Juan’s Cartel Encounter
by Greg Fish, Creative Media Designer
I was preparing for a trip to Mexico in July. Before I left, I received a prayer request from my friend, David. He told me that our mutual friend Juan had been taken hostage by the cartel. His captors took his money, laptop, and projector. Many of us began praying for Juan. Several days later, David sent this update.
I just returned from having lunch with Pastor Juan Roque. It was our first face-to-face meeting since he had been taken hostage on his last trek to the Aztec villages. There was a calm determination in his demeanor. Juan declared that he was pretty certain his meeting with cartel members had been arranged by God.
Two weeks before he left on that mission trip, Juan preached to the church in Las Palmas that in every encounter we have, God is working through us to be a blessing to others or through others to bring a blessing to us. Juan left that Monday in his daughter’s small car to see how it could make the trip. His white truck was constantly getting stopped on previous trips, so he decided some months ago to travel by small car to stay under the radar. As Juan approached the town of Padilla on the highway, the transmission began acting up. He called a mechanic from Matamoros to meet him with a different car.
On his way back, Juan was motioned over by armed cartel members. Having transmission issues, he had no choice but to pull over. In the past, the preferred method was to put the pedal to the metal. They put the a rifle through the rolled down window and began questioning him. “Where are you from?” Juan answered that he was from Matamoros, an area controlled by a rival cartel group. They began shouting at the others to come over because they had one from Matamoros. One of the leaders came over and in a loud, stern voice told him that this was the end of the road for him. With his head down, Juan continued to answer the barrage of questions. When asked what was in his glove compartment, Juan told them that he had another cell phone. As he opened up the glove box, a new book that he had purchased fell out. It was a Spanish edition of You Will Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times by Max Lucado.
When the cartel member saw this, he laughed and told Juan that he was going to kill him that day. Juan was taken out of his car and transferred into several cars that took some back roads off the main highway. He was pretty sure that this was the end of the road for him. When he was put into the third car, a gruff leader began to question him.
Juan shared that he was a pastor from Matamoros. Juan doesn’t recall the exact exchange, but the man indicated the he was in charge of executing those taken captive. Juan noticed that the man’s attitude toward him changed. He confided to Juan that he never intended to be where he was, doing what he was doing. He had tried to find a good job. He had no success in finding honest work and that he had a family to support. The executioner also mentioned to Juan that his mother was a member of a Pentecostal church in Monterrey. He asked Juan if God listened to him. Juan replied that indeed God did listen, not only to himself, but to all who sincerely seek him. After traveling down the back road for some distance, the cartel leader told Juan that he was going to let him go home. Juan agreed that he would be going somewhere, either home to his family in Matamoros or home to his Father in Heaven. The leader clarified, “No, you are going home to Matamoros.” Juan never pleaded for his life or asked to be released.
He was then transferred to another vehicle and taken further back where he remained while one man shouted for a machete. As another man went to get it, Juan, face downward, could see that the other guard was wrapping his rifle in what appeared to be something to muffle the sound. Again Juan felt certain that his life on earth was about to end. After what must have seemed to be an eternity, the man who said he was going to help him get back home returned. The leader began shouting orders at the others to release Juan and put him in the leader’s car. Juan was returned to his car that had been stopped hours earlier.
Near Juan’s car was a truckload of armed men, who by then, had received word that Juan was a pastor and was going to be set free. As the cartel leader handed Juan back the keys to his car, he also put some money into his hand “for expenses.” Juan was grateful for his release and pleaded with the leader to spare the lives of the mother and child that had been stopped about the same time as he had. As Juan drove off, he could hear the men in the back of the truck shouting, “Pray for me. Pray for me.”
As Juan finished sharing with me, he looked up, smiled, and said,” I am pretty sure God arranged that meeting for me so I could be a blessing to them.” Juan plans to return to that roadside location and post a message of God’s love for all his children.
I know that this isn’t Juan’s first brush with danger or death, but I’m so glad that he indeed got through it! I, myself, was in Mexico soon after this took place. Because of some generous donors, I was able to replace Juan’s stolen projector and also provide a Solar Kit for him and his ministry partners. Praise the Lord that He can work through every encounter!