Posted by: calloftheandes | March 2, 2015

Missionary in Colombia Released After Facing Accusation of Rebellion

by R. Kurtenbach

 A U.S. man known for his evangelistic efforts in Colombia, Russell Martin Stendal, was released after a judge ruled in favor of the longtime missionary who faced a charge of rebellion on accusations that he had supported the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The female judge, unnamed in most news accounts, on February 20 deemed as insufficient the evidence against Stendal, 59, who has lived in Colombia for five decades and is married to a Colombian. His mission agency is Colombia Para Cristo (Colombia For Christ). He first came to Colombia from Minnesota at age eight, the son of missionary parents. Upon his release without posting a bond, a FARC communique posted on the Internet stated that “any member of the highly disreputable cartel of witnesses could confirm that this citizen always preached peace between armed and unarmed contestants, including insurgents, army and paramilitaries.”

A FARC delegation has been in Cuba since 2012 for peace talks with officials of Colombian’s government in an attempt to end a conflict that began in 1964. The estimated death toll exceeds 220,000, with millions of Colombians displaced. While evangelical pastors have been specifically targeted in times past, a recent report by World Watch Monitor reported a significant response to the gospel by FARC leadership.

The FARC communique, issued from Havana, scorned the intelligence reports of police in Cundinamarca department (or province) of Colombia as “leaving much to be desired, confusing evangelization with rebellion. The weapon of Stendal is indeed a Bible, as his lawyer stated well, and his preaching is reconciliation between brothers.” The prosecutor’s office in Colombia’s Cundinamarca department alleged that Stendal had collaborated with two guerrilla groupings (Fronts 51 and 53) and in general, with the terrorist group’s Eastern Bloc.

The judge’s release of Stendal came one day after the missionary’s arrest in the Cundinamarca city of Sijín, where he, accompanied by a Colombian attorney, had voluntarily surrendered to police. After his February 19 arrest, Stendal, on a short video posted to the Internet, said that “somebody set a trap for me, and I walked into it.” He added that the Colombian prosecutor was “accusing me of rebellion for the missionary trips and the visits that I made into rebel-held territory, distributing Bibles and Galcom radios. ”

The prosecutor, Carlos Manuel Silva, had compiled testimonies from witnesses who included demobilized members of FARC, and a main body of evidence came from Valencia Vera Robinson (alias Abelardo), Dumar Yepes Hurtado (alias Samuel Carrillo) and a third witness whose alias was Hernies.

The witnesses’ claims were that Stendal had collaborated with FARC on the installation of stations in Cundinamarca and Meta departments (central Colombia) and specifically in Sumapaz. Yepes had referred to Stendal as “an American who had everything needed for Estéreo Marfil (Ivory Stereo), the station in Puerto Lleras.” The arrest warrant stated that Stendal had taken “radioteléfonos y antenas,” (radio-telephones and antennas) to the guerrillas.

Russell M. Stendal (photo by David Hitt, used with permission from www.SpiritofMartyrdom.com

Russell M. Stendal (photo by David Witt, used with permission from http://www.SpiritofMartyrdom.com

Three organizations, Galcom (Ontario, Canada and Florida, US.A.) and Spirit of Martyrdom (Arizona, USA) as well as Colombia Para Cristo filed documents referred to by Stendal’s lawyer, Éder Castro, during the February 20 proceeding. The statements asserted that Stendal’s work is distinctly Christian and that he was not assisting the FARC, according to a Bogota-based newspaper, El Espectador.

Unnamed sources close to the Feb. 19 court proceedings claimed that Stendal’s allegiance to the anti-government group stemmed from the four months in 1983 that he spent as a FARC hostage. He later chronicled that experience in a book, Rescue the Captors, and advocated that people pray for guerrilla fighters, many of them just teens. By his own account, Stendal has been held on various occasions by rebels, ultra-right paramilitaries on the opposite end of Colombia’s political spectrum, and also has been detained by authorities before.

During the court proceedings, Stendal himself spoke after his lawyer had represented his account of his work. The missionary told of good relations with Colombian military leaders aware of his ministry to all sides in the country’s conflict. He specified Generals Juan Pablo Amaya and Leonardo Barrero as aware of and supportive of his distribution of Bibles and solar-powered radios with frequencies programmed for area Christian radio stations. He has ministered to the physical and spiritual needs of guerrillas, soldiers and victims of kidnappings. His parents ministered to the Kogi indigenous group of northern Colombia and also established a base at San Martín in the eastern plains. Russell Stendal’s movie, La Montaña (The Mountain) portrays him as a mediator between guerrillas and the paramilitary groups.

Interviewed by El Espectador, Stendal claimed that the witnesses against him had felt betrayed by him to authorities and were held in a Colombian prison. By his account, when they had first met, one needed medical help after suffering a land mine blast and so Stendal had referred them to the army to save the man’s life. But, as reported in a chapter of Rescue the Captors called “Abelardo and Carillo,” the men were subsequently apprehended, tried and sentenced as guerrilla fighters. He said they had been trying to extort from him $250 million.

After the judge’s ruling, Stendal’s daughter, Lisa, was quoted as saying, “This demonstrates that in Colombia, arrest comes first and afterwards the proof of innocence is shown.”

Twitter messages on social media have stated support of Stendal and highlighted his work throughout the years in Colombia. One written by Otto von Ferdi read, “I wish we were all a bit like Martin Stendal; his release is an example of honesty and [of his] commitment to the Colombian people.”

Sources: El Tiempo, Caracol Radio, El Espectador, The Guerrillas Have Taken Our Son by Chad & Pat Stendal, Vimeo, CNN, Hard Core DX

 

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Responses

  1. […] to World Watch Monitor , the missionary, Russell Stendal, has been in Colombia for over half a century, having first arrived with his parents – also […]

  2. As CEO of Spirit of Martyrdom ministries and therefore updated on the details, I thank you for your excellent article. Your article is the most thorough I have read and accurate. Thanks for getting this story out to others.


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