Ministering to “four types of refugees”

Jorge Zapata, praying with refugees in a shelter operated by Lorenzo Ortiz

Jorge Zapata, praying with refugees in a shelter operated by Lorenzo Ortiz

Lorenzo Ortiz, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Buen Samaritano in Laredo, Texas, is one of Fellowship Southwest’s close partners in ministry to refugees on the border. 

Pastor Lorenzo lost his previous church when the congregation he pastored grew weary of serving immigrants in their community. But he and his wife, Oralia, felt called by God to continue. So, they fed more than 6,000 refugees out of their Laredo home across three months. Fellowship Southwest, which already was working with them, continued its support. And Samaritan’s Purse also came alongside to keep the ministry going.

Now, because of new government policies, the refugees congregate in northern Mexico, not on the U.S. side of the border. So, Pastor Lorenzo oversees four immigrant shelters in Nuevo Laredo.

During a recent visit with several Fellowship Southwest leaders in Nuevo Laredo/Laredo, he identified four types of refugees on the border:

  1. Mexicans who cross the border legally. These include children who hold U.S. citizenship and cross over to attend school, as well as adults who have visas that enable them to work in the United States. “But it also includes Mexicans who get into some kind of problem and then are deported,” he said.

  2. Mexicans who came to the United States illegally but got caught and have been deported. Each day, 200 to 300 of these people find themselves in Nuevo Laredo, he said.

  3. People who come from “all over”—mostly Central America, but also the Caribbean, Latin America and even Africa—who are not breaking the law. “They’re waiting to apply for political asylum,” he said, reiterating, “They’re not breaking the law.” Under current policy, these people wait in long lines to cross into the United States, quickly apply for asylum, then are escorted back to cities in northern Mexico, where they wait months for their turn to make their case to receive U.S. asylum.

  4. “Those breaking the law.” For whatever reason, they cross the border illegally, get caught and are deported back to Mexico. “There are hundreds daily,” he said. They are most vulnerable to Mexican cartels, which kidnap adults and children alike. The cartels hold them for ransom, charging their families $600 to $800 for their release. Because of this danger, Pastor Lorenzo keeps the Nuevo Laredo shelters locked, hoping to keep the immigrants under his care safe.

Despite the dire circumstances and horrifying news reports, Pastor Lorenzo sees the immigration crisis as a divine spiritual opportunity. That’s why volunteers at his shelter not only provide food, clothing and safety; they proclaim the gospel.

“If we share the gospel now, we can change the future” wherever the immigrants eventually settle—whether it’s back in their home countries, in Mexico, or in communities across the United States, he said, “We help people seek God, and we promise them, ‘He will bless you out.’ … We share the gospel every day, and we see people saved.”

If you would like to support Fellowship Southwest’s Immigrant Relief Ministry, including Pastor Lorenzo’s shelters in Nuevo Laredo,click here.

Jay Pritchard