An Interview with Russell Stendal Jr.
I was privileged to grow up on the mission field in Colombia. I have a long heritage of ministry with my grandparents serving the Kogi Indians for over 50 years in the hills of Colombia.
Since my father is an American and mother is a Colombian, together they've had a profound ministry to the FARC guerillas, Colombian government, paramilitary and civilians throughout the country of Colombia for over 30 years. I grew up in this atmosphere seeing first hand that God is real and working through my family.
During my childhood I enjoyed working alongside my dad and seeing the Lord at work. Most of our time together would be spent on the road going wherever the Lord guided in the United States, Canada and of course, Colombia. I was able to see my dad speak in many different church denominations and with people from various backgrounds. It was amazing how God's love and message has no barriers.
As a young boy, I knew I had to personally accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior and welcome Him into my life. I was homeschooled until 4th grade and I had many neighborhood friends. I transferred to a missionary school, but the friends I enjoyed the most were from my neighborhood. Once I turned 14, my friends started making poor choices including drugs and smoking. It was then that I knew I had to make a choice for my life.
I chose to withdraw from the bad influence of my friends and turned towards video games to distract me. I lived with the reality of my dad being gone on the mission field much of my childhood and struggled with missing him. I am grateful we have a close family and I had my two older sisters Lisa and Alethia and my brother-in-law, Sammy who looked after Dylan and me. However, I also felt the weight of the responsibility to take care of my younger brother Dylan when my parents were gone weeks at a time. It was then that I knew I couldn't do it on my own. I understood that the Lord called my parents to do this work. I didn't feel hurt, but it was challenging for me. Communication was difficult when my parents were traveling to remote areas and I struggled with feeling fearful not knowing when they would return. During this time, I realized the need to trust in the Lord and give Him my life, but I still didn't allow Him to become Lord of my whole life.
My brother-in-law Sammy saw how I spent my time playing video games. He began waking me up at 5:00 a.m. and training me to play soccer. We trained every day and I loved it. My passion for soccer grew during middle school and high school. I played on a city tournament team and was determined to become a professional soccer player.
My parents poured into my life by consistently sharing Christ and Bible stories. I felt comfortable asking my dad questions and he did his best to answer, but most of the time his answer was to read the Bible, discover for myself and then come back and ask any further questions. My mom and dad always prioritized us when they were home, even though they couldn't be there all the time, this made it easier when they were away because I knew they cared.
After graduating high school, I struggled figuring out my future dreams and what I was going to do. I always thought I could use soccer to do ministry around the world, but I didn't know how and/or if it was the Lord's leading. There was always a struggle between what I could do, what I should do and what the Lord wanted me to do.
Right after high school, my dad encouraged me and sent me to Canada to get my pilot's license. I thought I wouldn't like aviation, but I realized later that it was a blessing and I love it now. Since 2012, every year I've gone to the United States to update my credentials.
In 2011, when we filmed our movie, La Montaña, I felt I was finally useful in what God was doing in Colombia. The Lord used the movie for something totally different than I thought. The movie opened doors for us to connect with some indigenous groups we didn't have connection with before. We went throughout Colombia setting up “mini movie theatres” with chairs, surround sound and popcorn, giving out Bibles at the end. Many of these people living in remote jungle areas of Colombia have never seen a movie before.
I was touched by the way the Lord used La Montaña and stirred the hearts of the people as they watched it. Throughout my life, I was a witness of what the Lord was doing in both my grandparents' and my parents' lives.
I felt brokenness in my heart with stories of missionary kids going the opposite way instead of continuing in the ministry their parent's set before them. I didn't want to fall into that. Even if it's a different path, I wanted to continue building off of my parent's path.
My dad was a young boy when his parents arrived in Colombia and were missionaries reaching out to the people in the Kogi villages, which later opened the doors for my dad's ministry to the FARC guerillas. Therefore, I wondered what the Lord wanted me to do as I followed in the footsteps of the ministry with my parents.
Around 2012, I wanted to start working for the ministry, but it wasn't until my dad was arrested in 2015 that I had a wakeup call to take responsibility in what the Lord was calling me to do and allow Him to clean up anything wrong in my life. I struggled to find my identity in the activities I liked to do and used those things to escape. I wanted to start allowing the Lord to clean my heart. As I have allowed Him to bring those things to light, I am growing and finding my identity in Christ.
Since then it's been an amazing journey and God is continuing to do wonderful things in Colombia, Cuba and expanding the ministry into Venezuela.
Currently, in October 2017, I am in the United States on a speaking tour. I am excited to continue growing in the Lord and letting Him use my life for His glory.
Thank you for your prayers and support, please join us in prayer for continued provision of Bibles for Venezuela, the ongoing ministry and radio broadcasting in Colombia.
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