HOPE IN COLOMBIA
Reported By David Witt
Spirit of Martyrdom is delighted to join Russell Stendal in serving the Church-the Living Martyrs of Latin America. Russell courageously and faithfully shares the hope of Jesus Christ to the people of Colombia. He has been taken hostage by the Communist rebel guerrillas multiple times. The longest stay was five months tied to a tree in the early 1980’s. He has been ambushed, shot at, chased through the jungle and threatened by every means. Yet in all these dangerous and precarious situations, God has supernaturally protected him. In a seemingly hopeless situation Russell sees Hope!
In the past decade, over two million Bibles and Christian books have been distributed, and over 100,000 solar paneled radios. Millions of Colombians have heard the Gospel through the sixteen radio stations, with two additionally stations under construction. The impact has been enormous! In the 1950’s, it was estimated that fewer than two percent of Colombians had a personal relationship with Christ. Today that number has grown to twenty-five percent who consider themselves evangelical Christians. The path of ministry in Latin America is similar to the native landscape… lush, beautiful, green jungle with majestic peaks and valleys. The roads can be dangerous, rough, but the daily miracles are rewarding.
Russell estimated at one point in the 1980’s there were 850 missionaries and 15 mission aviation planes working in Eastern Colombia, and another 15 planes working in Venezuela. By the mid-1990’s, the plane count fell to zero, missionaries had to leave as violence continued to increase, and some of the missionaries were courageously martyred for their work. In March of 1996, Russell watched the last plane with the last missionary family leave Wycliffe’s Colombian station of Loma Linda. Russell says that he cried as he saw that plane fly away. He thought, “This must be how the Vietnamese felt as the last United States helicopter left Saigon.” He knew God was calling him to stay but he felt abandoned, lonely and overwhelmed by the task in front of him. This was a low point for Russell. He knew of only four missionaries still working in the jungle and ultimately aviation ministry outreach was obsolete.
God began to rebuild what the violence had destroyed. In early 2000, The Voice of the Martyrs, Galcom Radio, and Pan America ministries began to pour resources into Colombia. More radio stations were built, and Bibles and Christian materials were distributed by roads, mountain trails, and rivers. Finally an airplane was purchased, which enabled solar radios and Christian materials to be dropped by parachutes over hostile areas. With the growing impact of God’s Word, more aviation ministry is now needed for Christian material distribution and serving the radio stations. At this point, Russell is the only experienced pilot able to fly in Colombia. The need for more planes and pilots is greater than ever before. This past June prayers were answered when Randy, a Christian, and professional pilot from Oklahoma, volunteered his time as a flight instructor to students willing to serve God. The only problem was having an affordable plane to use for training. Randy and Russell prayed that if God wanted our ministry to train more pilots, he would give us a Cessna 172. That week Bill, a missionary to an orphanage in Mexico, decided to donate to Spirit of Martyrdom his 2001 Cessna 172! Bill had never met Russell, but had just finished reading Russell’s book, Rescue the Captors II and the Spirit of Martyrdom newsletter. Bill reported to SOM that, “the Holy Spirit moved me to give the ministry the plane.” Bill had no idea of the prayer spoken by Russell just a couple of days before.
God is raising up a new generation of pilots. Pilots for South America must be a special breed. They need a deep integrity to avoid the temptations of money, pride and self-indulgence. They need a martyr’s spirit of courage — to apply faith over fear. Ethan DeLong and Christian McConnell are the first young men to heed this call. They said that they are willing to go and serve the Lord anywhere he leads. They are now training and maturing and honing their skills to join Russell in Latin America in the near future. (Please pray for these courageous young men.)
The opportunity before us is possibly the greatest in Colombian history. This past month the President of Colombia sent a general to Russell. He said, “the messages from the radio stations offer us the greatest hope to come against the violence in Colombia.” He asked Russell if he would install FM stations throughout the nation. Russell told him that we already have fifteen FM stations and it has taken all these years to install them. In order to cover Colombia, we will need at least fifteen more stations which represent a vast amount of resources. Russell told the president, “We will pray that God grants us the ability and resources to construct fifteen more stations in 2012.” Thank you for your prayers, support, and donations in serving the living martyrs in Colombia and Latin America, as they courageously risk their lives for the hope of peace in Jesus Christ.
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