Chet Bitterman worked with the Arhuaco, Colombian indigenous people. The tribe lived in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a unique pyramid-shaped mountain on the northern tip of the Andes in northern Colombia.

Chet Bitterman’s grave in Lomalinda Mission Cemetery in Colombia. Engraved is one of his favourite citations from the Bible – the Second Epistle to the Corinthians 2:14 “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit”.

Chet Bitterman
(1952-1981)

Chester Allen "Chet" Bitterman III was born in 1952 in Pennsylvania, USA. He was raised in a Christian family of eight. His devotion rose during his time at Columbia Bible College in North Carolina. After graduation he attended the course of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), an organisation whose main goal was to translate the Christian Bible into local languages. Back home he met Brenda Gardner in his local church; not long after their initial meeting they got married.

After their wedding Chet and Brenda joined Wycliffe Bible Translators, a SIL sister organisation. They intended to move to Colombia and start their missionary work: learning indigenous peoples’ as-yet unwritten languages and translating the Bible for them.

As an inexperienced missionary, Bitterman was not immediately assigned to a tribal group so he and his wife worked for two years in the Colombian Wycliffe's base in Lomalinda. In 1981 Bitterman and his wife got Wycliffe’s headquarters’ permission and attempted to reach the Carijona tribe in the Colombian jungle. But one day Chet got sick and had to go to Bogota for a gallbladder operation. That is why he was in the SIL group house when the M-19, a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group made their raid. He was taken as a hostage in place of Al Wheeler, director of the Summer Institute of Linguistics in Colombia. The terrorists demanded that Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL leave Colombia.

48 days after his abduction, on 7 March 1981 Chet Bitterman’s dead body was found in a bus in Bogota.