Missionary freed in Colombia

by Karen L. Willoughby, |

BOGOTA, Colombia (Christian Examiner) – Russell Martin Stendal is free again to minister in some of the most dangerous and remote areas of Colombia.

He was arrested last Wednesday, Feb. 18, on charges of aiding leftist guerrillas and released Feb. 20 for lack of sufficient evidence. He had turned himself in after hearing there was a warrant out for his arrest.

"Somebody set a trap for me and I walked into it," Stendal, a faith missionary with Minnesota ties, said in a video posted by his daughter to Facebook. "They are accusing me of rebellion for the missionary trips and visits we have made to conflict zones distributing Bibles and radios."

By his reckoning, Stendal has been abducted by leftist guerrillas five times and right-wing paramilitary units four times, and was arrested by the government once before.

"We like to describe him as the Christian Indiana Jones," said David Witt, CEO of the Arizona-based Spirit of Martyrdom ministries, which helps fund Stendal's Colombia For Christ (Colombia para Cristo) ministry and provides a place for him to sell his books stateside. "He risks his life on a daily basis for the Colombian people," Witt added.

More pastors have been killed in Colombia in the last 20 years than anywhere else in the world, said Gary Musselman of Voice of the Martyrs Canada in a Feb. 20 radio interview with Mission News Network. Musselman and Stendal have known each other "for many years," the Canadian said.

"The guy's been doing this for decades," Musselman said before Stendal was released. "He's gone into areas where it's dangerous, and he's now facing the consequences of what he's doing."

Stendal passes out Bibles, books he has written, and solar-powered radios to people in these remote areas. Stendal also produces and broadcasts live radio shows and even built radio towers so isolated families and communities could listen. The combined result of his multiple outreach appreaches is an uncounted "many" who have responded to God's love by submitting their lives to Christ.

La Montana, a movie released in 2012, highlights his ministry and documents the power of the spreading Gospel in Colombia. The two-hour Spanish-language film--with English subtitles--is available in two parts on YouTube.com, or from the website www.spiritofmartyrdom.com. Stendal also blogs on the website.

"The people we hate the most have names and faces," one paramilitary says to others in the film, after having spent three days with the guerrillas.

"Don't you see this war is hurting all of us?" Another person asked; he had begun to listen to the radio broadcasts.

Discussion among a group of men about the mess "others" had made of their country, led one Bible-reader to ask, "If a handful of people have destroyed this country, why isn't it possible for a handful of people to restore it?"

Stendal moved with his missionary parents to Colombia when he was 8 and later married a woman from Colombia. He became a pilot so he could go farther and to more remote locations, where there are no churches and where he is the first Christian.