Arrested-Tried-Released in 24 Hours
Reported By David and Cindy Witt
The morning of Wednesday, February 18th Russell was warned of an impending arrest. An ex-paramilitary commander, turned Christian, received word of a plot to frame Russell. Two guerrillas conspired with other enemies of the gospel, to witness against him. A few hours later Russell was invited to the police station to discuss some concerns by someone he thought was trustworthy and a friend. When Russell arrived he was immediately arrested and detained at the police station for the night. His charges were for rebellion against the Colombian state for conspiring with FARC guerrillas.
Russell’s daughter Alethia was able to take a 30 second video of her dad in the police station in which he reports the set up and false accusations for his arrest. The video immediately went viral and friends and partners with Russell shared the video around the world. (Click Here to See the Video)
Overnight thousands of people began to pray. Russell was held at the police station and told that he would see a judge the next day. Russell shared with the Colombian staff to “tell all” as the truth reveals the darkness.
The Stendal family, two lawyers and many friends worked overnight to prepare the defense for the coming hearing. Meanwhile, back in the United States and Canada, partnering ministries such as Colombia Para Cristo, Galcom Radio, The Voice of the Martyrs, and Spirit of Martyrdom prepared documents to support Russell’s missionary work, not only to the guerrillas, but to the military soldiers, paramilitary, and all Colombians. We all agreed, “What the enemy meant for destruction, God would use for His Greater Glory.”
Thursday morning, things began to look gloomy as the Colombian media had an onslaught of negative press with the story of Russell’s arrest. The enemies of Russell had collaborated to seed false charges and the media ran with it. News headlines shouted accusations that Russell was the “Guerrilla’s Man.” Newspapers claimed Russell furthered the message of the FARC guerrillas using radio and bringing aid to the guerrilla camps. The media continued to show Russell in a bad light and even used a picture of the arrest mug shot to add to the evidence of his presumed guilt. By late morning, the story became international. A Peruvian Associated Press reporter contacted the Spirit of Martyrdom office for an interview. The hearing was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. and by the time the trial began; the Colombian press had already reported Russell as guilty. Outside the courthouse, Sammy (Russell’s son- in- law) and daughter Lisa took a barrage of questions from the media. They confidently and transparently answered all their questions as they had nothing to hide and yet were disappointed from the media’s promotion of false accusations.
The hearing became another test of faith. Russell was brought in handcuffs, however he never looked down, but held his face solemn to his accusers. Apparently, the prosecutors had been collecting evidence over the past three years and compiled over 400 pages of documents with accusations against Russell and were given 3 hours to present their case. Russell and his lawyers had 30 minutes to speak in their defense.
The prosecutors presented guerrilla convicts who testified against Russell. The prosecutor’s deliberated their case for hours and in the words of Sammy, “ it was horrible to hear testimony after testimony of twisted facts and lies.”
Finally, it was Russell’s defense lawyer’s turn. In contrast, the table of the defense team had stacks of Bibles and Christian literature that Russell had authored and delivered to people throughout Colombia and the world. The defense lawyers began effectively deliberating the arguments of the prosecution showing many inconsistencies in their evidence. The lawyer presented the evidence and documentation offered by partnering ministries in the United States and Canada. They presented the Bibles, books, radios and newsletters. When the lawyers had finished their defense, Russell requested, if he could speak. The judge responded that it is not customary to have the defendant testify, but she would allow it.
Russell began sharing that he came from a missionary family and moved to Colombia when he was eight years old. He shared how the prosecution never mentioned how he was taken hostage by the FARC for five months in 1983 and then four other times for shorter stays. He began to share how all his work with the guerrillas was done in collaboration and the knowledge of top leaders and he began to name top generals in the military, prominent leaders of Colombia and even mentioned communication with two Colombian Presidents. When Russell was finished many people in the courtroom and even the judge was visibly moved by the stories.
The judge then addressed the prosecutors. She shared, “Certainly you did much work for three years gathering information and confessions, however why did you only take the word of a few criminals? How did you miss investigating Russell’s work with top military and government officials?” She then pronounced, Russell was innocent and closed the case.
Outside the courtroom, the Lord empowered Russell to bless his enemies as he answered questions from the media. Russell did not accuse, but spoke with respect and honor. One reporter asked Russell, “What did you think of the judge?” He responded, “She helped me believe in the legal system again. Colombia needs to return to a system of order and trust.” One reporter asked, “What did you think of the prosecutor’s accusations?” Russell answered, “They only did their job and I do not have any resentment towards them.” Another reporter asked, “What do you think about the media handling your story?” Russell replied, “I forgive them, This is a time that we all need to practice forgiveness.” Another question, “What religion are you?” Russell said, “I advocate no religion. I believe that Jesus Christ rules in my heart. I respect Catholics, Protestants and Evangelicals of all sorts who operate from a heart made clean by God.” Russell and the family distributed all the Bibles and Christian materials to the prosecutors.
Speaking with Sammy after the hearing, he shared the drama of the day and the absolute joy in the victory. He shared with me, “David this event demonstrated again God’s power over events and difficulties. God has used the media and his enemies to share our story all over Colombia and even other parts of the world.” Russell, the Stendal family and all the Colombian workers extend their gratitude to all who prayed and supported them during this trial.
This battle was won, but the war continues to rage for the hearts and souls of Colombians. Please keep Russell and the Stendal family in your prayers. There is talk that the prosecutors will try to appeal the verdict. We must continue the clarion call to “pray without ceasing.” Thank you for your prayers and partnership in this vital ministry.
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