"BRUCHKO" A TEENAGE AMERICAN, STONE-AGE INDIANS, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT
Periodically, I re-publish this amazing story about Bruce Olson because I consider him to be the greatest Christian missionary in modern history. I met Bruce when Stephen Strang, publisher of Charisma books and magazines, invited me to the Board Meeting of Christian Life Missions in Chicago and the surprise 90th birthday celebration for our mutual friend Robert Walker–now deceased. Bob Walker was the founding editor of Christian Life Magazine, now part of Charisma, an original member of Pat Robertson’s CBN Board and a guiding influence in the early years of Tyndall House Publishing Company. It was Bob who became excited about my book, The Edge Of Glory, and ushered it through to completion. At his birthday party, I unexpectedly met "Bruchko" and in a few minutes time this quiet, unassuming man had changed my life forever. I now want everyone else to know about him.
Many Americans know Bruchko only as the missionary captured by Communist guerillas in Columbia, South America, held hostage and tortured nearly a year. During that time, his hands were tied to a tree behind his back, he was plagued with hunger, dysentery, exposed to blood-thirsty mosquitoes, drenched in rain, and burned by the sun. His faith in Jesus never wavered. The guerillas wanted him to join their cause, rally the Indians behind them, and help overthrow the government. He refused. Finally, they stood him before a firing squad. They fired. He remained standing. The bullets had been blanks. That mock killing had been their ultimate, desperate attempt to make him yield. It failed. His capture brought such an international outcry that he was released. But when he finally walked away, more than 60 of his captors--including the leader---had accepted Christ and dropped their guns.
But there is much more to his story than that. And "Bruchko" is his Indian name. To others, he is Bruce Olsson, a tall, blonde American of Norwegian descent, who, in 1959, as a nineteen year old, walked out of the snow of Minnesota into the interior of South American jungles.
When God spoke to his heart, calling him to give his life to the stone-age Motilone Indians, he packed and went. His wealthy Lutheran parents were furious. They accused his "holy roller" church of their son’s mental-abduction. His father even locked him out of the family home in sub-zero temperature one winter night, forcing him to walk more than a mile to another house for protection. Going to South America was absurd! A scholar, Bruce was already fluent in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, and a total of 17 languages. His parents’ plan was that he become a language professor in an ivy-league University. The Motilones had murdered every person--white or other tribal Indian--who came into their territory. No stranger entered their domain and lived. In spite of his parent’s screaming, he went anyway.
Bruce had no training, no financial support, no knowledge of the languages he needed, and when he arrived in Caracas, no one met him. Missionaries who earlier promised help had changed their minds. They disapproved of his lack of denominational credentials. He was abandoned. Alone and penniless, he wandered the streets, thinking of his parents’ fierce opposition to his mission and the failure they had prophesied on his work.
But, in South America as in Minnesota, Bruce had the presence of the Holy Spirit hovering over him. That presence would not turn loose. It would not go away. He had no choice but to be obedient to its call.
Several years after his arrival in South America, Bruce finally crossed the towering Andes Mountains alone, on foot, forded violent jungle rivers, and arrived in Motilone territory. That significant day, the one for which he had prayed, sacrificed, struggled, and which he believed God had ordained, came with terrifying pain. The Motilones shot him with an arrow. Writhing in agony, he fell to the jungle floor with the shaft buried in his leg and found himself surrounded by naked, fierce-looking warriors, with bows aimed at him. One of them finally approached and jerked the arrow out backward, tearing his muscle and flesh on its barbs. Grabbing him up, they forced him into a three-hour mountain-climb to their village. Here, they dropped him before their drunken Chief. Another battle followed and more arrows tore into his flesh. Tied and imprisoned alone in the hut, he went for days without food. When it came, and he ate, it was a bundle of five-inch long, live grub-worms. The next moment, he vomited them up.
With that reception, Bruce had finally arrived at God’s destination. Strangely, the Motilones let him live and begrudgingly accepted him into the village. He was the first. No one else had ever entered their society and survived. Once when oil company engineers went into their part of the jungle they were killed solely that Motilones could use their helmets for cook pots. The vermin, filth, unspeakably bad sanitary conditions in the villages at times overwhelmed Bruce. At that point, he could hardly have imagined that for the next 40 years he would voluntarily live as a Motilone, learning their ways, speaking their language, and slowly bringing them--and surrounding tribes--to a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ.
In time, Bruce learned surprising things about the Motilones. Buried in their strange theology, they believed that in the remote past, a false prophet had deceived their tribe and God had departed from them. Because of God’s departure, they were subject to demons and darkness. But they also believed that someday One would come who would take them to "the trail that led to the horizon." That expression, "the trail that led to the horizon" was their way of expressing hope in finding the approach back to God. Even the witch doctor talked about it. To jungle people, "trails" were very important. More than anything else, they wanted to find that most important, lost trail leading to the sky. Surrounded by high mountains and thick rainforest, these people had never even seen the horizon. Yet, they knew somewhere in the far distance it was there. But they didn’t know how to find the trail that led to it.
In their innocent, naive way, they also told Bruce that someday God would come to them from a banana tree. Apparently, someone in the past had "seen" this strange banana stalk--or what looked like it. They were absolutely convinced they were right. To Bruce, the legend made no sense at all. Once, when traveling through the jungle, Bruce came upon two men, howling in grieving anguish. Their wailing was frantic. One was in a tree, the other, who had dug a deep hole in the ground, was yelling into it, trying to get his dead brother to respond. The brother, Bruce learned, had died out of Motilone territory and now his spirit could not return. When the men failed to retrieve the lost spirit, they dropped to the ground in total despair. It was because "they had been deceived by the false prophet." The false prophet was the explanation for all their problems.
God had departed. As they talked, one of the younger men in a moment of frustration chopped a small section out of a nearby banana plant and tossed it on the ground in front of them. Banana trees are very soft, layered like an onion, and usually filled with water. Once cut, the layers separate easily. A moment later, the one with the machete hit the banana section lengthwise and it fell apart. When it opened, the layers in the banana trunk separated like pages in a book. For a moment they all stared at it. Suddenly, truth broke through! Bruce grabbed his Bible and held it open beside the banana. There was a striking similarity in the two. This was it! The Motilones had been waiting for God to come to them from a book! The Bible!
When one of the men saw the Bible and banana together the light of truth suddenly flashed into his darkness. Snatching the Bible from Bruce’s hands, he ripped pages from it, stuffed them into his mouth and frantically began eating them. He wanted the God who was in the Book to come into him! From that moment on, Bruce had an open door to speak to the Motilones about Jesus Christ. Six years after his arrival in South America, Bruce had his first convert. A young man by the name of Bobarishora, "Bobby," had a genuine, life-changing, regenerating encounter with Jesus. Bobby’s method of sharing the experience with others was that he explained his conversion in a song. His song, non-stop, to which the entire village listened intently, lasted fourteen hours. Like fire, the song quickly passed to other Indian encampments. The effect was revolutionary. They believed it and were saved. The God who had departed, had returned! It was the testimony of their own Motilone brother that led them to Christ. During Bruce Olsson’s cold winter nights in Minnesota, when he wrestled with the Holy Spirit about reaching this tribe, he knew nothing of their longing for restoration with the God they believed had departed from them. Nor could he have imagined how God would use a banana tree and a fourteen-hour song to open their hearts to the miracle of salvation.
Bruce Olsson is considered one of the great Missionaries of Christian history. He recognized the fallacy of imposing American culture on the Indians instead of integrating the gospel into their own culture.
Indians had always built round houses. Many missionaries insisted that church buildings be square. When missionaries demanded that natives dress in American style and sing American-type songs, Bruce would ask, "What did Christians do before there was a ‘western’ culture and British hymns?" Most importantly, Bruce relied on the Holy Spirit to give him wisdom and endurance in working with stone-age savages. God enabled him to see beyond their ignorance to the Godly, educated people they could become. How far is Motilone territory from civilization? Each time Bruce leaves his jungle post for civilization, he walks five days to a river. There, he cuts trees and builds a raft for another four day trip downstream. That is followed by another long hike and hopefully a pick-up by a banana truck. Even then, airports and transportation are still a long way off.
Because of his amazing work, Bruce has addressed the United Nations, the Organization of American States, numerous national agencies and universities, become the intimate friend of four Presidents of Columbia, and been recognized as a world-acclaimed authority on indigenous South American dialects. It was he who devised a Motolone alphabet, taught them how to read, and translated portions of the New Testament into their own tongue. During Bruce’s recent return to the United States and our visit in Chicago, Regent University conferred an Honorary Doctorate Degree upon him. But he did not remain in the U.S. to receive the tribute. Instead, he went back home to his family and friends--back to the jungle.
In One Generation After Bruce Brought The Gospel To Stone-age Savages This Has Happened:
1. The Motilones not only made peace with the Yuko tribe, their bitter, centuries-old enemy, but evangelized them. Some 18 other tribes have been evangelized and convinced that violence is wrong. Peace--through Jesus Christ--has come to the jungle tribes.
2. There are more than fifty Motilone-Bari Health Centers in the jungle, staffed with native doctors.
3. Additionally, the Motilones operate 28 Medical Health Stations staffed by their own graduate nurses.
4. Forty-five bilingual Schools serve every age group. Forty-two Agricultural Centers staffed by Motilones teach agronomy, animal husbandry, forestry, and soil management.
5. More than 250 Motilone graduate-missionaries are actively preaching the gospel in twenty-two different Latin American tongues. Two have completed advanced theological studies in Bogota.
6. Trained Motilone lawyers successfully represent the Tribes legal needs before Colombia’s National Courts.
7. Educated Motilone Business Administrators staff eight jungle Community Cooperatives.
8. The Motilone newspaper, AsocBari, reports news about evangelism and community development from 18 different tribal fronts.