CALI, Colombia — For five decades, the South American country of Colombia has been at war with Marxist rebels. Fighting can break out at any moment in scattered war zones, but that doesn’t stop an intrepid messenger of peace.
For years, missionary Russell Stendal has brought Christian literature to all sides of the conflict: guerrillas, paramilitaries and government soldiers. He has made friends on all sides and his he radio stations and solar-powered receivers lead the way.
Stendal’s work was portrayed in a film called « La Montana », translated « The Mountain ».
Stendal tries to reach areas where it is not possible to have church buildings or scheduled religious services, and where it is not possible to carry out normal missionary or evangelistic work.
« And so we drop these radios on guerrilla camps, by parachute. We distribute them to soldiers; we distribute them to paramilitary forces, » Stendal told CBN News.
Stendal has distributed over 120,000 solar powered radios. Former journalist Dario Silva has been following the conflict for years. He is now pastor of House on the Rock Church, one of the largest churches in Bogota, and sends aid to suffering families in rural Colombia.
But Silva said there is a disconnect between Colombia’s megachurches and the country’s isolated and often persecuted believers.
“Churches, especially megachurches, have a tendency to be very Laodicean,” Silva noted. « ‘I have everything. I’m rich,’ right? But they are unaware of the problems our brothers are going through. »
Silva said hardship and persecution have not prevented the gospel from reaching the remotest corners of Colombia.
In fact, he recalls a guerrilla leader who complained: “Those Christians are the worst problem we have. Because we arrive in a remote part of the country where there is no electricity, no running water, no roads, no means of transport, or a parish house. , or any political figure, and there’s always some nut with a black book under his arm preaching about Jesus! »
In the mountains and jungles of southwestern Colombia, guerrillas are still destroying churches, driving out believers and killing pastors. Open Doors International reports that more shepherds have been killed in Colombia than in any other democratic nation on earth.
The southwestern area of Colombia was home to Helmer, a FARC guerrilla commander known as Comandante Geronimo.
“When I became commander in the state of Cauca, I unleashed all that atheism against God’s people,” Helmer explained. « Expelling pastors, closing churches, killing evangelicals because they didn’t pay attention to what we wanted them to do, which is denying Jesus Christ, denying God. »
But after years of persecuting Christians, Helmer realized he had failed.
« The more I pursue them, the more they grow, they get stronger, they multiply. Then I said, ‘How is it? If I’m trying to wipe them out and they grow more, they’re fruitful and they make a lot of progress… Then I start to doubt,' » Helmer said.
Those doubts led Helmer to a personal encounter with the Jesus he was persecuting. Today his weapon is a Bible, and he exhorts people to follow Christ instead of Karl Marx.
At a critical point
Stendal believes that more than 100,000 fighters have become followers of Jesus and that the conflict could reach a critical point.
« Those who want to continue with all this violence are having a lot of problems now because there are enough Christians to really be the salt and the light, » Stendal said. « What used to be a spiritual black hole that we consider now is at least 10% Christian in most areas. »
Indigenous Christians are also spreading the gospel. Alvaro Dagua, from the Guambiano tribe, directs two Christian radio stations.
He’s very passionate about the power of radio « because I was a product of radio, » he said.
“Radio evangelized me, radio discipled me, and radio inspired me,” Dagua told CBN News.
At a recent Christian press conference in Cali, Colombia, Dagua and other Guambianos spoke of moving beyond their own tribe.
« If you go to the virgin jungle for three days on foot, you will find the Aguá tribe who have not been civilized, » Dagua said. « So we want to reach over there with our radio station, with the word of God, so that the Aguá tribe can dwell in the Kingdom of Heaven. »
Meanwhile, government negotiators are meeting with FARC guerrilla leaders in Havana, Cuba, and hopes are growing that a peace deal could soon end Colombia’s 50 years of internal violence.
But regardless of the outcome, evangelists, using radio and literature, are spreading peace in the nation’s conflict zones, lifetime after lifetime.