By BosNewsLife Americas Service
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA (BosNewsLife)– A Colombian judge has ordered the release of an American missionary who was jailed over his alleged links to the leftist (FARC) rebels.
Russell Martin Stendal, 59, was detained Wednesday, February 17, at police headquarters in Bogota, the capital, where he turned himself in after learning of his arrest warrant.
A video posted online appeared to show Stendal during his arrest. “Somebody set a trap for me, and I walked into it. And there was a secret order out for my arrest. And here I am,” he said in the video, which was purportedly filmed by one of his daughters.
“They’re accusing me of rebellion for the missionary trips and the visits that I made into rebel-held territory, distributing Bibles and Galcom radios,” he added, referring to solar-powered portable radio sets that are fixed to receive Christian broadcasts.
Colombian authorities denied wrongdoing, saying he installed mobile devices “to transmit propaganda about terrorist activities.”
TRANSPORTING INJURED FIGHTERS
Additionally, “He transported those wounded in combat and gave medical help to members of the guerrilla group,” said the prosecutor’s office in the Colombian department of Cundinamarca.
Yet a judge said there wasn’t enough evidence that Stendal, who was born in Minneapolis, supported the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), the main rebel group in Colombia’s 50-year-old civil war.
His friends are pleased. “I’ve known Russell and his family for more than 12 years. The only electronic support he has provided FARC are Galcom radios set to receive broadcasts from his Christian radio stations,” said Gary Lane, a senior international reporter of US-based Christian Broadcasting Network.
“I personally accompanied him in his airplane during one flight as he dropped radios and Bibles into rebel-held territory. If the charges against him had been fomenting a “Jesus” revolution and loving his enemies, then I’m sure Russ would have pleaded guilty. I know no other missionary that is more committed to winning ALL Colombians to Christ,” Lane added.
Ironically, the American missionary was held hostage by FARC rebels in 1983. Stendal was released by the rebels after five months but decided to his missionary work around the South American nation since then, including trips into rebel-controlled areas.
He has made clear he wants to spread hope in a nation devastated by a conflict that has claimed some 220,000 lives. His supporters urged Christians to pray for him and his family. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos)