Bruce Olson (1941- )
(…continued) First, a story. In 1961, Bruce Olson, a nineteen year old from Minneapolis, Minnesota, went off to be a missionary to the Motilone people of South America, who he had read about somewhere. This tribe had quite a reputation in Columbia. Up to that time they had killed every white person who had ever set foot in their territory. Bruce Olson knew that, but he was still 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. Bruce Olson felt God was calling him to evangelize the Motilones, so off he went.
In the pursuit of his dream of taking the Gospel to these people who had never heard the name of Jesus, Olson had applied to several missionary agencies, but he was turned down by them all. So, he just packed up and went on his own. He said good-bye to his very worried Norwegian Lutheran parents, flew to Columbia, and took a commercial passenger boat upstream as far as it would take him. He then bought a canoe and started paddling the rest of the way into the jungle.
And then Bruce Olson got sick. Really sick. He set up camp on the river bank and just laid there, waiting to either get well or to die. A missionary agency would have required him to receive all kinds of immunizations to help protect him from the many diseases you can get in the jungle, but he did not have any of that. And so there he was, in his tent, unable to move, and probably dying. It looked like he would die before he even started, just like John Chau.
Then Olson was found. He was found by some men from the very tribe that he had gone out to find. Had Bruce Olson 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 then make trouble for them. So they carried him back to their village, fully intending to nurse him back to health; and then they would put that spear through his heart.
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 young 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 allowed Bruce Olson to live with them. They 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. And they are very grateful to Bruce Olson, first of all for introducing them to Jesus, and secondly, for introducing them to the rest of the world.
This is how the Gospel has spread all around the world, including to your ancestors. From the very beginning, for the very first disciples who Jesus sent into all the world, this has involved sacrifice and risk and often death. Even in Jerusalem the early Christians were persecuted, and as they went out beyond Israel, all but one of the original disciples were killed for their proclamation of the Gospel—just like John Allen Chau. And they all died in unpleasant ways.
If you are a Christian, it is because someone, somewhere risked their life to bring the Gospel to your ancestors. I am of German descent. In 722 Pope Gregory sent a monk named Boniface as a missionary to the pagan barbarian tribes on the German frontier. He brought the Gospel to that part of northern Europe. He worked hard and was very successful with many of the people, planting churches all over what is now Germany. But not all the barbarians wanted him there, and one Sunday, during worship, he was killed by the members of one of the still hostile tribes.
This has been the story all over the world for the entire history of the church. And oftentimes, it has been like the landing of the soldiers on the beach on D-Day, with hundreds of men killed even before they reached land. But more kept coming, and eventually the mission was accomplished. (continued…)
Acts 1:8 — (Jesus said), “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
O Lord, bestow thy grace upon all missionaries, that by them Christ may be lifted up in every land and all people drawn to him. In times of loneliness and weariness cheer them with thy presence; in disappointment give them patience; in the press of daily obligations keep their spirits fresh; in difficulties and dangers uphold and protect them; in success keep them humble of heart; in failure strengthen them to persevere. Make them to be joyful in spirit, radiant in life, steadfast in faith, zealous in service, and at all times deepen in them the sense of dependence upon thee and give them peace in thy service; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.