A pastor serving in what’s known as the most dangerous city in North America is grateful to be alive and unharmed after he and more than a dozen migrants were held hostage by a Mexican drug cartel.
Pastor Lorenzo Ortiz, who operates four shelters in northern Mexico to house, feed and assist migrants, was kidnapped June 2 in Nuevo Laredo, according to Fellowship Southwest.
In a 45-minute interview with Cameron Vickrey, director of communication and development for Fellowship Southwest, and Elket Rodriguez, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field representative to migrants and communities along the United States-Mexico border, Ortiz said the ordeal began when he and about 15 other people were kidnapped from one of his shelters.
During the abduction, the Baptist pastor recalled his captors asking him about how much he charges migrant families to stay at one his shelters.
When he told them he did not charge a fee, the cartel refused to believe him and demanded that Ortiz tell them whether he was “cutting into [their] business” of transporting migrants.
As Rodriguez put it, the cartels “own the turf” when it comes to transporting migrants.
“It’s all a business to the cartel. They see humans as commodities,” he said.
But when officials received word of Ortiz’s humanitarian work in the region, the Mexican National Guard and other authorities responded and started working to have Ortiz and the other hostages released.
After being held for an initial $40,000 ransom, Ortiz says his kidnappers dropped the demand for ransom and even replaced the tires on his van which they had slashed.
On June 3, he was ultimately released unharmed — a miracle Ortiz credits to the faithful prayers of hundreds.
“The cartel was shaken ... the cartel never felt so vulnerable,” Ortiz said.
Over the next several days, the cartel released the remaining migrants five at a time.
Rodriguez told The Christian Post it’s unusual for cartels to target Christians in the field.
“The cartels overwhelmingly kidnap migrants and asylum seekers,” he said. “Pastors, missionaries, and other church workers are kidnapped when cartels believe that they represent a threat to their trafficking enterprise.”
A bricklayer by trade, Ortiz launched Pizzas el Buen Samaritano at one of his shelters in Nuevo Laredo just across the Rio Grande, according to Baptist Standard.
Seeking to reduce crime and inspired by the book of Acts when Christians “were together and had everything in common,” Ortiz built a brick oven at the El Shaddai Shelter in the Buena Vista neighborhood of Nuevo Laredo, where he sought to reach out to the community and provide a means of income for refugees in his shelters.
“Since I am a bricklayer, I can do an oven in one day and sell pizzas on that same day,” he told Baptist Standard.
But even for those like Ortiz who have reputations for doing good in the community, Rodriguez said “not even Christians are safe from the reach of criminal organizations.”
Many of those seeking asylum at the U.S. southern border refused to join cartels in their native countries when they were being recruited, Rodriguez told the Baptist Standard.
“Sadly, many Christians, especially from Central America, are fleeing persecution for upholding their faith in the face of threats from criminal organizations,” he added.