Growing Christian presence in Colombian revolutionary group

A member of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia monitors the road. A preacher based in the country has estimated that 10% of FARC members are Christians.Photo: Reuters/Jaime Saldarriaga

There is a growing presence of Christians in a Colombian revolutionary group, a preacher close to the organisation said.

According to the World Watch Monitor (WWM), preacher Russell Martin Stendal estimated that 10 per cent of the membership in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are Christians.

Russell Martin Stendal is the operator of Colombia for Christ, a ministry based in the capital, Bogota. Colombia for Christ operates the radio station Garita Radio, which Stendal had set up with the intention of teaching FARC members about Christianity.  The radio has received approval from the late FARC leader Jojo Monoy for its broadcasts, Stendal claimed.

The FARC has fought against the Colombian government since 1964, and is noted for its Marxist-Leninist beliefs that reject religion.

FARC commander Ivan Marquez told the WWM in a Q&A back in 2013 with Stendal and his daughter Alethia that three high ranking members of the revolutionary organisation are Christians. These are, Marquez said, Jesús Santrich, Yuri Camargo and Noel Perez.

Ivan Marquez is second-in-command of the FARC's secretariat, while Santrich serves as his right hand man. Camargo is a former commander of the FARC's 52nd Front, and Perez is the current deputy commander of the group's 26th Front.

The four men, together with 25 other commanders of the FARC, are currently in Havana for negotiations with the Colombian government. They have been engaged in negotiations since November 2012.

During the Q&A, Stendal also noted that there has been a significant reduction in attacks carried out by FARC members against preachers in Colombia. 

"The incidents we've seen are fewer," he told WWM. "In the past two years, I don't know of any pastors killed at the hands of the FARC."

Camargo observed that FARC's problem with churches was that some of them had supposedly acted as counterinsurgency fronts for the government.

"[I]n some areas military intelligence has infiltrated churches. We're simply not going to permit that this veneer of religion be used as a front. Of course churches have had to be closed for this kind of problem," he said. 

However, Camargo acknowledged that the organisation must respect the beliefs of the Colombian people.

"Colombians are very Christian, aren't they? And we're with the church. We all must respect the religious beliefs of the people," he said.