Deann Alford, Journalist

“I yelled at God, ‘God, what do you want me to do with the rest of my life?’” author Deann Alford confessed. She found the answer as she randomly opened a Spanish Bible, and let her eyes fall on a verse in the top left-hand corner, Isaiah 8:1, “El Senor me dijo, ‘Toma una tabilla grande y escribe,’’ which is translated, “The Lord said to me, ‘Take a large scroll and write.’” Then Deann knew, “I’m called to write. My mandate is moving people to pray, give, go, take action, listen to God, and do what He says. So that’s what I do.”

Deann became a journalist whose articles tell the adventures of believers around the world. From the badlands of South Dakota, to the islands of the South Pacific, Deann’s stories bring awareness and inspiration to people around the world. She has traveled to dangerous places like Pakistan, Gaza, Nigeria and Columbia in search of stories of ordinary humans doing extraordinary good in the face of death and tragedy. In addition to her books Circle of Hope and Village of Bridges, her latest book, Victorious: The Impossible Path to Peace, tells the story of the miraculous life and work of Russell Stendal, who was instrumental in brokering peace between warring political enemies, as well as breaking down barriers between Catholic and Protestant churches in the country of Colombia.

Deann marveled at how things that were seemingly unconnected all came together as she researched the book: growing up in an single-parent home in the poorest zip code in Louisiana; a conversation with her 2nd grade teacher about wanting to travel and learn about other cultures; an interrupted phone call on a party line which resulted in a job in Colombia; the ease at which she was able to learn Spanish; and her outrage at religious persecution. “I can look on the trajectory and see how God used everything, because when I obeyed God, I didn’t know I was obeying God, because I didn’t know Him. I thought I knew him,” she said. “I knew about God, but I didn’t know God.” 

According to Deann, “It all began with a misdirected phone call in April of 1983. I cut into a conversation with sisters, one of whom was the mom of a former classmate. Her name was Betty; her sister’s name was Mary. I was the umpteenth person who had cut in on their conversation, but unlike the others, instead of hanging up, we ended up talking for an hour.” Deann, at age 17, had decided to participate in a 6-week, 4-H youth exchange, and told the sisters about her plans. Betty commented that she had a son in Colombia, who knew about a businessman in Bogota, who wanted to improve his English. “Betty asked me if I wanted to go. The next thing I know, I end up on the 27th of August of 1983, in Bogota, Colombia.”

“When I went to Colombia, it turned out to be a total disaster. The second day I was there, I felt the breeze of a bullet fly past my head. It hit the door frame 5’ away, and the shrapnel hit the mother and the baby of the family I was with. It went downhill from there. I ended up leaving early. But I wanted something positive to come out of this,” Deann said. So she decided to take Spanish classes when she attended Louisiana University. “I took a class; did well. I took another class; did well, and ended up majoring in Spanish. I came to faith in Christ in 1987, in Costa Rica, as a Rotary Scholar. I told God, ‘I don’t care what You do with my life. I will go anywhere for You, but not Colombia.’” 

Deann married Doug, a school teacher, they had a son, and a simple, quiet life. Prioritizing her roles as a wife and stay-at-home mom, Deann kept writing about dangers far away. “The Lord called me to write about the persecuted Church. I speak Spanish, so I found myself with all these assignments. At the time, the worst country in the Spanish-speaking world was Colombia.” Wycliffe translator Ray Rising had been kidnapped by FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and held for 810 days. Bush pilot Russell Stendal had been similarly kidnapped and held for ransom for 142 days. His brother Chad had also been captured. Missionaries and church leaders were being kidnapped, tortured and killed. Their families and friends were being threatened and extorted. Churches, houses and businesses were burned. Wycliffe and other organizations were pulling their people out of Colombia as fast as they could. “Open Doors International needed someone to cover this. [Because Colombia and Cuba are allies,] I ended up in Cuba twice. Information in Cuba was extremely difficult to come by. It was a surveillance state. I did most of the news gathering by phone, fax and email. Colombia was dangerous, and I was not about to go back.”

In 2016, Colombian missionary Russell Stendal, a prolific author, renown radio host, and the subject of the movie La Montaña, asked Deann to write the story that would become the book Victorious. “I met him in 2008, and I had an important set of experiences that had to do with his ministry, and other ministries: Prison Fellowship, YWAM (Youth With A Mission), churches, pastors, and Wycliffe Bible Translators. I had the experience to tell of the movement of God among some really bad people, in a country that nobody is beating down the door to go to,” Deann said. “I had given him a copy of the NASCAR book (Circle of Hope), and he read it. Russ isn’t into NASCAR, but he liked the style of the NASCAR book; he liked how I was part of the narrative, and my experiences walking through it, how I became a part of the story, and how it impacted me.” 

“Russ is an example of ‘How Should We Then Live’? He’s not trying to play it safe; prudent, yes. For example, when he heard [FARC Commander] Romaña was coming to the peace talks, he was ready to leave because the guy had tried to kill him for 30 years,” Deann explained. “Obeying God is a risk. I am not a risk taker. I am not by nature an adventurous person. I had a chance to bungee jump and I wouldn’t do it. I don’t ride a bicycle anymore because I don’t want to run the risk. I don’t ice skate anymore, for the same reason. But I don’t want to miss my destiny by holding back. I do not want to miss out on what God created me to do. That doesn’t mean nothing bad will happen to us. Russ was kidnapped for 4½ months, but he did get through it. These experiences that Russ has been through, that I have been through, that each and every one of us has been through, is all to build the Kingdom. We’re not here to play it safe. If God tells you to do something, do it. I’m going to do whatever it is. I don’t want to give up.” 

“My book speaks beyond Colombia to the world,” Deann said. “If peace can come through the cross in the land that is synonymous with criminals, death, war, drugs, narco-trafficking, mafia, guerrillas and paramilitary, it can happen anywhere. Period. There is no place where Jesus can not go.”

“Jesus is worth everything,” Deann said. “What is He calling you to do? It is something you won’t be able to do without him. It’s scary. God is always asking His people to take a risk. Do it terrified. Just do it. Trust him. Trust God with your very life.”

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