By Fernando and Marcella Mangieri and Sharon Mager, BCM/D Staff Correspondent
SILVER SPRING, Md.—Three-year-old Joel Mangieri clings tightly to his father. His eyes follow when his daddy gets up from the table. He doesn’t want him too far away. Little Joel doesn’t really understand the trauma his family faced. He only knows he had to move to a foreign country and had to leave his father.
“Until Sept. 29, 2008, we were living a very comfortable life in Juarez, Mexico. I was serving in a church as the pastor, teaching in the seminary, coordinating mission trips and leading two church planting groups. My wife took care of our home and we were enjoying our two kids and our own house, bought with effort and provision from God,” Fernando Mangieri said.
“The terror began when I answered the phone. When I hung up, our lives had changed forever,” Mangieri sadly recalls. The caller, suspected to be a member of a group known as Zetas, demanded $20,000 within 48 hours.
“They said they would come to our house in 30 minutes. I could either give them a first down payment or one of my children. I hung up and trembling, I tried to explain to my wife what was unexplainable,” he said.
Marcela, Fernando’s wife, knew it wasn’t a joke. Her uncle had been kidnapped for ransom. Another uncle was shot in the leg. She quickly picked up their one-year-old baby girl, Sarai, and little Joel and the family immediately left to stay with a cousin who lived in a secure area. They contacted local officials but weren’t taken seriously. Fernando and Marcella then went to the United States Consulate. Marcella was born in El Paso and was a U.S. citizen. Consulate officials suggested Marcella and the kids go to El Paso, but said they were not able to help Fernando.
“After leaving the Consulate those were days of fear, tension, confusion and feeling powerless,” Fernando said.
The family went to various friends’ homes to stay at nights.
“Our children were confused. They couldn’t understand why we could not go back home,” he said.
Finally, Fernando said good-bye to his family as he watched them leave to go to Texas.
“The people from my church were my only support,” he said. Fernando pastored a local Baptist church that his brother, Guillermo Mangier, now pastor of Iglesia de Bautista de Washington, had earlier started.
Fernando had to return to the house to look for documents. Several church members went with him. While Fernando entered the house, his friends waited, hidden. After a few minutes, a truck with no tags came and began circling the house, slowing down in front and looking for movement inside. Those waiting called Fernando who ran out of the house. He and his friends left in three different vehicles. The truck chased one of the cars, but not the one Fernando was in.
“Our church was praying continuously. I was also told that there were people praying for us in Mexico, United States, Argentina, Spain, Uruguay and other countries. Knowing this refreshed my heart and brought peace in the storm,” Fernando said.
Meanwhile, Guillermo Mangier contacted Texas U.S. Senator, John Cornyn, who helped expedite getting Fernando out of Mexico.
“On Thursday, Oct. 17, I received a Visa. That same night I crossed the international bridge and reunited with my family. There are no words to describe the feeling of seeing my (then) two-year-old boy as he ran to me. All we could do was to hug each other, cry together and thank God for freeing us from death.”
The couple came to Maryland to stay with Fernando’s parents and felt this is where God wanted them to stay. They are now finishing BCM/D’s church planting assessment and hope to start a Hispanic church in Annapolis.
Marcella said after they left, four other Baptist pastors were threatened. One, in Tijuana, was kidnapped and tortured.
The couple acknowledges that leaving their home and church family was extremely difficult and that they’re all still trying to adjust. But they believe God allowed all of it to happen for His purpose.
“We know God did this. That is what keeps us in peace,” Marcela said.