A refugee shelter located in a Mexican hotbed of drug cartel activity is doubling as a pizza shop, and its founder hopes the pies will bring people together—refugees, locals and criminals alike.
According to the Baptist Standard, Pastor Lorenzo Ortiz launched Pizzas el Buen Samaritano in Nuevo Laredo—just across the Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas—as part of his ministry, El Buen Samaritano Migrante. The ministry serves more than 100 refugees in three shelters in the Mexican states of Coahuila and Tamaulipas.
Ortiz, who’s also a bricklayer, built a brick pizza oven in front of one of the shelters, El Shaddai Shelter, in Nuevo Laredo’s Buena Vista neighborhood. With support from a border ministry in Texas called Fellowship Southwest, he gives away his pizzas for free, feeding people in need during the pandemic. But he doesn’t turn anyone away, he told the Baptist Standard. “Buena Vista is in the middle of where the cartel and the hawks [cartel informants] dominate,” he said. “They’ve stopped by, and we share with them. We give, and we sow [the gospel], and they feel good.”
He eventually plans to sell the pizzas, and he said local young people have said they want to deliver for him. The revenue will provide income for refugees living in the shelters. Ortiz also hopes the pizza business will reduce local crime and help cartel members view the refugees as “their neighbors who serve and feed them.” He hopes the cartel will then stop preying on the immigrants.
Ortiz also plans to build a pizza oven at another shelter he operates in Nuevo Laredo. “The plan is to get to know [people in the community, including the cartel members] and live with them and evangelize [to] them,” he told the Baptist Standard. “We will be having Bible studies, first with those who live in the shelter and later with those in the community as they integrate and we establish dialogues.”
Ortiz said the Bible’s Book of Acts inspired Pizzas el Buen Samaritano. The New Testament book depicts early Christians who lived and worked together and shared their belongings as a community. “All of this allows for the light of the church to shine brighter in the midst of so much darkness,” he said.