By January, I'd been moved
to a third camp. I began to sit in on some of the guerrillas' daily political
discussions. The first time I attended they got into an argument about
terms, and finally turned to me for an explanation of the differences between
socialism and communism, dialectical materialism and democracy -- concepts
they'd been struggling with for some time. I gave
them a fairly complete explanation of these and a number of other related
concepts. They seemed fascinated. Afterward,
several of them asked if I'd serve as their regular discussion leader.
I immediately spoke to the
officer, called the responsable. "I'm worried," I told him. "Am I talking
too much? I didn't intend to usurp your authority. What shall I do?"
"It's only right." he told
me after giving it some thought, "that you should lead the discussions.
You have the knowledge and education, and you don't impose your ideas on us. You stimulate discussion.
It would help us. By all means, you must lead."
So I became the discussion
This naturally gave me an
opportunity to introduce ideas that the guerrillas had never before heard.
Many of them had grown up in the movement and had little or no schooling
other than guerrilla classes in the jungles that exposed them only to the
views of their pro-Castro revolutionary leaders. They enjoyed talking about
social and economic theories they'd never been able to discuss with an
educated "outsider" before. I resisted the temptation to give my own opinions
except in a neutral way, choosing instead to answer their questions with
more questions -- always giving them credit for good sense and an ability
to think for themselves. They responded enthusiastically.
The guerrillas began, after
a time, to ask me about my motivations -- and why I didn't hate them for
"depriving me of my liberty," as they described my kidnapping. They were curious about
my personal and religious philosophies because I wasn't behaving the way they'd learned to expect captives to act. It was a
chance for me to talk about my Christian faith, but something inside told me this was not the time to talk about such things.
I'd learned to obey these inner impulses, knowing that when God gave them He had a reason. I also trusted God to let me know
when the guerrillas were ready to hear what I had to say. So I simply responded to their persistent questions by saying,
"It's a personal matter." This seemed to make them more curious than ever.
As we got to know each other
better, the younger guerrillas began calling me by a nickname that would
be picked up by others as I moved from camp to camp: "Papa Bruchko." The
Motilones had originally dubbed me "Bruchko" -- it was the way "Bruce Olson"
sounded to them when they first heard it -- but these young guerrillas
jokingly added the "Papa" because at 47 I was old enough to be their father.
I knew that many of their friendly gestures were an attempt to draw me
into a feeling of comradeship so I'd want to join their organization, but
that was all right. It made life a little easier and it cost me nothing.
As our group discussions
continued, I soon recognized that most of the guerrillas were very poor
readers. I enjoyed teaching, and it would build bridges with my captors,
so I offered to set up an informal school to teach reading comprehension
and writing skills. The responsables saw this as evidence that I was taking
an interest in joining them, so they gave their wholehearted approval. Once the school was underway, we added basic
studies in ecology, social and political sciences, history and geography. The students were surprisingly eager to improve
themselves, so it was satisfying for me.
Even many of the responsables
attended classes. It was partly, no doubt, to monitor my teaching. But
I was impressed with how serious most of the students were, even though
you couldn't exactly call my classes "formal."
One day, for example, I noticed
one of the students -- the top responsable in the camp -- sitting off to
one side during a class. While I talked, he ceremoniously pulled
a long piece of elastic from one of his socks and began snapping at the
giant ants that scurried around him on the ground. He was able to hit them
with amazing accuracy. With each kill, the students around him murmured appreciatively. As I watched this performance I thought, He
hasn't heard a word I've said. Maybe I should quit for today.
But a few minutes later the
responsable looked up from his game and made an incisive, insightful comment
that summed up my entire talk. He's understood everything I'd said and
was even able to draw some complex conclusions from it. It taught me not
to underestimate what went on in the minds of the guerrillas. They missed
About five months into my
captivity I was allowed to have a Bible. It became very precious to me.
I had, of course, spent so much time translating the Scriptures into Motilone
over the years that I'd committed most of the New Testament to memory. That had sustained me during the early months of my captivity. But
actually having a Bible in my hands again -- well, you can imagine what it meant. Again and again I turned to the Psalms, especially
Psalms 91 through 120. They were the bread of life that satisfied me as nothing else could.
By this time, too, the guerrillas
were frequently asking the spiritual and philosophical questions that naturally
arose out of our classes and discussion groups. How do we decide what's
right and wrong? Why should we care about the plight of our fellow human
beings? Are moral values relative or constant? What assumptions do the
major forms of government make about the nature of humanity? Does God take
sides in human battles -- and if He does, is He on the side of the guerrillas?
The questions were endless and challenging. We never lacked for lively
It was natural, then, that
when the Bible was given to me, many guerrillas started asking me about
it -- focusing, at first, on issues that directly related to their revolutionary ideals. I was pleased,
but decided it would be wise to confine religious discussions and observations -- including my own worship and Bible
study to Sundays. In Colombia, a Roman Catholic country, even the guerrillas assumed that Sunday was a day for "church,"
so this arrangement was easy for them to accept. I didn't want to appear too intrusive or "evangelistic," so when questions
arose about spiritual ideas, I'd tell the guerrillas we'd wait until Sunday to talk about that. They seemed to respect this request,
and it made all of us look forward to Sundays with a certain amount of anticipation. Each week a few more guerrillas joined
me for Bible study, discussion and worship. They even began to join me in prayer.
Not long after that, I decided
the guerrillas knew me well enough -- and understood my motivations well
enough -- that I could share some of my personal faith with them when they
asked me about it. As I talked about what Christ meant to me, I noticed
tears in the eyes of several guerrillas. Amazingly enough, not a single
guerrilla -- in all the months of my captivity -- ever laughed at or made
light of my faith. In fact, they were reverent and respectful af it.
Not long after we began these
Sunday dialogues, a few guerrillas accepted Christ. These were profound
moments inn my experience as a captive, moments when God's Spirit manifested Himself
so beautifully, so tenderly, that these hardened terrorists often broke down and wept as they received Him into their
lives. For me, the most touching thing was that it was not my concept of God they accepted; it was the very real, very personal
Jesus Christ who met them within the context of their own experiences, culture and understanding. I felt privileged to witness
it. Incredibly, some of my captors had become my brothers.
It's important to say that
my spiritual activities among the guerrillas were never designed to destroy
or subvert the guerrilla movement. I never expected that as they accepted Christ they would
leave it or turn against their responsables. What I sought was simply to align them with God in a dynamic relationship through
the Holy Spirit that would enable them to grow in the knowledge and grace of Jesus Christ and of His Word for the rest of
their lives. I felt it was God's responsibility. So I never told guerrilla Christians that they had to leave the movement,
although sometimes they asked me if they should. Instead I told them: "You belong to Jesus Christ now, and you must answer to
Him, not to me."
As weeks passed and more
and more guerrillas gathered with me on Sundays for Bible study and worship,
I was accused of bringing division to the camps. That happened, not because
I was putting the guerrilla Christians into contention with their leaders, but because their transformed consciences naturally led them,
as they sought to follow Christ's example, to question the morality of the terrorist acts their leaders expected them to perform.
Their newfound faith was
causing trouble -- that much was for sure, though that was not my goal.
And I'm sure the responsables in many camps must have worried about the close relationships
some of the guerrillas were building with me, with good reason. One young Christian guerrilla came to my hammock late
at night after hearing that I might be executed soon. He shook me awake and whispered, "Papa Bruchko, I want to tell you that
if I am ordered to execute you, I have decided to refuse." This meant, of course, that he himself would be executed for
disobeying an order. "I'm with you," he said, "even if it costs me my life."
By this time I knew him,
and I believed him. His words moved me deeply. Fortunately, that particular
young believer was never asked to shoot me.