The following is reproduced from a May 11, 2001 article in the Chatham-Kent Citizen, written by Randy Coote.
For six months he was dragged through the jungles of Columbia - a kidnapped victim who was told it was just a metter of time before he was to be murdered.
Marino Restrepo is not bitter. He has no resentment towards his guerilla captors who sentenced him to death and threw him into financial ruin. Restrepo found his hatih and a personal relationship with God.
The Columbian native travels throughout the world to talk about his experience and how God is ther in any situation. Restrepo has been in Ridgetown this past week conducting a mission at St. Michael's Catholic Church.
It was Christmas Day, 1997. Restrepo had been living in Hollywod, California for 25 years. He had been making a living acting in TV programmes and movies and writing songs.
Restrepo has family living in Columbia and he was visiting for the first time in 12 years. He was walking into the entrance of his uncle's ranch in Ansuema in the Andes mountains when he was grabbed.
"They take people. They kidnap people for ransoms. They took me by surprise . I had been out of the country for 12 years."
"You don't see the rebels in the towns. They pay criminals to track down information on people and kidnap them."
Restrepo said he was told he was going to be killed, but he had to raise a half million dollars US or his four sisters would be murdered. They would be killed one at a time and Restrepo would be shown something from each that would prove it.
Kidnapping is all too common in Columbia, Restrepo said. Local criminals will check out a person who may have money or can raise it. They then grab the person and sell them to the guerillas who keep them until money is raised.
Restrepo said the victim is killed because the local criminals don't want them coming back to identify them when they are released.
His kidnappers dragged him through the jungle, avoiding army patrols and Contras (people hired by communities to protect them from guerrillas.) He not only had to contend with knowing he was going to be killed by his captors, but he could be shot during gun fights with the army or the Contras.
"It is a constant war (in Columbia). It was horrible. They are cold blooded."
Restrepo said he was tied, gagged and had his head covered for 15 days he say in a cave as the criminals waited for the guerrillas to arrive. "The rebels came and sentenced me (to death). They said 'we have to kill you so there is no trace.' "
It was that night that Restrepo said his life changed in a way that has continued to grow since.
"Back in the cave that night I had what you might call a revelation."
Restrepo said he was shown his life and the sins he had committed. He said it lasted none hours and he knows that because he had glanced at one of his captors' watch who was checking him and it said 8:30 pm.
When it was over the sun was rising and the birds were singing.
There were spiders and insects in that cave and his body was swollen from bites. "I was poisined (by the bites) and I thought it was a hallucination at first. But I began to realize it was mre than that. It was a vision that lasted nine hours."
Restrepo said he received a spiritualization that night and his life has changed. But his ordeal as a kidnapped victim being trudged through the jungles of Columbia would go on for another five-and-a-half months.
The guerrillas used a cell phone to contact a lawyer who was collecting the ransom money Restrepo could gather. Restrepo said he dind't have $500,000.Mr. Restrepo has his own web site here.
He sold his house, arranged bank loans, received noney from the actors' union and called on friends and family. All he could gather was $365,000 and now he faced his sentence to death.
But it didn't happen. For whatever reason, Restrepo was taken to a roadside and left. Over six months he had been wearing the same clothes, had not batherd and had grown a beard down to his chest.
"We had always been running from the army and the Contras. When they let me go it was a total surprise. I was waiting for 45 days for the order to be killed."
"When someone went by with a new rope I thought I was going to be hanged. When someone was cleaning a gun I thought I was gong to be shot. When someone was sharpening a knife I thought I was going to be stabbed. God was with me all this time."
Following his vision, Restrepo said he spent his days praying. He prayed for forgiveness and he prayed for his captors. He didn't hate the people holding him hostage and threatening to kill his family.
"They are puppets of evil. They thought they were in control. They were not in control."
During his days in the jungle Restrepo said he was in the hands of 65 to 100 guerrillas. "They are very violent. They even kill each other sometimes. They kill farmers who help them, who can identify them."
Restrepo was someone who could identify them, but he has let go. "I became apiritually strong. I think the Lord helped (him survive). The rebels make promises to the Lord. They have a crooked spirituality. They use anything (to make money). They assault towns, kidnap, sell drugs, run guns, rob banks."
Restrepo was alive and so were his family members. But his life continued to change as he left the jungle behind him. He was financially runied and had to begin paying back monies lent to him for the ransom.
For two years Restrepo didn't speak about his experience and the change in his spirituality. "I thought it was private, between the Lord and me."
But he came to the realization that the Lord wanted him to give testimony about the experience.
"I lived a comfortable life in the entertainment business. I had pleasure, fame and money. The lesson this taught me is God is alive. This type of thing goes on in the world."
"I think the Lord helped me. He urged me to talk about my Columbian testimony. I want to tell people to be with Him and not to worry about those who may destroy your physical life, but those who can take your soul."
Last year Restrepo returned to Columbia without any fear of what might happen to him. He said he appeared on television and radio programs and gave testimony to a number of groups.
He said he didn't talk against the rebels and those who kidnapped him. He told of the experience and talked about "Christ the Lord."
He said he was never approached by any rebels and he didn't encounter any problems as he moved freely to give his testimony.
"He gave me a second change. I try to get people to be more aware about God.
Restrepo said he met 16 Canadians, including Father Martin Johnston of St. Michael's, while in Columbia. That prompted his visit to Ridgetown to share his testimony in Canada.
"Many people don't think about God. It's hard for many people here (in Canada) because they live comfortably and are not strong in the belief they need God."
Restrepo said such thinking is dangerous. People have to think about more than their physical existence. It's eternal life people have to prepare for. "Your soul becomes weak if you don't feed it."
Restrepo is back in Hollywood and taking work to pay off his debts. He said he has two more years of monthly payments to clear up money owed for his ransom.
In the past, Restrepo has taken parts in such television shows as the Equalizer, ER, Dallas and Pacific Blue. Today he only looks at parts that will not contravene his faith.
He is up for a part in a new television series being created along the lines of Touched By An Angel.
"It's not like it used to be. If I see something that is against my faith I won't do it., even if I'm in debt."
"I lead a simple life. I do acting to pay the bills. I realize all your money can go at once. Life is an illusion. It can all disappear."
Restrepo said sharing his experience can help others. Seeing someone who has gone through horrible experiences can show how strong faith can be.
He said he is not bitter over his kidnapping experience because he has gained much more than he ever had before. "I pray for them (his captors) and I love them."