Beverly Lorenz wanted to go to bed. But when a fearful teenager she barely knew — a girl she met through the Internet social-networking site Facebook, living 1,000 miles away — asked if they could talk, Lorenz agreed.
That mid-July phone call led to a 30-hour Greyhound bus trip and cultural and spiritual debates over the fate of one girl: Fathima Rifqa Bary.
And it thrust Beverly and husband Blake Lorenz, pastors who have served in Central Florida for more than 25 years, into unfamiliar roles.
They've been accused of kidnapping Rifqa from her Muslim parents. They've been accused of brain-washing Rifqa. Now they're concerned for their own lives.
"We weren't trying to be secret or hidden," Beverly Lorenz said. "We were trying to help her to the best of our ability."
The accusations against them, Blake Lorenz said, aren't true. And they're not anti-Muslim.
"I'm pro-Jesus," he said. "And Jesus tells us to love everybody. I do my best to try to do that. And we're praying for her parents and for healing and reconciliation."
On July 19, Rifqa ran away from her home in Westerville, Ohio, boarding a bus bound for Orlando — and the Lorenzes' home — with a ticket paid for by somebody else. The teen, who had converted from Islam to Christianity four years earlier, told Beverly she feared for her life.
The Lorenzes took her in. The pastors said they quizzed her about her life and family.
Beverly Lorenz, a former teacher, said it was clear to them that Rifqa was telling the truth. She wasn't a drama queen — or a teen feuding with her parents. If that were the case, Blake Lorenz said, they would have sent her back to Ohio.
"She really believed that her dad would kill her and the Muslim community would kill her. She believed that with all of her heart. She was terrified of going back to Ohio," he said.
Rifqa's parents, Mohamed and Aysha Bary, have denied any intention to harm their daughter.
Asked why they were willing to take Rifqa in, Lorenz said, "We really believed it was the Holy Spirit leading us. We prayed about it. We sought legal counsel. We didn't do anything without legal counsel because we didn't want to break any laws."
After Rifqa arrived, the Lorenzes said they called 11 lawyers, a judge and Catholic Charities. Each had different advice. No one knew what to do with Rifqa.
Local lawyer Mat Staver, a longtime friend of the Lorenzes who has offered the couple advice, said they have been put into an odd situation.
"They're in a Catch-22," said Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a local conservative legal advocacy group. "They were put in a situation that they've never been in before. Do I not open my door; do I open my door?"
Rifqa lived with them for more than two weeks before a judge determined she needed to be in a foster home until the courts could decide which authorities — in Florida or Ohio — have jurisdiction.