When Ro Lopez travels to exotic locations around the world, it’s not for vacation. He arrives with a team of men who all give off the impression that nothing could surprise them. They’re well-trained and well-traveled. After getting settled, the team heads to a local park, sets up a boombox, and worships. They call out all the names of God and pray over the nation upon which they stand. They pray for protection and success—two requests that take on deeper, more desperate meaning than usual because young lives truly depend on them. The mission for their trip is clear: rescue the children.
You can’t apply for the FBI until you’re 23 years old. Ro Lopez knew this, but he applied anyway. At only 21, Ro had sped through college taking summer classes and working overtime. He was ready. He knew he wanted to be an FBI special agent since he was a sophomore in high school and an FBI case named ABSCAM emerged on the news. In it, FBI special agents had gone undercover, posing as Arabs to get corrupt congressmen to bite on something illegal, and they did. It was a big deal, and Ro knew that’s what he was supposed to do too.
He passed all his language exams, and to his surprise, they scheduled him to take the special agent test, which he also passed. He filled out the 15-page background check form and then got a call. “The recruiter said, ‘Ro, we thought you were 31, not 21!’” Ro says with a laugh. “He told me I wasn’t even supposed to be in the process yet, and that they’d need to put my application on pause. He said they would call me two weeks before my birthday.” Disappointed and impatient, Ro waited through the delay, even a couple months beyond his 23rd birthday, until one day an evangelist came into his hometown.
“I thought I loved God growing up, and then in college, I joined the Christian organization Chi Alpha. These guys were crazy in love with the Lord,” Ro says. “My relationship with God really grew in those years, but as I waited, I really struggled with surrendering it all to God. I thought that if I truly surrendered everything to Him, He’d send me to Africa as a missionary, and I’d never get to be an agent.” So when the evangelist came to town, Ro was sitting in the sanctuary, still chomping at the bit to be called up by the FBI. The evangelist said to the congregation, “There’s a young man here who has been so passionate about something, but he’s afraid that if he totally surrenders, he may not get what he asked for. I’m here to tell you that the Lord wants you to give Him a try and just surrender.” A humbled and sobbing Ro walked to the front of the church and surrendered his heart and desires completely to the Lord. After that, everything accelerated and he got the call he’d been waiting for since 10th grade: “Be at the academy in two days.”
Ro spent 15 years in the FBI. He was younger and less experienced than most of his colleagues—the average acceptance age is 30 years old—but he listened and absorbed a lot. He went undercover, busted drug cartels, received death threats, was sent into countless dangerous situations, and saw a lot of bad in the world. “I thought I was going to be in the FBI for 30 or 40 years and then retire. That was my plan,” Ro says. “But when I surrendered at 23 years old, I told God if He ever wanted me to leave, I would.” When God called him out, it was tough, but Ro obeyed. Over the next few years, he traveled to 48 countries as the director of security for Benny Hinn Ministries, did freelance kidnap and ransom negotiation work, and landed a job in the corporate world doing crisis management.
A couple years into the new job, on Thanksgiving Day in 2009, Ro got an email. A friend of his had visited an orphanage just outside of Nairobi, Kenya, two weeks earlier and recently learned it had been attacked. Fifteen men robbed the orphanage, gang raping two young girls and beating the house mother nearly to death. “There I was, eating and giving thanks for everything I had, and I just broke down in tears,” Ro says. “I said to the Lord, ‘I know there are a lot of guys out there with my kind of background who could help. I know we can make a difference.’” Driven to action, by his righteous anger for justice and his extensive experience in security and rescue ops, Ro created an organization called Freedom’s Shield. In just four days, with the help of his dad and a Navy Seal buddy, they set out to work securing orphanages around the world.
“That first year and a half, I was funding Freedom’s Shield with my own money,” Ro says. “Financially, it was tough.” Ro and his team began building security around orphanages in Africa and then pivoted to focus on orphanages in Central America. On the Mexican side of El Paso down to Brownsville, they identified every orphanage that was in harm’s way because of cartels or gangs. “We installed safe rooms, cameras, and security upgrades. Then, we started providing contingency and crisis management plans,” Ro says. “At about the six-month mark, we were asked to help launch an eastern European branch of A21, an anti-trafficking nonprofit created by Christine Caine.” There, Ro and his team did more than security assessments and upgrades. They actually trained the national police force on anti-trafficking tactics. Soon after, another organization invited them to Asia to do the same thing. It was there when God began to move in Ro’s heart again. “I remember we were almost finished, and the Lord said to fly to another city,” Ro says. “It was nine hours away, but I felt so strongly we needed to go there. So I told my team, and we made the trip.”
They didn’t know where exactly they were going or why, so when Ro’s team arrived, they connected with the US Embassy. “As a former FBI special agent, I can pretty much go into any embassy and connect with the FBI-trained guys on the ground,” Ro says. “So we connected with an agent who knew a little bit about the anti-trafficking training we’d done, and we asked to see a local general.” Much to everyone’s surprise, the general, who is typically unavailable, took the entire next day off to spend with Ro and his team.
The general brought them to a facility where he introduced them to six little Malaysian boys and girls, all 8 to 10 years old. “The general said, ‘You see these kids? All six of them were drugged, kidnapped, and brought here. For the last 30 days, they’ve been locked in a home and sold for sex. One of them escaped and told us, and we got the rest of them out,’” Ro says. “And I just broke down. I knew this was what God was calling me to for the rest of my life—to fight human trafficking. It was one of those memories that’s so clear you’ll never forget.” From that moment on, with those six kids’ faces in mind, Freedom’s Shield expanded its purview to also fight four types of human trafficking: sex trafficking, forced labor, the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and organ harvesting.
With this newfound vision, Freedom’s Shield began targeting organized crime and extremists involved in trafficking, especially child sex trafficking. Ro’s team was small and mighty, but their funds were limited. Freedom’s Shield couldn’t grow much more without more time, relational equity, and financial investment, and Ro was still working full-time at his corporate job, until he met a cyber intelligence man who made him an offer. “This man flew me to Virginia in his private jet to see if I would enjoy doing the type of cyber work he needed, and then said that he was going to pay me full-time but only wanted me to work part-time. He wanted me to grow Freedom’s Shield,” Ro says. “It was an answer to prayer.”
This man’s generosity allowed Freedom’s Shield to grow tremendously. For three years, they worked with the general in Asia to train, equip, and organize recovery operations with an agency similar to the FBI in their country. The relationship was mutually beneficial. “If the general wanted to take down an arms-dealing group and we knew they were also trafficking children, we would partner with his people to shut down the group so the kids would be freed,” Ro says. “That’s how we work. We find that local law enforcement is just as passionate as we are about combating these atrocities in their country, and we’ve gotten really good at working together.” The guys behind Freedom’s Shield operate within the rule of law to provide the investigative work, the funding for equipment and technology, the organization of the specific ops, and most importantly, the training of trusted national law enforcement in everything from sniper training to organized crime enterprise investigations and criminal conspiracy. That way, the locals on the ground get to be the heroes in physically freeing their people. This strategy allows Ro’s team to develop networks of contacts in many countries and be part of many more operations all over the world, without having Freedom’s Shield folks on the ground every time. This works especially well in countries where Americans aren’t welcome.
In 2015, Ro decided to take the leap and begin working full-time with Freedom’s Shield. With Ro’s laser focus in the last few years, Freedom’s Shield has conducted more than 500 missions in the Middle East alone, a fair amount being snatch-and-grab ops behind enemy lines. But a mission starts long before that moment. Because no two operations are the same, Ro and his team spend months scouring and obtaining intel, developing relationships with nationals, finding sources, and creating a custom plan. “When the day finally comes, it’s not about coming in with guns blazing,” Ro says. “It’s a complex operation to recover those enslaved, without firing a shot.” With loads of experience, divine intervention, and steady provision, in the last 10 years, Ro’s team has been largely successful recovering more than 2,500 men, women, and children being trafficked or held against their will. “We’ve even developed enough trusted sources that we’ve gotten phone calls like, ‘Hey, there are 75 kids on a boat headed to southeast Asia about to be labor and sex trafficked.’ So we, in turn, give a tip to the maritime police, and they free 75 kids,” Ro says. “Those are great moments for us.” Freedom’s Shield also supports about 5,500 orphans in 14 countries and handles any extortions, kidnappings, and security issues pro bono.
The guys behind the scenes at Freedom’s Shield are mostly volunteers from diverse backgrounds. “I’ve got about 25 former FBI special agents, 10 former counterintelligence case officers, over 100 military or special ops guys, about 45 analysts, and 25 cyber guys—some of the best hackers in the world,” Ro says. “We have a lot of capabilities, a lot of cool stuff that we use, and more we continue to acquire.” For a lot of these guys, there’s tremendous risk in being involved in Freedom’s Shield. They don’t have hats or t-shirts to indicate they’re part of this team, and when asked to interview one or two of them, Ro said no because their identities need to be kept confidential to keep them and their families safe. “We know God has done a lot of supernatural stuff to protect us over the years. And we’re not cowboys. We’re slow and methodical. We know what we’re anointed to do, and we stick with it,” Ro says.
But you can’t do what Ro does and not be jaded or cynical. Fifteen years in the FBI alone would have been enough for some people to throw in the towel. But Ro really fights the good fight and remains eager to help in whatever God calls him to. “You know that verse that says, ‘Don’t grow weary in doing good’? Well, I’m often weary and frustrated that I can’t do more good,” Ro says. “The need is so great, and some days, not having enough money or equipment or men to help really whittles away at my faith. My prayers often sound like, ‘Come on, God. You said to take care of the orphans and the widows and the oppressed. We’re trying to. You said all we had to do was ask. You said You would provide.’” And He does provide, though it may not be in the way that Ro expects. Some days the burden is heavy—there are approximately 40 million people held in slavery across the world—and we don’t always understand everything God is doing. To share the extent of the horrors he combats daily, Ro pulls up a photo on his phone of a 16-year-old girl with a machine gun, a child soldier, who was killed in a firefight with local military—she was still wearing her purple pajamas. They couldn’t save her, but there are many they have saved, their stories intertwined with hope and grief. They once recovered a little six-year-old girl who had been taken when she was only three. She didn’t know her name or that her parents had been killed on the day she was taken, but she’s now free from her traffickers and receiving help. “A few years ago, we were notified about these guys who created a video to sell a four-year-old girl. They were going to cut her up and sell her organs in eastern Europe,” Ro says. “We began to track her down. We lost her for a while when they crossed borders, but by God’s grace we found her. We ended up buying her from one of the guys’ brothers and getting her back to her parents.” Ro and his team have story after story like this, but Ro admits that the real tough work starts after the child or adult is recovered, so Freedom’s Shield partners with trauma specialists who provide mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual support to the precious ones recovered all over the world.
When asked what’s on the top of his list right now, Ro passionately describes several situations. “We know of 500 girls who are being trafficked in a desert in the Middle East, and then there’s 250 Christians a month being sold on the auction block in north Africa that we can recover. We’ve also identified hundreds of camps in southeast Asia that use eight-year-old boys as soldiers,” Ro says. “We have the intelligence and the plans in place. We can rescue them. We don’t have the money right now, but we know God will provide it.” So, Ro and his team soldier on, doing what they can and praying for God’s help to get these people out of slavery and for patience to wait for His timing. It’s dif- ficult for sure, and there have been moments when he wanted to quit—especially amid the disappointments and the death threats. “But I think of how many times we’ve gone into a country, and people have said to us, ‘We know you’re Christians by the way you love us.’ They’re touched that we’re there to help their people, and it preaches more than words,” Ro says. “When I hear that and I see the faces of those recovered, I know this is what God has called us to do.”
Ro has been attending Gateway since 2005. For almost seven years, Gateway has been supporting the work of Freedom’s Shield, including funding toward technical equipment.
The entire Freedom’s Shield team requests your prayers, especially for protection over their team so they may continue to do their life-saving work. For more information about Freedom’s Shield and to donate, visit freedomshieldfoundation.com.