And so we end the 2014 Musicuentos Book Club with a biography and an autobiography, both carrying a challenge: What do you believe, and what will you do with it?
George Müller: Delighted in God
We throw around phrases like “my prayers are with you” and “you’re in my thoughts and prayers.” What are your thoughts and prayers actually doing? Do you know? Do you believe? If you are a Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or atheist or agnostic or don’t know what you believe, I encourage you to read this biography of George Müller, a man who cared for thousands of orphans and funded the operation without ever asking anyone for a penny, and make some decisions about who God is and what He can do when His people ask believing.
As the Liverpool Mercury wrote in Müller’s obituary well over 100 years ago, after acknowledging that Mr. Müller had told the world his orphan work had operated completely by prayer,
The rationalism of the day will sneer at this declaration; but the facts remain, and remain to be explained. It would be unscientific to belittle historical occurrences when they are difficult to explain, and much juggling would be needed to make the Orphanages on Ashley Down vanish from view.
In your rationalism, how much juggling are you willing to do to make the orphanages on Ashley Down vanish from view?
He had an appointment and needed to be in Quebec by a certain day, but there was a very dense fog on the sea. He prayed with the captain that it would be lifted, and the captain was about to pray but Müller said,
Do not pray. First, you do not believe He will answer, and second, I believe He has and there is no need whatever for you to pray about it.
When they left the cabin, the fog was gone.
Asking aright has three elements:
1. Desiring God’s glory.
2. Confessing our unworthiness and pleading the merits of Jesus.
3. Believing that we do receive the things for which we ask.
[to strengthen your faith,]
First, read the Bible carefully and thoughtfully.
Second, try to keep your conscience clear.
Third, don’t try to avoid situations where your faith may be tested.
Finally, remember that God won’t test you more than you are able to bear.
His answer to the question, “You have always found the Lord faithful to His promise?”
Always. He has never failed me! For nearly seventy years every need in connection with the work has been supplied. The orphans from the first until now , have numbered nine thousand five hundred, but they have never wanted a meal. Never! Hundreds of times we have commenced the day without a penny in hand, but our Heavenly Father has sent supplies by the moment they were actually required. THere never was a time when there was no wholesome meal. During all these years I have been enabled to trust in God, in the living God, and in Him alone. One million four hundred thousand pounds have been sent to me in answer to prayer. We have wanted as much as fifty thousand pounds in one year, and it has all come by the time it has been really needed.
And this isn’t a man who was preaching God’s best life for you on the front page of the Times while cruising down the road in his state-of-the-art carriage and top hat. Müller died with almost no possessions. He knew he was leaving it all behind, and he’d rather leave behind something else, I’d wager.
Learning itself gives no happiness – no real, true happiness. Christ, and Christ alone, gives real, true happiness. I know seven languages, and with all this I should have gone to hell if it had not been that I knew Christ, Christ, Christ. Oh! The blessedness of being a disciple of the Lord Jesus!
Summary: From the back,
What happens when a teenage boy leaves home and heads into the jungles to evangelize a murderous tribe of South American Indians?
For Bruce Olson it meant capture, disease, terror, loneliness, kidnapping, and torture. But what he discovered by trial and error has revolutionized the world of missions. Living with the Motilone Indians since 1961, Olson’s efforts have sent a spiritual ripple around the world that reaches deep into the hearts of mission-minded Christians and anthropologists as well as the government of Colombia.
Bruce Olson, born in Minnesota and now a citizen of Colombia, is a linguist and a graduate of sociology from a South American university. He has won the friendship of four Colombian presidents and appeared before the United Nations. He lives in the jungle on the border of Colombia and Venezuela.
My take on it: Here’s a man who walks a line few are willing to approach, and has done it for many decades.
Superficially I must say this read was inherently interesting to me with my background in linguistics. Olson is a linguist who documented a language never before written or analyzed, in fact, the first tonal language “discovered” among South America’s indigenous. And his descriptions of how they began to translate the Bible into Motilone fascinated me. How do you translate faith when a community has no word for it?
Deeply, it’s a far-reaching lesson for all of us that civilization encroaches on the indigenous whether anyone likes it or not, barbarianism is wrong whether anyone likes it or not, and Christianity can share its message among the unreached peoples of the world while beautifully preserving amazing cultures and without believing that American culture is the only or best way to live.
It was very difficult for Bruce to help the Motilones improve their society with scientific advances in medicine and agriculture for a few reasons. One was that he didn’t want to splinter their culture as had happened to so many other tribes with the introduction of Western practices, and faith too. But how to accept these advances within their cultural framework? The other reason was that the Motilone culture discouraged feeling or showing any emotion at all. Not pain, grief, or caring about each other. To Bruce it seemed the Motilones “did not care for each other in any deep way.” But he credits two reasons his work among them is “considered by many to be the fastest example of development that has ever occurred in a primitive tribe.” The first is that he figured out how to help them within their culture, instead of imposing his own:
Over a period of time [the witch doctor] introduced disinfectants into the normal ceremonies of the Motilones. For instance, there was a cleansing ceremony when a new communal home was built. All the Motilones who are going to live in the home gather, sing chants, and strike the walls with sticks to make any evil spirits leave. At my suggestion, the witch doctor had them use disinfectants with the ceremony, and people noticed that health measurably improved. She also had the midwives use disinfectants when mothers gave birth, and the mortality rate declined….
Vaccination was introduced by the witch doctor as a new form of the traditional blood-letting that the Motilones practiced when someone was sick, because, like blood-letting, it gave a pain that overcame the greater pain of disease or death. Explained in that way and administered by the witch doctor, who was known and trusted, it quickly was accepted and spread through the tribe as soon as needles and vaccine could be provided.
The second reason? In short, the Holy Spirit.
Read this powerful description of a Motilone warrior’s death:
Bruchko, I heard a voice like the spirits that talk when they try to kill you… but this voice called me by my secret name, by my real name. No one alive knows my real name, but this spirit called me by my real name. So I called to it and said, ‘Who are you?’ and it said, ‘I am Jesus, who has walked with you on the trail…. God is here, and He wants to take me on the path we couldn’t ever find on our hunts, the path that goes beyond the horizon to his home…. Not alone. Not alone. I won’t walk it by myself. There’s a Friend who wants to take me. And He knows my name, my real name.
And from the epilogue:
[Motilone students sponsored for advanced studies] have learned how to weave the benefits of science with their traditional roots and values. The Motilones have prepared agronomists; nurses for their twenty-eight health stations; business administrators for their eight cooperatives (which now underwrite more than 86 percent of the Motilone/Barí jungle community expenses); bilingual educators; forest rangers; and other professionals. The Motilones have also trained lawyers, vital for litigation and legal protection of the indigenous traditional habitat.
Even since the latest publication of this book, Bruce Olson has been kidnapped again, this time by the ELN, but he’s continued his work in the jungle (according to the latest report I could find), at times accused by the government of aiding the guerrillas, often targeted for assassination by cartels for his work with the government.
One last thought, if you’re baffled at how mumbling about spirits and using the witch doctor could possibly be part of evangelization, I ask you to simply read the book. Here’s Bruce’s testimony to you:
I have spoken before the United Nations. I have spoken to the Organization of American States. I have been a personal friend of the last four presidents of Colombia. My experience with the Motilone Indians has taught me how to deal with other cultures and how to promote positive change without tearing social structures apart at the seams. I try to share these things. But the most important thing that I can say to those who want to help primitive people is this: they will not be helped very much unless they find purpose in life through Jesus Christ. without Him, whatever development takes place always will be twisted or corrupted. It will embitter those who try to hold it together, and those who don’t care about it will be ruined by apathy and alienation.
Happy new year, everyone.