I am reading Bruchko for the first time. In Chapter 5 “First Meeting With Indians” Bruce Olson is describing his first encounters with ordained missionaries serving in Caracas and with the South American Indians in 1961.
The missionaries were angry with him and wanted nothing to do with Bruce. He was there without mission board authority and approval over him. He had gone to South America under God’s authority and leading, not under man’s. He describes his first meeting with a missionary as a “great disappointment”, even though he had been so anxious to connect with this man and see how he could help him:
“What makes you think you can come down to South America without a mission agency?” he asked right after we had been introduced. “You just want to come down and impose on us. You think we’ll have to take care of you. But you’re wrong. You’re on your own, Buster.” He turned and walked off.
The Indian tribe who had become Christ believers through the teaching of the missionaries complained to Bruce that their fellow Indians were now persecuting them and that they had been cut off from the rest of their tribe.
As Bruce traveled further along the Mavaca River with Dr. Christian, he met the rest of the tribe living in a different village. He couldn’t understand why there was any problem with them and the recently converted Christian Indians. The unconverted Indians welcomed him into their tribe and were extremely helpful and hospitable to him. When he broached the subject with one of them about attending church services on Sunday to hear the stories about God, he was informed that they would not do that. When he asked why not he was told, “Those Christians, they’re strange.” And Bruce was taken to the chief of that village to discuss the matter further:
“Listen,” he said, “those Christians don’t care about us anymore. Why should we care about them?”
“How do you know that they don’t care about you? They’re part of your tribe.”
“Why, they’ve rejected everything about us,” he said. They won’t sing our songs now. They sing those weird, wailing songs that are all out of tune and don’t make sense. And the construction that they call a church! Have you seen their church? Its’ square! How can God in a square church? Round is perfect.” He pointed to the wall of the hut in which we sat. “It has no ending, like God. But the Christians, their God has points all over, bristling at us. And how those Christians dress! Such foolish clothes…”
I thought of the Indian Christians I had seen at the missionary compound. They had been taught how to dress in clothes with buttons, how to wear shoes, how to sing Western songs.
Is that what Jesus taught? I asked myself. Is that what Christianity is all about? What does the good news of Jesus Christ have to do with North American culture? In Bible times there was no North American culture. Were the missionaries making a mistake in their preaching? Of course, it probably made them happy to see the Indians dressed like Americans, singing “Rock of Ages.” But was that the only way Jesus could be worshiped? And was there a certain amount of satisfaction in having the Indian Christians persecuted by the rest of the tribe? I began to wonder.
Those were excellent questions Bruce asked himself. Is Christianity about a certain style of dressing, singing, worshipping? I hardly think so. Is Christianity about conforming others to North American culture? No. Is Christianity about being sure to follow the traditions and ways of man? Absolutely not. Why is man always trying to impose their ways as the way, the truth, and the life? THE way, THE truth, and THE life are Christ. Why did the missionaries believe that only if man-made authorities sent Bruce Olson to South America would it be something God-ordained, worthwhile, and true? GOD sent Bruce Olson to South America! And He didn’t want missionary boards having anything to do with it.