Originally published in Christian Today
A Christian missionary who has dedicated his life to attempting to convert Colombian rebels to Christ has been honoured with an award.
Russell Stendal, from the United States, has spent decades witnessing to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) after arriving in the country with his missionary parents more than 50 years ago, the persecution charity World Watch Monitor reports.
His work was a significant part of the influential Christian evangelism that took place throughout the 50-year war between the FARC rebels and the government. Church leaders and Christians were crucial to the talks that led to last August’s peace agreement, finally ending the world’s longest-running civil war.
During his work, Stendal was even at one point kidnapped by FARC.
He set up Colombia for Christ, based in Bogota, believing if that the rebels could only learn about Jesus, their hearts and minds would be changed for good.
The organisation First Step Forum, which builds bridges between faiths, governments and other agencies in countries where it is invited to do so, decided to honour Stendal for his work with the Shahbaz Bhatti Freedom Award.
The award is named after Pakistan’s first Christian cabinet minister, who was murdered five years ago for criticising the blasphemy laws of Pakistan and for trying to defend the Christian woman Asia Bibi, currently in prison and facing the death penalty for blasphemy.
First Step Forum founder Johan Candelin, from Finland, said in his speech Stendal deserved the award for his “extraordinary peace work for 32 years”, according to World Watch Monitor. Candelin said Stendal’s work had led to a change of heart in many FARC leaders, and also in Colombian Army leaders:
He said: “Many have been healed as a result of prayer. I have never seen anything like this. God’s hand has been on Russ Stendal’s work in a unique way.”
Previous recipients of the award include Pope Francis, Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Dr Hany Hanna in Egypt and Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili in Georgia.