Iowa pastor deported to Honduras

Central Plains Conference raises funds to support his family

Mar 25, 2015 by and

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Mennonite pastor Max Villatoro was deported March 20 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to San Pedro, Honduras.

Gloria and Max Villatoro were pastors of Iglesia Menonita Torre Fuerte in Iowa City. — Central Plains Mennonite Conference

Gloria and Max Villatoro were pastors of Iglesia Menonita Torre Fuerte in Iowa City. — Central Plains Mennonite Conference

Co-pastor of Iglesia Menonita Torre Fuerte (First Mennonite Church) in Iowa City with his wife, Gloria, Villatoro was detained March 3. The Iowa City Press-Citizen reported the family’s attorney was informed by ICE March 20 when Villatoro’s plane landed.

“This is utterly unfathomable,” wrote executive conference minister David Boshart of Mennonite Church USA’s Central Plains Mennonite Conference in a statement the same day. “We will not know for some time how God’s hand has been at work in this situation. But we do know that God has not abandoned us or Max.”

Villatoro came to the U.S. 20 years ago. He met his wife in the U.S. and they married in 2000. Shortly after that, he became a Christian, and the couple were leaders at Muscatine Mennonite Church. He has served at Torre Fuerte for five years.

ICE detained Villatoro in a nationwide sweep after classifying him “an enforcement priority” due to prior convictions. The Associated Press reported that supporters say Villatoro turned his life around after a 1998 drunken driving conviction. Media reports said he pleaded guilty to record tampering in 1999 after trying to illegally obtain a driver’s license.

In a March 20 statement, Gloria Villatoro thanked supporters for a variety of actions.

“Even though they’ve deported Max, we’ve come to know a community that is united, that can raise a great voice when we witness injustice,” she said. “We must keep moving forward and see what God has next for us.”

Central Plains Conference and other organizations supported Villatoro with petitions and other actions, presenting more than 25,000 signatures to the ICE office in Omaha March 10.

“From Tweets to marches and your letters and prayers, Pastor Max’s case is a case that we should have won,” wrote Karla Stoltzfus Detweiler, pastor of First Mennonite Church in Iowa City, and Tammy Alexander, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office legislative assistant for domestic affairs, in a March 20 update. “. . . The Central Plains Mennonite Conference is launching a fund­raising campaign today to raise funds for Max’s legal fees and provide a strong foundation for the family with the separation of their father.”

The Villatoros have four children, all U.S. citizens.

Donations to the Villatoro Family Fund can be made at

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