THE CONTRAS' CHAPLAINS

September 25, 2007

REV. PHIL DERSTINE OF GOSPEL CRUSADE,
Inc. in Bradenton, Florida keeps the U.S. govern-
ment informed of his activities in support of the contras.
"Often as soon as we get out of Nicaragua, there's some-
body at the door with a tape recorder in Honduras trying to
get intelligence. You've got the CIA. You've got the State
Department and who knows who all trying to get informa-
tion," he told me in early 1987.
But the Congressional committees investigating the
Iran-contra scandal apparently were not among those
"trying to get information." Religious operations like Der-
stine's were left completely untouched, even though he
told reporters that Oliver North had "set up" the logistics
for him to bring tons of supplies to the contras, and that he
"could have" received money from North's infamous safe
at the National Security Council. Derstine confirmed that
North had made similar arrangements for other U.S.
Christian Right groups, but said that North kept that infor-
mation compartmentalized.
A NUMBER OF FACTORS MAKE THE CHRIS-
tian Right's decentralized Central America projects
ideal for low intensity warfare. Incorporated as religious
entities, they are exempt from financial disclosure re-
quirements. Should one small operation be exposed for
wrongdoing and/or direct links with the U.S. government,
another is ready to take its place. The sheer number of
U.S.-based "ministries" makes for difficulty in monitor-
ing their activity.
Among the Christian contra aid groups left intact-and
therefore potentially useful in the future-is the Christian
Emergency Relief Teams (CERT), based in southern Cali-
fornia. CERT claims to have supplied 60,000 pounds of
tools, medicine and seeds and to have constructed a 2,700
foot jungle warehouse with an adjoining 3,000 foot air-
strip.' CERT teams have accompanied contra combatants
during battles with Nicaraguan troops. "We are protected
by the freedom fighters. They are our guides. They will
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not allow us in areas that are not safe," a CERT spokesper-
son told me last January. Among other supplies, CERT
has given contra fighters specially designed hot-weather
boots, donated by High Tech boots, a company owned by
Youth With a Mission missionaries. CERT's self-promo-
tional packet includes a congratulatory May 1986 mail-
gram from President Reagan and a photocopy of a Febru-
ary 4, 1986 White House schedule for a National Reli-
gious Broadcasters briefing featuring presentations from
CERT's David Courson and Oliver North. Even after the
contras signed a ceasefire agreement in March 1988,
CERT circulated a "thank you" note from Adolfo Calero
and continued delivery runs to contra camps in Honduras.
In September, CERT announced that FDN leader Joseph
Douglas had joined the California office staff.
E L SALVADOR IS A FAVORITE TARGET OF
the Christian Right. One of the largest projects there
Is Paralife Ministries headed by Dr. Cubie Ward of Texas.
Ward boasts of his close relationship with the Salvadoran
military and President Jos6 Napole6n Duarte, claiming
that Duarte was having dinner with him on the December
1980 night when four U.S. churchwomen were murdered
by a death squad. 2
Paralife has constructed medical clinics in San Salva-
dor, Colima and other parts of the country with financial
assistance from the Tear Fund in England and from
U.S.AID, channeled through the Missionary Assistance
Program (MAP) of Georgia. Most of Paralife's church
sponsorship comes from Larry Lea's 13,000 member
Church on the Rock in Rockwall, Texas, which is closely
affiliated with Oral Roberts University. Church on the
Rock's Dr. Joyce Shotwell organizes Paralife's ten-day
medical brigades to El Salvador. Paralife staff also pro-
vide "ministry" to Salvadoran soldiers at the El Paraiso
army base.
Christian Anti-Communism Crusade's Latin America
director James Colbert works with the Duarte government
to blanket San Salvador with anticommunist messages on
state-owned radio stations. Colbert says the Salvadoran
government has provided CACC with helicopters to de-
liver thousands of pieces of literature in FMLN-held terri-
tories. 3 The Salvadoran government also works with As-
semblies of God minister John Bueno to provide New
Testaments to Salvadoran school children. Bueno's Cen-
tro Evangelistico sponsors a network of grade schools
attended by 30,000 students.'
Denver-based Harvesting in Spanish (HIS) sponsors a
Christian school for 1,000 children near La Libertad. HIS
has purchased 75 acres of ocean front land for what it
describes as a model village that will include an orphan-
age, medical and dental clinic, drug/alcohol rehabilitation
center, and occupational training center. HIS is organizing
teams of short-term missionaries to do construction work.
While in the country, they also travel to military bases to
minister to Salvadoran troops. 5
Also active in El Salvador is World Relief, an arm of
the National Association of Evangelicals. World Relief
maintains numerous projects in Central America, largely
funded by U.S.AID. In effect, the U.S. taxpayer subsi-
dizes World Relief's evangelical agenda: overhead costs
are paid by the government, freeing privately solicited in-
come for evangelism. A World Relief project report on the
resettlement of Salvadoran refugees since 1985 explains
the process:
Funds for the project come from U.S.AID and cannot be
used for Christian activities. So World Relief works
with a local association of evangelical churches to pro-
vide spiritual as well as physical ministries. With private
funding World Relief will hire a coordinator to involve
village churches in the project."
In Costa Rica, Beverly LaHaye's Concerned Women
for America sponsors a refugee camp project called
"Amor de la Libertad," [sic] started in 1986 by Rev. Jim
Woodall.' Woodall is the former Costa Rica director for
Trans World Missions, which has been active in the region
since the early 1960s. Trans World Missions President
John Olson produces virulent pro-contra radio broadcasts
syndicated throughout the United States. He also heads his
own refugee camp project near San Carlos, Costa Rica and
maintains an anti-Sandinista center in Managua. His field
director, Luis Mejfa, coordinates medical missions in the
Nicaraguan countryside.'
T IS NOT KNOWN TO WHAT EXTENT THE RE-
ligious opposition in Nicaragua receives CIA funding,
nor how much of it instead relies on "private" donations
from the Christian Right. What is clear is that the Chris-
tian Right intends to take advantage of the government's
respect for religious freedom to sow subversion. One of
the U.S. ideological warriors active in Nicaragua is Rev.
Geoff Donnan of Caribbean Christian Ministries. In 1987,
Donnan began organizing anti-Sandinista clergy using
Nicaragua's existing private Christian schools as bases of
operation.
"What we hope to do is assist teachers to work within
the guidelines of the government so that they're legal, but
at the same time promoting a Biblical world and life view
of Christianity," he explained in early 1987." But a little
over a year later, Donnan was more blunt:
Our plan is simple. We intend to use the current relaxed
circumstances to beef up the evangelical church in Bib-
lical world and life view teachings which will give them
the ability to discern between satanic 'liberation theol-
ogy' and the true liberating Gospel."'
Within weeks of the Sapoa truce agreements, Donnan
travelled to Nicaragua, opened a center in Managua, and
hired an Atlantic Coast Creole, Rev. Eman Savery, as
local director. Donnan spoke with a number of Nicara-
guan Christians about his plan to publish a "Christian"
history of Nicaragua to be used as a textbook in anti-
Sandinista schools. Donnan said he would finance the
production and distribution but the text would be written
by Humberto Bell whose book, Nicaragua: Christians
Under Fire , was financed by the CIA, according to ex-
contra Edgar Chamorro.
In Nicaragua, Donnan made contact with the Consejo
Nacional de Pastores Evang6icos Nicaragtienses, a coali-
tion of several hundred Nicaraguan evangelical leaders.
CNPEN's membership is theologically and politically di-
verse, though generally far more critical of the govern-
ment than the other leading evangelical umbrella group,
CEPAD."
In 1986, the Washington Post reported that CNPEN
was the primary vehicle through which the United States
coordinates anti-government Protestants in Nicaragua.
According to the Post, the Embassy in Managua included
on its staff a political officer who "cultivates and organ-
izes Protestant religious resistance to the Nicaraguan gov-
ermment and keeps track of the activity of church figures
who favor the government."''
Until January 1986, that embassy official was Jessica
Le Croix, who was then replaced by T.J. Rose. Anti-
Sandinista ministers who said they received assistance
from the Embassy included Rev. Boanerges Mendoza,
Rev. Ignacio Hernaindez and Rev. Rolando Mena. In 1985,
when a burned out transmitter tube knocked the evangeli-
cal radio station off the air, Le Croix reportedly offered
her support in finding a replacement if the broadcasters
would denounce the government for closing the station."
Regardless of the diversity of the CNPEN pastors
themselves, U.S. Christian Right groups see CNPEN as
the primary means through which to "pressure" Nicara-
guan society now that the shooting war is largely over.
One of these groups is the pentecostal Chapel Hill Har-
vester Church in Atlanta, Georgia, pastored by Bishop
Earl Paullk. The church is part of the shepherding move-
ment.
"We don't want to make a lot of publicity about what
we're doing or how we do it," says Chapel Hill's interna-
tional director and CNPEN coordinator Pedro Torres, who
is Puerto Rican.' However, he admits to providing
CNPEN President Felix Rosales with money, video tape
players, video teaching tapes and books in Spanish. In
June 1988, Chapel Hill sponsored a four-week training
institute for selected Third World leaders. In addition to
teaching some of the seminars, shepherding movement
leader Dennis Peacocke paid the travel expenses for two
CNPEN pastors. Peacocke and his associate Michael
Bresnan make frequent trips to Central America and have
recruited CNPEN pastors to be trained in Costa Rica.
Missionary outfits working through CNPEN hope to
gradually siphon off public support for the government's
fledgling social services infrastructure by offering a pri-
vate alternative, thereby undermining the Sandinistas'
legitimacy. In the rest of Central America, Christian Right
"civic action" projects work closely with governments to
achieve precisely the opposite objective.
Not all right-wing missionaries have given up on the
Sandinistas. Members of the Full Gospel Businessmen's
Fellowship International and World Vision have begun a
campaign to proselytize Nicaraguan leaders, including
Daniel Ortega and Tomas Borge. When Jimmy Swaggart
took his roadshow to Nicaragua in February 1988-
shortly before his infamous public confession of sexual
sin-some evangelical leaders thought their careful work
had finally paid off. But no, speculation to the contrary,
Daniel Ortega had not been "born again."
The Contras' Chaplains 1. CERT fundraising letter, Sept. 16, 1985. 2. Paralife organizational outline, distributed in 1986. 3. Author's interview with James Colbert, July 7. 1988. 4. Information provided by Life Publishers of Miami, Florida. 5. Interview with HIS' Teresa Chichester, June 15, 1988. 6. World Relief Spring/Summer 1988 project report. 7. Larry Witham, "Spontaneous donation began Nicaraguan relief," Washington Times, April 8, 1988. 8. Interview with John Olson, June 7, 1988. 9. Interview with Geoff Donnan, Feb. 2, 1987. Donnan works under the formal sponsorship of Dr. Paul Lindstrom, long-time John Birch Society organizer, leader in the "home schooling" movement and director of the Christian Liberty Academy Satellite Schools (CLASS) in Illinois. Home schooling, a major organizing issue for the Christian Right, opposes the supposed "secular humanist" bias of public education. 10. April 1988 Caribbean Christian Ministries newsletter p. 3. 11. CNPEN was first brought to the attention of the U.S. evangelical community in 1985 when the Institute for Religion and Democracy pub- lished an interview with a journalist named Kate Rafferty of "Open Doors News Service." Rafferty and IRD called on U.S. evangelicals to support CNPEN over CEPAD. The IRD "briefing paper" was reprinted in the State Department's December 1986 report, Human Rights in Nicaragua Under the Sandinistas: From Revolution to Repression. 12. James A. Gittings. "U.S. Link to Nicaragua Churches Seen," Wash- ington Post, Aug. 30, 1986.
13. Ibid. 14.Interview with Pedro Torres June 8, 1988.

Tags: Christian right, contras, evangelicals, foreign aid, ideology


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