comforts of civilization. Later, when he began to introduce some pills and medical cures, he did this through the local medicine man who had become his friend, allowing the medicine man to grow in respect, rather than be defeated and humiliated by a more successful cure from this outsider. Olson fit in wherever and however he could, except where he would have to compromise his faith. He would not do that, even though he did seek to learn all he could about the present beliefs of the tribe. After taking years to earn their confidence and trust, he began to tell them about Jesus. He did so by seeking connections with what they already believed in, and then building on that. The Motilones did believe in a creator God and in the presence of spirits. Olson showed them how Jesus completed their faith and their lives in ways their own beliefs never could. Their beliefs were limited to a fear of unseen forces. Bruchko showed them that God loved them and came to earth for them. In time, they came to believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. (continued…)
Ruth 1:15-17 — “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
Oh God, you have created me to do for you some definite service; you have committed to me some work to do which you have not committed to another. I have my mission. You have created me a link in a chain, a connection between people. You have not created me for nothing. May I do the work you have given me to do and do it well. Amen.
–John Henry Newman (1801-1890)
To read more of this amazing story go to Olson’s website at:
Listen to him tell his story at:
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