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A jungle stream with vines and creepers hanging down into it.

Travel Guides: Che Guevara

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  • Joe P Arnold

    Truth is always a bit crazy and complex. This reminds me of the priest in Victor Hugo's Les Miserable who commends the atheist Communard to Heaven because of his deeds and work for the poor.

  • MICHAEL NACRELLI

    Calling Che a follower of Christ is ludicrous, unless one embraces the materialistic presuppositions of liberation theology and reduces Christ to merely a political revolutionary. Heck, Che wasn't even a great humanitarian. Let's not forget that he zealously sought nukes from the Soviet Union and decried the peaceful resolution of the Cuban missile crisis.

  • Joe Misko

    It is clear that Che Guevara has many qualities to be admired. But, in the end, it is not the glow in someone's eyes that tells the final story of a person, for that glow might be self-serving or misguided. It is how close they came to living the principles and truths that are eternal and appealing to all. I did appreciate a number of the points on Che's life shared in this article, but it generally felt like a strained attempt to justify the wrongs of a man and make them seem right. Yes, I would agree, Che had many admirable qualities, but I believe you do a disservice to paint a man as something other than he is, no matter how memory has painted him posthumously. Che was willing to kill to accomplish his vision, and planned killing is murder. He died by his own weapons, to some degree as Jesus indicated. There may be heroic elements of his life, but Che is not a hero that any Christian or peaceful person could look up to or emulate.

  • Susan Adams

    I had a similar experience of el Che when I visited Cuba a few years ago. Each morning Cuban school children pledge to "be like Che"-a sobering act for anyone, but especially poignant for children. Visiting Che's mausoleum was a deeply moving experience. Great story. Thanks for posting it!

  • Marne Carmean

    Reading this made my day, giving a clearer shape to my heart. The sketch of personal history and his quotes.

  • William

    I'm a little shocked at this article.. I feel like I'm in an alternate universe. You're parading Che, a radical Marxist who used violent revolution, and brutality to advance an agenda of other radicals, Raul & Fidel Castro, as an example of Jesus Christ. Are you nuts?! I lived in Ecuador for over 2 years of my life, and my wife is from there.. I know, first hand, that anyone who thinks good will towards this man is completely uninformed. From a Slate article.. "Che presided over the Cuban Revolution's first firing squads. He founded Cuba's "labor camp" system—the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims. To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che's imagination. In the famous essay in which he issued his ringing call for "two, three, many Vietnams," he also spoke about martyrdom and managed to compose a number of chilling phrases: "Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become …"— and so on." Yeah, that sounds like Jesus!! Are you kidding me??!!!

  • Mike Smathers

    Che has always been one of my heroes in spite of his warring ways. He fought against forces that were worse than he was including the U.S CIA. But what really endeared him to me was this quote: "A revolutionary must first change himself." It's as true for those who would be Christian revolutionaries as for any others.

  • Paul Garrison

    The challenge of Che Guevera and other "revolutionaries" is they gave up their lives in one version of the Kingdom of this World to create another version of the Kingdom of this World. Holding them up as "models" can be dangerous because it validates what their enemies are doing for their cause too. However; as the article points out, Che had more love for the poor, more sacrifice for his cause and more courage to give his life than is typical of Christians(including myself). He gave everything for a perishable idle, and we give far less for an imperishable. His commitment shames us.

  • Bill

    A murderer and a non-believer, an odd choice.

  • metin erdem

    He was not a guerrilla buta person who believed in justice and fought against the injustice and imperialism. He is a idol for most of the people and lives in hearts of new generation. My son reads the books about him. I am glad that he will also fight for peace and justice. Yes true revolutionary is guided by strong feeling of love . This love is the love of homeland and people of the nation. Yes feeling injustice against any person is the most beautiful of revolutionary . We all need to work for justice in the society . Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country . After I have red the article I remembered dear Mandela. He fought for freedom and peace in his homeland , South Africa. He had loved his homeland and its people. Same for Gandhi, we will always remember what he has done for his country , India. Che , Martin Luther King , Mandela and Gandhi; They all fought for freedom , justice and for their country. We will never forget them and they shall be the idol for our young generation to establish the peace and brotherhood in their society. Thank you dear Christoph Arnold.

  • Erna Albertz, Plough.com

    Thank you for reading. Please share your thoughts on this article. What unlikely heroes have inspired in you a greater love and sacrifice for others?

In this excerpt from his book Escape Routes: For People Who Feel Trapped in Life’s Hells, Arnold reflects on a person who has “stretched me to understand life’s battles in a fuller, more fundamental way.”

Years ago, I wouldn’t have picked Che Guevara as an example of someone whose life gives hands and feet to rebirth. Far from an inspiring figure, he struck me as a misguided genius. Long a popular icon of radicals and advertisers, he was also, to my mind, a cold-blooded man of violence, and I found nothing attractive in his philosophy of life. After all, I’ve always believed that peace can only be achieved by nonviolent means, whereas Che is hardly known for pacifist tendencies. As an internationally-known guerrilla, he was instrumental not only in bringing revolution to Cuba, but in executing dissidents and organizing armed struggles in the Congo and Bolivia as well.

My prejudices began to dissolve after visiting Cuba and discovering that this man – though murdered over thirty years ago – still lives on in the hearts of a new generation. I met Che’s spirit in one of the last places I would have expected it: at a Baptist church in Havana. I was speaking to a youth group about nonviolence and forgiveness, and the ongoing struggle for civil rights in the United States (the church is named after Martin Luther King Jr.), and when I asked them if there was anyone they looked up to as a fighter for social change, they immediately responded by telling me about Che and what he meant to them. The sparkle in their eyes was unforgettable.

It’s been said that a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. As I learned more about Che’s life, I came to see his vision and his deeds as a sharp and much-deserved rebuke to Christians who claim to have left everything to serve their fellow human beings. Trained as a physician from an upper-middle-class Argentinean family, he abandoned his considerable opportunities for a greater cause. He traveled up and down Latin America and saw firsthand how the common people were ground down by a ruthless landowning class supported by American business and military interests. He joined Fidel Castro’s rebel group determined to overthrow the corrupt and murderous dictatorship in Cuba, and his leadership qualities became clear in combat.

Promoted to the rank of commander, he nevertheless accepted no concessions for himself, at great personal cost to his physical health. Severely asthmatic, often without the medications he needed and desperate for air, he still lugged his own bags and weapons through the mountains, jungles, and swamps. (Che’s good-humored disregard for his health was well known. When his doctor limited him to one cigar a day, he went to the manufacturer and ordered custom-made Havanas that were twice the normal size.)

After Castro’s triumph over the Batista regime in 1959, Che threw himself into the formidable task of reorganizing Cuban society. His high idealism was legendary, but even more remarkable was the absence of any drive for personal political power. His demands on himself were relentless. After six days of working eighteen-hour days at his government job during the week, he’d volunteer his Sunday mornings to help with the sugar cane harvest or work as a stevedore. His dedication to fighting for the poor led him to abandon his position of power in Havana to join freedom fighters first in Africa and then in Bolivia. The words he wrote around that time, as he departed for the unknown in pursuit of his calling, still resonate today:

Let me say, with the risk of appearing ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love. It is impossible to think of an authentic revolutionary without this quality.... One must have a large dose of humanity, a large dose of a sense of justice and truth, to avoid falling into extremes, into cold intellectualism, into isolation from the masses. Every day we must struggle so that this love of living humanity is transformed into concrete facts, into acts that will serve as an example....

To quote him further, from his last letter to his children:

Above all, try always to feel deeply any injustice committed against any person in any part of the world. It is the most beautiful quality of a revolutionary.

It was this vision of love and transformation – and Che’s willingness to give his life in order to make it reality – that inspired these young people. As they spoke about what he’d taught them about self-sacrifice in service to the causes of economic and social justice, the words of President Kennedy (ironically, Che’s implacable enemy) came to my mind: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

Che’s last mission to Bolivia in 1967 proved unsuccessful. When the Bolivian army unit that was hunting down his doomed band of guerrillas captured him in the jungle, he was a defeated man, physically worn down and despondent over the deaths of his comrades. A CIA operative working with the army unit informed him that he was to be shot, and later reported to Washington:

Early in the morning, the unit receives the order to execute Guevara and the other prisoners. When Sgt. Terán (the executioner) enters the room, Guevara stands up with his hands tied and states, “I know what you have come for. I am ready.”

Terán tells him to be seated and leaves the room for a few moments. When Terán comes back, Guevara stands up and refuses to be seated. Finally, Guevara tells him: “Know this now, you are killing a man.” These are his last words. Terán fires his M2 carbine and kills him.

Jesus taught that not all those who say “Lord, Lord” will enter heaven. The prize, he said, is for the man who loves his sisters and brothers so deeply that he will lay down his life for them. Che did exactly that. His failures aside – he could be ruthless to enemies and traitors – he laid down his life for the suffering people with whom he identified, not just in dying but all along the way. His example would go on to inspire many, from the European student demonstrators of 1968, to Nelson Mandela in the 1980s, to the Zapatista rebels of Mexico in the 1990s.

Che showed that when we have found a vision to live by, no sacrifice will be too great for us, not even our physical death – which explains the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s remark that Che was “the most complete human being of our age.” I have come to believe that he wasn’t just a great revolutionary, but also, despite his shortcomings and his sins, a better follower of Christ than most who claim that label.

What exactly was the heart of Che’s vision, that it still animates young people around the world? His words on the revolutionary power of love hint at one answer. So, perhaps, does a poem found in his backpack after his death:

Christ, I love you,
not because you descended from a star,
but because you revealed to me
man’s tears and anguish;
showed me the keys that open
the closed doors of light.
Yes, you taught me that man is God,
a poor God crucified like you.
The one at your left,
at Golgotha – the worst thief –
he, too, is God.

León Felipe


From Escape Routes: For People Who Feel Trapped in Life’s Hells.

A portrait image of Che Guevara smoking a cigar. Che Guevara
Contributed By Johann Christoph Arnold Johann Christoph Arnold

A noted speaker and writer on marriage, parenting, education, and end-of-life issues, Arnold was a senior pastor of the Bruderhof, a movement of Christian communities.

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