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Missions Report: Bruce Olson's and Colombia's Motilone Indians

By Jay Rogers
Published October 1, 1992

Since 1961, missionary Bruce Olson has labored for the gospel of Jesus Christ among the Motilone Indians deep in the jungles of Colombia’s high Catatumbo region. But today Olson’s most exciting missionary work still lies ahead.

In the past thirty years, Olson has founded bilingual schools, medical clinics and agricultural centers among the Motilones. His Christ-like humility and work of service to the Motilones has earned him the status of a tribal member. Indian chiefs throughout the region representing 50 tribes and half a million tribe members look to Olson with great awe and respect. He has become a friend of five Colombian presidents; has spoken before the United Nations; and has received educational awards from the Colombian government. Although he completed college only through correspondence schools, his work on translating the Scriptures into the native Indian dialects has earned him honor among linguistics scholars.

Nineteen-year-old Olson first travelled to South America with only a one-way plane ticket and $70 in his pocket. A young person with a deep burden for Colombia’s hidden people, Olson set out in in search of the Motilones: a fierce, primitive tribe that no white man had ever encountered and lived. Olson’s adventures in Colombia brought him face to face with the Motilones when he was shot through the leg with a three foot arrow. He was brought as a prisoner to their camp to recover. “Bruchko” – the name the Indians gave him (the Motilones were not able to pronounce Bruce Olson) – eventually won over the hearts of these tribal people. Today the Motilones are almost universally converted to Christ.

Three years ago, Bruce Olson was kidnapped in the mountain jungles of Colombia and detained for nine months as a political prisoner by communist guerillas. Hoping to win him as a valuable communist leader, the communists attempted to indoctrinate him through daily political dialogues. “Papa Bruchko” – as they called him – became a source of fascination among the young recruits in training. Many of them began to join Olson in prayer and Bible study. As many as 60 communist guerillas eventually gave their lives to Christ. His refusal to join ranks with the communists earned him death threats and he narrowly escaped execution by a firing squad.

Fearing the reprisal of a united war effort of 50 jungle tribes, the guerilla leaders released Olson in the summer of 1989. The Indian tribes of Colombia had united against the guerillas in a war-pledge to defend Olson’s cause if he was executed. The unity of the Indian tribes behind one white man was unprecedented in Colombia’s history.

After his release, Olson found that he had become a national hero in Colombia. In the major cities, articles demanding Olson’s release had appeared almost daily in the newspapers. Olson’s courageous stance against the guerillas was one of the key factors which inspired the common citizens of Colombia to take a bolder, tougher stance against the drug cartels.

Since this time, the openness of the Indian tribes of Colombia to the gospel has become phenomenal. Many tribal leaders have requested that Olson begin to set up clinics, schools and agricultural centers. Some tribes have asked specifically to be taught about Jesus Christ. Olson reported recently: “In August, I was among the Cogi Indians in the mountains adjacent to Santa Marta. I baptized more than 40 adult believers. Several Motilone pastors accompanied me.”

In America, the story of Bruce Olson’s captivity brought unprecedented financial support for the work of Christ among the Motilones. For 28 years, Olson had operated with no official sponsorship, relying on only the contributions of friends, but when Charisma magazine ran a two part series: “Bruce Olson’s Nine Month Colombian Captivity” (November & December 1989), donors gave $100,000 to help “Bruchko” continue his humanitarian efforts and evangelism among the tribes of Colombia.

In addition to providing clinical supplies, scholarships and agricultural development, Olson has built several centers for the Motilones. In a recent letter, Olson explained the uses for one of the structures he is building: “Our Tibú Community House of Twelve Cultures, which we have named in Motilone: ‘Axdobaringcayra,’ is well on the way to completion. … The house will provide lodging for visiting Motilones. Tibú is the principal port of commerce for the growing tribal economy and it is the seat of government. Here we will organize Colombia’s first native language regional newspaper and house staff personnel for the northeast Colombian indigenous cultural publications.”

The cultural center he is now building will be a base from which to reach many of the tribal groups of Colombia. Olson reports that he still needs about $60,000 to complete this center.

Bruce Olson and the Motilone believers are the key to fulfilling the Great Commission in this area of the world. Jesus Christ has commanded us to go and “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-20). Many of the nations – referred to by missiologists as the ETHNE, or “peoples groups” – in this area of Colombia are completely unreached with the gospel. We have an exciting opportunity to reach half a million people who have become miraculously open to the gospel in the past three years.


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Your comments are welcome!

I just finished reading Bruce Olson’s book. Where does he live today? Where may I donate to the ministry he has?

Posted by MVB on 07/29/2008 02:08 PM #

My sunday school teacher is reading us the story about Bruce and the Motilone tribe. We are at the part where sadly Bobby gets murdered. So far this is all very interesting, and I thank you Bruce for following God’s word and for helping the Motilone tribe understand God’s word. You are a true hero.

Posted by Bree on 10/29/2008 08:08 PM #

My fith grade teacher loaned me Bruchko and I loved it so very much. I think that it is amazing how one persons life can affect many others especially if he is following the word of God. Keep on following and keep on beleiving, Bruce.

Posted by Anna on 01/26/2009 08:33 PM #

We have been reading Mr. Olson’s books and are so thankful for them. We appreciate how much he was willing to suffer in being obedient to the Lord. It’s caused ask ourselves how much we would be willing to suffer for Christ. We are curious to know if Mr. Olson is still serving in So. America today.

Posted by Chris and Rhonda Madzey on 03/12/2009 08:49 PM #

I love this book! I have read it 4 times! I first learned about it on a mission trip with Teen Mania Ministries. I feel like I was there in Columbia. I will be glad to meet Bruce and Bobby and all the people one day.

Posted by Nora on 03/18/2009 10:18 PM #

I read Brusko when I was a yougn christian, and it has stimulate my faith so much trough all thees tears. Today I’m reading it again to my kids so they might be touch by God’s grace and work in the world and so they can stand up for the unreached of this world…the most beautyfull thing would be to be able to do a short term…if anything possible write back please. God bless you all

Posted by Denis Côté on 05/11/2009 10:37 PM #

My husband is a youth pastor and he had Bruchko in his library. I just wanted something to read and this book looked very interesting. From start to finish it had my attention. The book of Mr.Olson’s life for Christ was truly a blessing to me. When I finished the book today,I thought of the area I live in and what could be done for Christ right here.

Posted by Amber on 05/20/2009 09:32 PM #

Acabei de ler “Por Esta Cruz Te Matarei” e fiquei impressionada como Bruce Olson é usado pelo SENHOR e como é grande a sua sede de servir a Ele. Gostaria de saber onde Bruce Olson vive hoje e como posso ter contato.

Posted by Sheila on 07/31/2009 08:01 PM #

Bruchko was a fascinating book! Was a blessing to know that God will reach people without the white mans ways attached to it. He is God to everyone and does things outside of the box! Blessings and payers to you Bruchko!

Posted by Michael Kohler on 11/20/2009 12:23 PM #

I have just finished reading Bruchko. This book has such an annoiting, having read it just when I was wondering how to break into an information ecology with new ideas in my masters thesis. God gave me wisdom to follow the pattern Bruce used when he had to introduce a new message(the gospel) to the blessed Motilones. I am looking for more of his books.

Posted by grace on 03/05/2010 10:26 AM #

If my math caculations is correct Bruce Olson is now about 70 years old if he is still alive. I have been reading his book and one of the things that came across to me was that these primitive Indians had the faith of a child and my prayer is that I, too, might have that kind of faith. Bruce Olson stepped out on faith when all odds and just about everyone was against him including his own family. I wonder if he every reconciled with his father and mother.

Posted by LABAN D. NEEDHAM on 05/13/2010 11:35 AM #

I just finished reading Bruce’s book today! I am absolutly amazed with how the Lord has worked through Bruce and the Motilone people! I love what the last sentence says, “Jesus Christ lives within us all the time, not in sculptured buildings.” Christ has used this book to help me see people through His eyes and not judge them quickly. I am so grateful for God’s working hand.

Posted by Anthony Root on 05/20/2010 04:39 PM #

I am 51 years old. I think I read Bruchko when I was in High School. Thank you for being a shining light and an incredible example. I have given many, many of your book as gifts.

Posted by Kathryn Fitzgerald on 06/25/2010 02:27 AM #

I read the entire book in one sitting. I could not put it down. Me and my family are in Thailand now serving as missionaries. Bruce’s story is very humbling,and has reading the book has definitely made my faith stronger. Indeed God will never leave nor forsake those who go in obedience.

Posted by Raya on 08/22/2010 09:20 PM #

ágora Terminei um POUCO uma Leitura do Livro : Por ESTA cruz de matarei . São 23:15 , Como o Computador estava Ligado nao resisti AO Impulso de PROCURAR Alguma Referência AO Bruce e OS Motilones . Terminei o Lágrimas Livro como, com o Relato da Morte de Bobby. Fiquei Muito Surpresa com uma ideia de Bruce Ainda esteja vivo. saber Gostaria Mais de , talvez comeu ajudar Seu Ministério de Alguma forma

Posted by Verônica on 09/14/2010 09:17 PM #

This book I was given to read at missionary seminars in one of the churches in Ukraine, Kiev. I was so inspired by this book and I think this is the right moment for me as I came back from India and my heart desire is to serve indian people. I’m so blessed by my God and is so thankful to Him for everything!

Posted by Julia on 11/25/2010 10:54 AM #

Thank you Bruce! You are an amazing man. I asked my 7th grade teacher what book is a good book to read about Christianity and she said Bruchko. Thank you. I want to be like you and Bobby. You are truly incredible!

Posted by Lauren on 02/17/2011 03:41 PM #

I am up here in the tundra of Bruce’s Minnesota, reading his first book. Where is Bruce today? Has he ever married or had children? The book is so good I have decided our family will read this aloud for Lent.

Posted by Kathy Wilhelm on 02/24/2011 01:56 PM #

Where can I locate information on Bruce Olson’s present activies? I am sure his fascinating story goes on. Ed Louton

Posted by Ed Louton on 02/02/2012 01:00 PM #

I just finished this book about a week ago. it was massively inspiring, I encourage anyone who wants to work on the mission field to read this!

Posted by Sydney Paton on 02/27/2012 01:45 PM #

Thank-you Bruce Olson for your incredible faith in our Lord Jesus! What a shining example you are!! God Bless you!!

Posted by Jan Hayden on 03/01/2012 04:42 PM #

A number of years ago, I picked up the book Bruchko and was deeply inspired by his faith. I have kept it in my bookshelf and every year I sit down and once more read this amazing story. This year I read it out loud to my husband. He was as inspired as I am. I think this will become a yearly tradition in our family from now on.
P.S. Where is Bruce now?

Posted by Gail Browett on 01/01/2013 09:36 AM #

I was an old acquaintance of Bruce for many years through an elderly woman in West Columbia, Texas corresponding with him but sad to say have lost contact for about 20 years now. Would love to reestablish contact again. I am teaching a class in our Bible School on Bible Covenants and told his story. Cindy

Posted by Cynthia Almaraz on 01/08/2013 11:28 PM #

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