From a logical perspective, Bruce Olson’s story is blatantly absurd. From a spiritual perspective, it’s one of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever heard.
At the age of 19, Bruce left his home in Minnesota and set out for the jungles of Venezuela with a passion to take the gospel of Christ to a primitive aboriginal tribe with the fierce reputation of killing anyone who ventured into their territory. He traveled on a one-way ticket and arrived with $70 in his pocket and no knowledge of the local language. He had no support and no connections. Who in their right mind would send a 19-year-old kid on such a foolhardy mission? Well, apparently God would. And this became evident from the powerful move of God among the jungle tribes, and then their influence for Christ to and entire nation.
I’m not going to recount the details of Bruce’s story here. For that, I encourage you to read his book Bruchko. But I do want to point out that initial progress was excruciatingly slow. It took several years to make any significant breakthrough. During this time, he was shot with an arrow, held captive and tortured, suffered life-threatening diseases, and struggled with acute loneliness. At times this was a wild adventure, but surprisingly, one of the hardest things he had to endure was boredom. Even after he was accepted by the tribe, it took months for Bruce to learn their language so that he was able to interact in any meaningful way. Bruce had the faith to persevere and keep going, but there were also times of doubt and despair. Being sent by God doesn’t preclude extreme hardships!
In today’s Christian culture I hear people declaring how their kids are going to be world changers. I hear Christian youth being encouraged to do something great for God. Bruce Olson didn’t go to Venezuela with a grand vision to do something great for God. He had a compelling compassion for the jungle tribes, and a deep conviction that God had sent him, and that God was with him. Eventually he saw one small tribe come to Christ, then that tribe spread the gospel to other tribes, and the transformation that took place throughout these tribes became a light for Christ to an entire nation and the outside world. But Bruce wasn’t driven by these kinds of aspirations. He simply aspired to reach a small group of people who did not know Jesus Christ. He pursued the ultimate goal of obedience to God. Simple obedience is the greatest thing we can ever do for God.
The way Bruce endured and persevered is all the more remarkable because no one supported or encouraged him. Virtually all his acquaintances discouraged him from following what he felt God was telling him to do. The American missionaries who were already in the area refused to help him in any way, and even instructed their children who were of similar age to Bruce, that he had been put out of fellowship and they were forbidden to even greet him.
Bruce Olson is worthy of our admiration. He’s a shining example of love and compassion for the lost, and faithful obedience to the Lord. But I want to draw attention to an important truth that Bruce’s story demonstrates. God can send anyone, anywhere, to do anything. And that person doesn’t need anyone’s approval to follow God’s leading. When the apostle Paul described his calling, he put it this way, “Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead)”. (Galatians 1:1 NASB). Bruce Olson walked in this truth. He did not yield to the popular belief that unless someone “in authority” validates what you feel God is telling you, then you have no business doing it.
When it comes to God’s calling, I want to encourage you not to think too small, but also not to think too big. If God is truly calling you to something, then it’s a mistake to think that it’s too big for you. But it’s also a mistake to think that to be called by God it must entail something really big. I think it’s more common to miss God’s calling because it seems so small, than it is to miss God’s calling because it seems too big.
God can send a 19-year-old kid to carry the gospel deep into the jungles of South America, and He can send a grandmother to carry the gospel of Christ to a young, single mother living next door. Both are equally important to God. God is on the lookout for people with an ear to hear and a heart to obey.
He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. (Luke 16:10 NASB)