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Bruce Olson was a Scandinavian American Christian Missionary who was born in 1941. He was raised in a legalistic Lutheran church with parents who were cold and indifferent to the Gospe., Olson embarked on a quest for genuine Christianity. He studied Greek and Hebrew and began reading the Bible in the original languages. Olson feared the judgment of God and was eventually driven to his knees in repentance and faith.
Touched by missionary reports, Olson felt God’s call to minister to Indians in South America. When he was nineteen, Olson headed to South America with little more than the clothes on his back. Olson’s first contact with local missionaries was disheartening. The missionaries looked at Olson as an outsider and refused to include him in mission work because he had come without sponsorship. Instead of doing mission work from the beginning, Olson attended a university in Venezuela and began learning about the South American Indian tribes.
Months later, Olson set off into the jungle looking for the Motilone Indian tribe. He first came across the Yuko Indians. After spending a year with the Yukos, he ventured deeper into the jungle to find the Motilones. His initial encounter with the Motilones was frightening. He was pierced by an Indian arrow and later almost executed by the Motilone chief. Olson endured dysentery, hepatitis, and a chronic problem with parasites during his first few months in the jungle. However, none of these trials convinced him to turn back. Instead, they emboldened him to continue his work and to take joy in this time of “suffering” for the Lord’s work.
Upon his return to the Motilones, Olson received the name “Bruchko.” He began to accompany the men on their fishing and hunting expeditions. He slowly adjusted to the Motilone diet, and he began to pick up on the tribe’s tonal language. Still, he faced periods of discouragement as he did not know how to share the Gospel within this people.
The turning point came when Olson’s befriended a young Motilone warrior – Bobarishora (“Bobby” for short). As Bobby became a leader of the tribe, Olson’s influence expanded and his opportunities for service were multiplied. One such instance took place when an epidemic of pink eye hit the tribe. Olson obtained antibiotic cream for the Indians, only to find out that the witch doctor refused the outside help. In an ingenious attempt to win over the witch doctor, Olson purposefully contracted pink eye and allowed the witch doctor to treat him with his own antibiotic cream. From that time on, the witch doctor began to use Western medicines and the tribe took steps to better sanitation.
While he was in the jungle, he came upon several Motilone Indians who were digging a hole in an attempt to find God. Olson began to teach them about the incarnation and Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. In order to drive home the biblical teaching about God becoming man, Olson told the Motilone fable about a man who became an ant. Bobby was the first Motilone to convert to Christianity, but it took several months before the rest of the tribe would make their decision. Bobby, as the tribe’s leader, sang the Gospel story as a chant, and his testimony influenced the other Motilones to put their trust in Christ.
Olson is known for his work in bringing Christianity to the Bari people of Columbia and Venezuela. His autobiographical book Bruchko has sold more than 300,000 copies and is translated into several languages. Current estimation says that 70% of the Barí people are now Christians. His determination and dedication helped him to overcome the difficulties and discouragements. May God help us to have such determination and dedication in our lives too.