Beaten but unbroken: He turned a harrowing immigration experience into ministry

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Samuel Rossell and the Word of God.

By Michael Ashcraft —

Because he had escaped from illegal immigrant detention, the Mexican Guardia Militar was going to hit Sam Rossell and his son: “You made us look bad in front of our boss.”

Sam—whose short-lived 2021 journey northward from Guatemala ended abruptly across the border in Tapachula—offered himself instead of his adult son, David, to receive the beatings. He remembered Steven from the Bible who was stoned to death.

“If you want to hit me, hit me while I’m singing,” Sam recalls. And he began to sing: “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”

This is how Sam passed the border between Guatemala and Mexico.

A change came over the Guardia personnel. The leader backed down. “Don’t do that,” he said. “Nothing is going to happen to you. Just don’t run away.”

Today, Sam is pastoring an independent church in Guatemala with his wife Nidia. He admits that his immigration attempts, driven by the desperation to save his house from foreclosure during Covid, weren’t wise but resulted in much fruit for the Lord.

Inside the Siglo XXI migrant prison, Sam began evangelizing in the Venezuelan dorm when a man broke down in tears. His wife had been raped in the Darian Jungle, a perilous passage for Venezuelans. Sam, a former pastor at that point, offered to preach the word for consolation. His Bible was one of the only possessions he was allowed to keep.

Passing Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, as an immigrant.

“The Holy Spirit poured out on them,” Sam recalls. Five or six immigrants accepted the Lord.

Outside the windows, scores of immigrants from other nations—Cubans, Dominicans, and South Americans—were listening. They invited him to speak in their dorms.

From that moment on, everyone called Sam “pastor” around the compound, Mexico’s largest immigration detention center. After three days, he had preached to Venezuelans and Cubans, anyone who wanted to hear. He had made contacts.

When he was returned to Tecun Uman just across the border in Guatemala, he took with him names and numbers. Immediately upon his return to Guatemala City, he started a Bible study on Google Meet. Initially, it was for Venezuelans but quickly spread to other nations, like Colombia and Canada.

Sam and Nidia Rossell

People who had never heard the word of God were learning about Jesus for the first time.

In terms of missiology, Sam’s trip is off the radar of methodology. His international evangelization is also a novelty, though many are spreading the gospel through the internet these days.

Sam Rossell got saved in my church decades ago. He was an ambitious young man who wanted things fast. He got married quickly, rose in discipleship quickly, got ordained, and sent out to plant a thriving church in Zone 5 of Guatemala City quickly.

If not for his wife being unfaithful to him, he’d be there today. But the loss of his marriage brought a precipitous fall. He remarried and entered the world of business, selling used clothing in Guatemala City and Jalpatagua near the border with El Salvador.

Immigrants were baptized en route to the U.S. They got saved online Bible study in Venezuela and stopped in Guatemala only for baptism.

One of the troubles of doing business in Guatemala is you have to pay the local gangs protection money. Whether it’s Mara Salvatrucha or 18, the “tax” is a leeching business expense. On a slow week, you still have to pay. If you don’t, you or a family member will be killed.

When Covid struck, Guatemala shut the country down. Unlike the U.S., they didn’t institute measures to help people weather it. He had no income. The bank foreclosed on his home after he had already paid about $100K on the note.

It was a depressing prospect, and Sam was desperate. He didn’t really want to go to the United States, he says, but because his adult son insisted, he feared for his son’s life and decided to accompany him. They got turned in by a man who took their money by promising to help them pass a checkpoint, he says.

International Bible study on Google Meet

Sam’s second attempt in 2022 to make it to the United States similarly ended in failure, though he made it to Juarez City across from Texas. He compiled paperwork to establish the danger he faced from constant gang extortion.

But when he “turned himself in” to U.S. immigration asking for an audience, he had the bad luck of it being a time when Venezuelans were rioting. In response, U.S. immigration refused any audiences. He was stripped of everything, put in detention, and summarily returned to Mexico.

Without anything, Sam found refuge in a drug rehab home. Here were men reduced to addiction machines who told heartbreaking stories. One had been a hit man for the cartel. “You remember every face of the person when you kill them,” he assured Sam. He was taking drugs to disconnect himself from the guilt that never left him.

After a week in the rehab center, Sam made contact with a church of the mission he used to pastor in, the Christian Fellowship Ministries. He was given a place to sleep, food, and the chance to get asylum in Mexico, which he did.

All the while, Sam still leads the international Bible study on Google Meet.

But while he was in Mexico, his dad died. His wife, ultimately, didn’t want to attempt immigration to the United States, and he returned to Guatemala. The couple lost their house and are now hugely in debt.

No matter, Sam says. He’s launched an independent church, which evolved out of the online Bible study. Some Venezuelans who had gotten saved from the online Bible study were baptized by him while en route to the United States. They were successful in getting in.

He has launched a church in Jalpatagua, where once he had a used clothes store.

To learn more about a personal relationship with Jesus, click here.

About these writer: Michael Ashcraft was a missionary in Guatemala for more than 15 years. He now pastors a church in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. 

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