The Story of El Ruso: From a Life of Crime to a Life of Christ
Click to watch the music video for “El Ruso” [The Russian] and be inspired by the story that has touched hearts across Latin America and around the world.
An interview with the Langham Preacher who went from rebel to redeemed
Last year we shared with you the incredible story of Julian—the former Colombian hit man whose life was transformed when he encountered Christ in the most unlikely of places: prison. As an inmate of Bellavista, he helped grow the prison ministry from 50 men to more than 300. When he got out of jail, he traded the prison walls for the seminary classroom at Semanario Biblico de Colombia, where he met and was mentored by Langham Scholar Milton Acosta. Today, in some of the most violent areas in his city, this former assassin turned preacher is sharing the hope of Christ with his congregation—a dramatic example of the transformation that occurs when leaders are equipped to share God’s Word.
Recently, we were able to talk with Julian to learn more about his dramatic journey. Here, in his own words, Julian describes how God called him from a life of crime to a life serving Christ.
LP: Can you describe the moment when you gave your life to Christ?
Julian: “Well, I met the Lord in prison in a very precarious moment of my life, in a very sad moment, in a lonely moment, a moment where I didn’t know what to do. It was a moment when I wanted to take my own life. But, God had a purpose. I was peeling some potatoes, and I placed a knife to my neck. I said no more with this life because I had 30 to 40 years in prison sentence above me, my family, my girlfriend. I didn’t see a light of hope . . . and in that moment, a person arrived and said to me, ‘Ruso, there’s hope for you. The Lord Jesus Christ wants to do something for you. God can give you the hope you are lacking.’ I asked him, ‘What do you have that I don’t?’ He said ‘I have Christ in my life.’ I said, ‘I have Christ too,’ and then he said, ‘No, there is a difference. It is one thing to believe in God, and another to obey Him.’ And that’s when I received the Lord. I was crying and felt an indescribable happiness and joy.”
LP: Can you describe what your life was like as a Christian in prison?
Julian: “After I gave myself to the Lord I spent long hours reading the Word of God. They used to lock us up at 4:00 p.m. and at that time I would start reading the Word of God. I was passionate about it and I would read the Bible all the time. I was criticized a lot because I had become a strong advocate of the Word of God…They would say it was a pity I had become a remorseful hit man, and had changed a gun for the Bible. My friends would point at me when we got together on the patio at 5:30 a.m. to praise God. We were 50 or 60 men praising God early in the morning . . . It was very amazing to feel the Lord’s support in that situation . . . What type of hope do you have when you’re in prison? None. You only have the hope Jesus Christ can provide. “
LP: When did you feel God calling you into ministry?
Julian: “The Lord called me to the ministry when I was still in prison. I felt passionate for the work of God. I read a book about being an advocate of the Bible, and when I read that book I felt impacted. Another book I read was More than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell, and I was very touched by the life of God’s disciples, by the price they had to pay for Him, because with only one exception they all suffered violent deaths. After reading it I became a fierce advocate of the Word of God, I became a man who really feared the Lord, so He calls me when I’m still in prison.”
LP: You were released early from prison as a result of a change in Colombia’s Constitution, and later enrolled in seminary. In what ways has your theological education impacted your ministry?
Julian: “The Seminary played a very important role in the reconstruction of my life. I came to this place with no money and they opened the doors for me. I received the support from a person in the United States so that I could study. That’s where I see the miracles of God that we can’t understand. How could a person from the United States know that I had been released from prison and that I wanted to study theology? So . . . it impacted my life in the sense that it enabled me to spread the Word of God not only based on my beliefs but also from knowledge of the Word of God itself. Seminary has also affected the life of the church, because I spread a healthy and responsible gospel. This is critical due to the context we have in Medellin, where there is an absence of the Word.
LP: Why is theological study and biblical preaching so important, especially in your community?
Julian: “Where God is not present you have destruction, you have death, you have solitude, you have distress. I believe that the sector where we are in is a very needy sector, and their needs are more focused on an ‘applied theology’ rather than on theology itself, because I can speak very nicely about the word of God and still not live an honest life in the eyes of God. I believe that theology touched all these areas in my life: the honesty, the truth, being a good father, being a good son. Because if theology doesn’t affect those areas in your life, I think that you’re just another preacher. I believe theology must affect your entire life to be an honest man, to be able to spread what the Word of God says in front of the church.”
LP: Can you tell us about your ministry today?
Julian: “My mission today is to serve the Lord. . . carrying a word of hope, a word of peace. Currently, I’m working with the football [soccer] schools. Now, I’m serving the Lord as pastor in a neighborhood that was terribly hit by violence. I serve the Lord assisting relatively poor people. We are spreading a word of hope, a word which expresses that ‘it is possible.’ With Jesus Christ things are possible, although maybe the circumstances won’t change, but I’m serving Him in those places . . . through the Word of God, through theology and through life you can visualize the great things that God can do in the midst of so much despair.”