Today's Children's Ministry
Home CT Mag Church/Ministry Bible/Life Communities Chat Entertainment Schools/Jobs Shopping Free! Help
from Today's Christian

Main  |  Archives  |  Contact Us
Site Search

Great Stories of Faith, Hope, and God's Love

Subscribe to Today's Christian

People of Faith

Stories of Hope

Today's Culture

Build Your Faith

Laughing Matters

Believer's Network

• Yes, there will be a production.
• No, just normal church services.
Vote here, and see how your answer compares to others'.
Take the poll

CTI Celebrates 50 Years!
Da Vinci Code
The 10 Most Redeeming Movies of 2005

Related Channels
Bible & Reference
Christian Bible Studies
Small Groups
Faith in the Workplace

The Lord's Career Advice

Livin' Large

The Return of the Veggie King

Random Acts of Healing?

Subscribe to Today's Christian Woman Magazine

Home > Today's Christian > People of Faith > Spiritual Giants

Sign up for our free newsletter:

Today's Christian, March/April 2002

Chet Bitterman

Missionaries have never been off-limits for terrorists

by Bonne Steffen

In 1981, anticipating his first actual linguistic assignment with Wycliffe Bible Translators, missionary Chet Bitterman, 28, prayed, "Lord, the tribe that's the most remote, the most difficult to reach because of location and culture, the tribe no one else might select because of those reasons, Lord, if it's okay with you, that's my tribe." Bitterman encountered "the tribe no one else might select" when he was kidnapped by Colombian rebels, an innocent victim caught in the midst of civil unrest.

The young missionary had first heard about Bible translation when he was a student at Columbia Bible College in South Carolina. After a Wycliffe presentation, Bitterman thought, That's what I'd like to do. But after graduation, Bitterman went to work for his father in the scale business back home in Pennsylvania.

At his home church during a social for college-age men and women, Bitterman met Brenda Gardner, a senior at Lancaster Bible College and the daughter of Wycliffe missionaries in Colombia. When Bitterman mentioned that he was thinking about attending the Summer Institute of Linguistics in North Dakota, Brenda couldn't believe it—she had spent the previous summer at the SIL facility in Oklahoma.

The linguistics studies proved trying for Bitterman, but Brenda's letters and his perseverence kept him going. By summer's end he was sure of two things: he wanted to continue to pursue a career with Wycliffe and he wanted to marry Brenda. In August 1978, the couple, now with a baby, successfully completed Wycliffe's jungle camp in Mexico as the final preparation for their arrival in Colombia the following year.

A country under siege

Two years before the Bittermans had arrived in South America, a bomb had gone off on the porch of the Wycliffe guest house in Bogota. For a decade, the missionary organization had been vilified in the press as being a front for U.S. spies. Whenever the missionaries came under scrutiny, they opened their doors for their host country to examine their files, revealing nothing secretive. There was also the ongoing debate about missionaries destroying the culture of the indigenous tribes.

The Bittermans first called Lomalinda home; there, Chet manned the radio tower. Relaying messages from missionaries in the bush, he longed for his assignment.

But the work in the jungle would have to wait. The Bittermans volunteered for a six-month service assignment in Bogota so that another translator couple, the Smothermons, who had been in Colombia for six years, wouldn't have to interrupt their linguistic project.

When the Bittermans returned to Lomalinda, it seemed that the threat from Colombian guerrillas had intensified. Chet was made security coordinator of the complex, now housing government soldiers, too. Still, the goal of doing linguistic field work with a new tribe—the Carijona—seemed to be falling into place.

An unwanted wakeup call

On January 19, 1981, at 6:30 in the morning, the Bittermans' doorbell rang. Seven armed terrorists burst through the door, demanding to see the SIL director. Told that he wasn't there, the rebels pointed at Chet, "We'll take you."

Before being marched out the rear office at gunpoint, Chet held baby Esther and kissed three-year-old Anna. He asked Brenda to remain calm for the girls' sake.

Four days after the abduction, the terrorists' demands were made known: Wycliffe must stop their work and leave the country. For 48 days, Chet's whereabouts were unknown. His family received some letters and an audiotape, later saw his photograph in the newspaper, all assurances that he was doing okay. In moments of anxiety, Brenda realized that her husband was sharing the gospel with Colombians who have never heard it before—his captors.

But on the morning of March 7, police found Chet's body in a parked bus south of Bogota. There were no signs of torture, just one shot to the chest. Honoring his wishes, Chet was buried in Lomalinda.

The year after the tragedy, applications for overseas work with Wycliffe doubled. Two years after the kidnapping, one of the rebels told a Colombian pastor that he had decided to follow Jesus Christ because of Chet Bitterman. Though guerrilla activity hasn't been eradicated in Colombia, Wycliffe continues to carry out their mission of translating the word of God into every language. Learn more about Wycliffe at

A Christian Reader original article.

March/April 2002, Vol. 40, No. 2, Page 11

What did you think of this story?

Please to give us your feedback.

   Join the discussion on the "People of Faith" message board

Browse More Today's Christian
Home  |  People of Faith  |  Stories of Hope  |  Today's Culture
Build Your Faith  |  Laughing Matters  |  Believer's Network
Archives  |  Contact Us

Try an Issue of Today's Christian
Subscribe to Today's Christian
Street Address
E-mail Address

No credit card required. Please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery. Offer valid in U.S. only. Click here for International orders.

If you decide you want to keep Today's Christian coming, honor your invoice for just $17.95 and receive five more issues, a full year in all. If not, simply write "cancel" across the invoice and return it. The trial issues are yours to keep, regardless.

Give Today's Christian as a gift
Buy 1 gift subscription, get 1 FREE!

FREE Newsletter
Subscribe to the Today's Christian Newsletter

Women's Survival Kit

Cure for the Common Life
Cure for the Common Life

by Max Lucado
Reg: $22.99
Now: $12.65

The Total Money Makeover
The Total Money Makeover

by Dave Ramsey Reg: $24.99
Now: $17.99 Bargain Center

Seminary/Grad School Guide

Free Newsletter
Sign up for the free Today's Christian Newsletter:

Preaching Today Sermon Transcripts
Home CT Mag Church/Ministry Bible/Life Communities Chat Entertainment Schools/Jobs Shopping Free! Help
Books & Culture
Christian History & Biography
Christianity Today
Church Law Today
Church Treasurer Alert
Ignite Your Faith
Leadership Journal
Marriage Partnership
Men of Integrity
Today's Christian
Today's Christian Woman
Your Church
Christian College Guide
Christian History Back Issues
Christian Music Today
Christianity Today Movies
Church Products & Services
Church Safety
Seminary/Grad School Guide
Today's Children's Ministry
Christianity Today International
Copyright © 1994–2006 Christianity Today International
Privacy Policy | Contact Us | Advertise with Us | Job Openings