“We’re fakes.”

Those were the first words from my mouth as my colleague Mitch Randall and I departed a June 29 conversation in Dallas with Lorenzo Ortiz.

We reconnected with Lorenzo to hear him calmly and confidently share with us his recent experience of being kidnapped by a Mexican cartel. A pastor in Laredo, Texas, Lorenzo makes daily journeys across the border where he operates shelters for hundreds of desperate migrants seeking asylum in the U.S.

Due to federal policies enacted and retained since 2019, asylum seekers must remain in Mexico — along the border — for an undetermined time to await their hearings. This makes them easy prey for kidnapping and extortion at the hands of cartels in Nuevo Laredo, often deemed the most dangerous city in North America.

But this time they took the soft-spoken, tender-hearted, faith-driven pastor who provides for the basic needs of these vulnerable people as well as being a pastoral presence.

Mitch and I visited some of those shelters with Lorenzo earlier this year. So, we were concerned to hear of his abduction and relieved to learn of his release.

“Those guys keep track of everything,” said Lorenzo of the cartels with whom he’d dealt before. In this case, taking Lorenzo was based on someone’s false idea that he was making money off migrants on the cartel’s self-designated turf.

Lorenzo calmly told us how cartel members brought him in for interrogation and placed guns to both sides of his head while they searched his phone. If any evidence could be found of his making money off migrants, he said, “You can just shoot me now.”

Mitch and I glanced at each other as if to suggest we don’t think we would have said that.

Through a series of actions involving official U.S. and Mexico channels — as well as more hierarchal cartel knowledgeable of Lorenzo’s years of selfless and compassionate ministry — he was released the next day.

The stated ransom of $40,000 — which the pastor assured them he could not pay — was lowered to $20,000 and then abruptly dropped. The unwelcomed visibility his abductors had brought to their criminal activities led not only to Lorenzo’s release but also his discovery of four new tires — the previous ones having been sliced — on his well-worn van.

When departing, Lorenzo — an American citizen and pastor who doesn’t have to put his life at such risk — told his captors of his prayers for them.

One well-armed young man escorted the pastor out to let him know that his prayers were needed and welcomed. Some of the street-level thugs, said Lorenzo, are not there by choice either.

When visiting with Lorenzo in Nuevo Laredo last winter, he told us cartel members often remind him of their watchful eye — and sometimes come by the shelters to intimidate or even take migrants. When they do, Lorenzo invites them to share a meal.

Now that’s the kind of ridiculous stuff that Jesus said to do.

But Lorenzo is the real deal. He’s not just pretending to have a firm commitment to following Jesus.

Two days after his release, Lorenzo — having returned to his work with migrants in the border town — was stopped again by cartel members but not taken in. “You just got me,” he told them.

Two days after being released from such a harrowing experience, I thought, my move to Minnesota would be in full swing.

We thanked Lorenzo for his clear reflection of Jesus and the vital work he is doing — supported by faithful gifts to Fellowship Southwest and others seeking to minister to those Jesus deemed “the least of these.”

And Lorenzo reminded us that Christians across our nation can be involved by sponsoring asylum seekers who have been processed into the U.S. to await next-stage hearings but are unable to work legally.

Also, we expressed gratitude for being able to see his selfless and critical ministry work firsthand so we could share the informative and inspiring stories with readers who may believe untruths about migrants and their realities. Ever gracious, he thanked us for our interest and support.

“We’re not even Christians,” I added as we stepped onto a hotel escalator. “I know,” Mitch responded.

My colleague and I confessed to God and each other that we don’t live out that kind of faith. We are posers.

Yet, those of us who live, work and move in relative safety would do well to learn from those who don’t just talk of faithfulness — or think their rendering of right doctrine somehow wins God’s favor.

Rather, they live it out at great risk each day — doing those things Jesus actually called his followers to do.

Lorenzo is one of several such faithful followers of Jesus we got to know along the U.S.-Mexico border. Such Christians can be found in many challenging places around the world.

In their presence lies a stark contrast between who we really are and who we claim to be.

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