Recently Russell received international attention for his contribution with the Peace Accord in Colombia. In January, Russell was presented with the Shahbaz Bhatti Freedom Award from First Step Forum Executive Director Johan Candelin. First Step Forum is comprised of an association of Evangelical statesmen, mostly from Europe, who promote people that contribute to global peace. Previous recipients of the award include Pope Francis, Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Dr. Hany Hanna in Egypt and Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili in the Republic of Georgia.
The award was created in 2011 in honor of the late Christian martyr Shahbaz Bhatti who was the only Christian of the Pakistani Parliament. He was vocal for the protection of the Christian minorities and especially spoke against Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Threats against his life increased as he gave his support to Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010. Two weeks before Bhatti's death, Johan Candelin interviewed Bhatti. Bhatti testifies on the video, “I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us, I am ready to die for a cause. I'm living for my community… and I will die to defend their rights.”
Russell now becomes the fifth recipient of the prestigious Shahbaz Bhatti Freedom Award of peacemakers. Johan describes Russell's involvement as, “Extraordinary … I have never seen anything like this and I believe the Colombian Peace Agreement with FARC is the most significant Peace Treaty accomplished in the world this century. God's hand has been on Russ Stendal's work in a unique way.”
Russell received the award in humility and immediately addressed the 300 plus audience. “This award belongs to all of us.” He personally thanked, Dr. Fernando's unfailing friendship and sacrifice. He acknowledged the participation and support of four retired generals including retired General Barrera Supreme Commander of the Colombian Military. Russell then began to introduce and honor military, police, civic, ministry leaders and ended with the most important VIP's, his family and wife Marina.
The room was full of people from high and low social status, rich and poor, converted and unconverted into Christ. Russell saw his unique opportunity to preach the gospel to a very diverse crowd. Russell declared, “This award ceremony is actually taking place on Sunday, our regular weekly meeting of Bible teaching. This is not a political meeting, but spiritual. Years ago when we decided to produce preaching programs for the radio on every chapter of the Bible we realized that a live audience would be more productive than teaching in a studio. We have now produced over 1,000 programs for each chapter of the Bible. There is only Song of Solomon and 40 Psalms left to complete a teaching on all chapters of the Bible. Therefore, tonight in keeping with the tradition of this meeting, I will teach from Psalm 106.” Russell then captivated the audience with a beautiful teaching of Psalm 106 and how this chapter is a picture of man's corruption and God's righteousness represented and found in Christ alone.
The giving of this award has opened up many doors of opportunity to spread the gospel further. All the major Colombian media outlets carried the story and highlighted Russell's life and ministry. The leading paper of Colombia, headquartered in Bogota, featured Russell in a full page colored article. One direct result was Russell's invitation to be the keynote speaker at a leadership forum of 60 European organizations that serve persecuted Christians. This conference will be held in April. Please pray for Russell's message and that the Lord will use this to link with other Kingdom minded organizations and people.
We want to thank all of you who have prayed, given and served all these years to make this accolade possible. Again, Russell said it well, “This award belongs to all of us.”
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