Grand Rapids, Minn., native Russell Stendal has spent over 50 years as a missionary in Colombia, South America — and his experiences there have filled the pages of dozens of books.
Stendal made the acquaintance of retired Detroit Lakes minister Barry Schoder shortly after he had been kidnapped and spent 153 days as a hostage of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), more than 30 years ago. Stendal was 27 years old at the time.
The two men stayed in touch, Schoder says, and several years ago, Stendal and his son came to Detroit Lakes to talk about their mission work. Stendal will be flying solo, however, when he returns to Detroit Lakes Sunday, Sept. 15, for a series of speaking engagements at three local churches: Christian Fellowship Church (28048 Meadow Drive) at 10:30 a.m. — this presentation will be aired live on Arvig's Channel 14 public access TV station; Ecumen-Emmanuel Nursing Home Chapel (1415 Madison Ave.) at 3 p.m.; and Community Alliance Church (408 Elm St. West) at 7 p.m.
All three presentations will be free and open to the public.
Stendal has devoted his life to fostering peace between three warring factions in Colombia. Though he has been kidnapped by the FARC and other rebel factions, he launched his Bogota-based ministry, Colombia for Christ, with his captors in mind.
In 2017, he was presented with an international religious freedom award for his peace-making efforts: The Shahbaz Bhatti Freedom Award, named after Pakistan’s first Christian Cabinet Minister, who was murdered in 2011 for his outspoken criticism of the country's blasphemy laws. Past recipients of this award have included Pope Francis; Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi; Dr. Hany Hanna in Egypt; persecuted Chinese lawyer Gao Zhisheng; and Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili in Georgia.
Though Stendal has devoted roughly 35 years of his life to establishing and maintaining peace in Colombia, Schoder says his missionary work actually began with his own parents. When young Russell was 4 years old, he prayed to God and asked that he would call his parents to become missionaries.
"Chad and Patty (Russell's parents) ended up going to Colombia with the Wycliffe Bible Translators," Schoder said. "They took their kids with them."
Some 50 years later, Russell's work there continues. Since writing a book about his 1983 kidnapping experience, titled "Rescue the Captors," he has penned some 60-odd books, including 20 written in English and more than 40 in Spanish.
Other church happenings
- Then on Saturday, Sept. 21, Christian Fellowship Church and the Historic Holmes Theatre are teaming up to bring Tommy Edwards and Eddie James, also known as the Christian comedy duo The Skit Guys, to the Holmes for a special evening of faith-based comedy, music and fun, to include an appearance by Kent Dudley and his Bended Knee Band. Tickets for the 7 p.m. performance are $15 and may be purchased at www.dlccc.org/holmes-theatre.html.
- Also Saturday, First Baptist Church in Detroit Lakes will be hosting an all-day conference, "Understanding the Times," from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. Scheduled speakers include author, commentator, radio and TV host Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas; author, Bible teacher and Israeli tour guide Amir Tsarfati, founder of Behold Israel; author, commentator and radio host the Rev. Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel in Chino Hills, Calif.; the Rev. J.D. Farag of Calvary Chapel in Kaneohe, Hawaii; author, commentator and radio host Jan Markell, founder of Olive Tree ministries; and Laurie Cardoza-Moore, founder of Proclaiming Justice to the Nations. Lunch will be provided. Visit DLFirstBaptistChurch.com for details.