We originally published this article in 2002, but now, by request, are sharing an up-dated version--daring you to be unchanged by the impact of this true story.
Four years ago in Chicago, I unexpectedly met Bruce Olsson-better known as "Bruchko"--one of the great missionaries of modern times, who, in a few minutes time forever challenged my understanding of "commitment to Christ".
During our day-long visit we discovered a kindred spirit in each other and bonded in a wonderful way. Later, in Chicago’s Midway Airport, I had to put down his book and walk away from my seat. I didn’t want others seeing me cry. A movie based on Bruce’s life-story is planned. The Producer, Edwin L. Marshall, and Script Writer, Bill Motz, with whom I spent time, were also present at the Chicago meeting. Pray for their success!
Many Christians know "Bruchko" only as a missionary who was captured by Communist guerillas in Columbia, South America, held hostage and tortured for nearly a year. A few know him as a young American genius who spoke 17 languages, including Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, and whose ambitions to become a University professor were radically thrown aside when God sent him alone into the jungles of South America.
During the time of his Communist capture, Bruce’s hands were tied to a tree behind his back, his body was racked with hunger, dysentery, exposed to blood-thirsty mosquitoes, drenched in rain, and burned by the sun. His faith in Jesus never wavered. Because of his public stature, the guerillas wanted him to join their cause, rally the Indians behind them, and help overthrow the Colombian government. He refused. Finally, they stood him before a firing squad. Guns fired. He remained standing. The bullets had been blanks. That mock killing had been their final, 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 Communist leader--had accepted Christ. But there is much more to his story than his Communist capture. And "Bruchko" is his Indian name.
Bruce is a tall, blonde American of Norwegian descent, who, in 1959, as a nineteen year old, walked out of the snow of Minnesota and went alone into the jungles of South America. 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 and accused his "fanatical holy roller church" of spiritual abduction. Their brilliant son was being mentally seduced and forced to waste his life on illiterate savages. His parents fear was not unfounded: The Motilones had killed every person--white or other tribal Indian--who came into their territory. No stranger entered their mountainous domain and lived.
Bruce knew all this but went anyway. He had no training, no money, no knowledge of the languages he needed, and when he arrived in Caracas, no one met him at the airport. Missionaries who had earlier promised to help had changed their minds. They disapproved of his lack of denominational credentials. Bruce 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. His father had even locked him out of the family home in sub-zero winter nights, forcing him to walk miles through snow to another house for protection. But, in South America as in Minnesota, Bruce had the presence of the Holy Spirit hovering about him. That presence would not turn loose. It would not go away. He had no choice but to be obedient to its call.
After arriving in South America several years passed before Bruce crossed the towering Andes Mountains on foot into 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 more spears and arrows aimed at him. One of the men finally approached Bruce 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 shot into his body. Tied and imprisoned alone in the hut, he went for days without food. When nourishment finally came--a handful of five-inch long, live grub-worms--he ate, and vomited it back up.
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. In the village, the vermin, filth, unspeakably bad sanitary conditions 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 religion, 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 someone 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 spiritual trail that led to it.
In their innocent, naive way, they also told Bruce that when God returned He would speak to them from a banana tree. On this point they were absolutely convinced. Apparently, someone in the past had "seen" this strange piece of banana wood--or what looked like it. To Bruce, the legend made no sense at all. Later, when traveling through the jungle, he came upon two men, howling in 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 come home. 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.
In frustration, one of the younger men chopped a short section from 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, still angered, the one with the machete hit the banana section again--this time lengthwise--and it fell apart. When it opened, its layers separated like pages in a book. For a moment they all stared at it. Suddenly, Bruce grabbed his Bible and laid it open beside the banana. Like a flash, truth broke through! This was it! The Motilones had been waiting for God to come to them from a book! The Bible! The sight was so convincing that one of the men snatched the Bible from Bruce’s hands, ripped pages from it, stuffed them into his mouth, and frantically began eating them. He wanted the God who was in the banana-Book to come into him! Bruce instantly explained that it was not eating the pages but believing what was written on the pages that brought the banana-Book God into their lives. From that moment on, they knew Bruce was the "One" who could show them the trail that led to the horizon and the book he held was the one they had foreseen in the banana log. Bruce had a wide-open opportunity to speak to the Motilones about Jesus Christ: The God who had departed was back and they could receive Him into their hearts by faith.
The Transformation Begins!
It was six long years after his arrival in South America before Bruce saw his first Motilone-convert come to Christ. A young man by the name of Bobarishora, (Bobby) had a genuine, life-changing, born-again encounter with Jesus. The experience was so transforming and dramatic that Bobby ran from village to village telling everyone of his meeting God. His method of sharing was a non-stop 14 hour-long song which he sang to the captivated villagers. Like fire, the music quickly passed to other Indian encampments. God who had departed had finally returned! The fulfilled message about the banana-Book was revolutionary. Motilones believed it and were saved. Like "scales falling from their eyes" the new birth brought immediate, amazing change to the depravity of jungle life. Bobaraishora’s conversion proved to be the firing-pin for one of the most phenomenal group-conversions in modern history. The years of obedience to God and patient waiting had paid off.
During Bruce Olsson’s cold winter nights in Minnesota when he wrestled with the pain of family rejection, fear, lack of funds, language barriers, transportation problems, had been richly rewarded. The Holy Spirit’s unrelenting call for him to reach this lost South American tribe--at the price of indescribable personal suffering-had succeeded. Bruce had been God’s chosen instrument for showing them the trail that led to the horizon. In those early years Bruce could never have imagined the Holy Spirit using a banana-book parable to prepare these simple people for the gospel. God’s evangelizing other tribes with Bobby’s non-stop salvation-song was beyond imagination. Nor could he have known that same wonderful young man would quickly meet Jesus in Heaven as a result of a bullet from another white man. Probably, Bruce never realized he would remain unmarried. Or, that the young woman to whom he became engaged, who shared his love for Motilones and jungle life, would be killed in an automobile accident during a return to civilization-the news reaching him weeks after her burial. Like the Apostle Paul, he could not imagine "how great things he must suffer" for Christ’s sake. Wisely, God never told him.
Today, Bruce Is Considered One Of The Great Missionaries of Christian History.
Now that Bruce has come out of the jungle there have been unexpected people to meet him. The United Nations and the Organization of American States have asked him to address them. He has become the intimate friend of four Presidents of Columbia and been recognized as a world-acclaimed authority on indigenous South American dialects. Numerous Latin American agencies and universities have pursued him. It was he who translated portions of the New Testament into the Motilone tongue.
With God as his educator (not some uninformed Mission School) Bruce recognized the fallacy of imposing western culture on the Motilone’s jungle life. Instead, he integrated the culture they knew with the power of the gospel and let holy truth work from the inside-out. For example, 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?" With Bobarishora’s day-long song still ringing in his ears, Bruce well understood the Holy Spirit’s ability to inspire on-the-spot worship in native style. Most importantly, Bruce relied on the Holy Spirit to give him wisdom and endurance to work with savages who knew nothing of life beyond their rim of mountains. God enabled Bruce to see through their ignorance to the Godly, educated people they could become.
Here was the difference: God brought the gospel to Motilone territory; He did not bring Motilones to the gospel territory. Their remote mountainous area is literally the "end of the earth." Matthew 24:14. Acts 13:47. Even today, when Bruce leaves his jungle-post for civilization, he has to walk five days to reach a river for transportation. There, he cuts trees and builds a raft for another four day trip downstream. That is followed by another long hike and hopefully being picked-up by a banana truck. Even then, airports and civilization are a long way off. But Bruce has no longing for civilization; the jungle is his home. During our
visit in Chicago, Regent University conferred Bruce with an Honorary Doctorate Degree but he did not remain in the U.S. to receive it. Instead, he flew back to South America and began his long trek to family and friends in the jungle.
What Fruit Has The Gospel Brought To Motilones?
1. Today there are more than 50 Motilone-Bari Health Centers in the jungle, staffed with native doctors.
2. Additionally, the Motilones operate 28 Medical Health Stations staffed by their own graduate nurses.
3. 45 bilingual Schools serve every age group. 42 Agricultural Centers staffed by Motilones teach agronomy, animal husbandry, forestry, and soil management.
4. 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.
5. Trained Motilone lawyers successfully represent the Tribes legal needs before Colombia’s National Courts.
6. Educated Motilone Business Administrators staff eight jungle Community Cooperatives.
7. The Motilone newspaper, AsocBari, reports news about evangelism and community development from 18 different tribal fronts.
8. The Motilones made peace with the Yuko tribe, their centuries-old enemy, and evangelized them. Some 18 other tribes have been converted and convinced that violence is wrong. Peace has come to these jungle people.
9. The daughter of Bruce’s Motilone friend, Bobarishora, and two other youths, graduated from Colombia’s National School of Pedagogy and are bilingual instructors to a host of other students.
10. Fidel Waysersera, a Motilone, has been chosen by the Northeastern Colombian tribes to represent them in the State Assembly. He is the first native Indian in the history of Colombia to achieve political status.
11. Roberto Descarara, a Motilone, is a graduate of the Free University in Law and the first indigenous director of the Office of Indian Affairs for the National Government in Northeast Colombia. He, with Fidel Waysersera, attended the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro as representatives of South America’s Indian Tribes. When the Summit ended they preached to other Brazilian Indians.
12. In 1999, when Colombian earthquakes left 180,000 homeless, a Motilone medical team of 4 physicians and 20 nurses gave assistance to more than 5,000 victims.
13. Through Bruce’s efforts, the Government of Columbia has permanently set aside 108,909,000 square meters of land for exclusive protection and use of the Motilone-Bari people. White settlers can no longer steal their land-as was happening when Bobarishora was killed.
ALL THIS WAS ACCOMPLISHED in the ministry of one man who refused to let others stop him from fulfilling God’s call in his life. Family, friends, other missionaries, hardships, lack of skills, kidnaping, killings, wild animals, disease, could not stop him. Finally, you may ask Bruce or any of the Motilone Tribe what brought about their great change. They will tell you, it was not the tall, blonde young man from Minnesota they tried to kill. The One who brought change was Saymaydodiji-ibateradacura --- Jesus Christ. He is the One for whom they waited and who finally showed them "the trail that led to the horizon." Discovering that Trail changed everything.
My final word: A few years after meeting Bruce Olsson and publishing his story, I was sitting in a restaurant on the Gulf Coast of Florida when a stranger approached me. He held an unusual gift, "I want you to have this," He said, placing in my hand a long, decorated shaft. "This is a spear that belonged to Bobarishora-Bruce’s first Motilone convert-the one who sang the 14 hour song about his conversion to Christ." I could hardly believe my eyes! More than that, I felt unworthy to hold it-much less to own something made by that precious young man. But it was really true. The stranger, another missionary, had been into the Motilone territory and brought "Bobby’s" handiwork back to the U.S. But much, much more than the spear, I hold in my heart an abiding love for those like "Bruchko" who hear the Macedonian Call and obey.
Bruce Olsson’s book, Bruchko, is available from your local bookstore or Charisma House, 600 Rinehart Road, Lake Mary, Florida, 32746. The Editor is none other than my dear friend Bob Walker.