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This Man Was Held Hostage. His Life Was Threatened. Messi Saved It.

You can never be too sure about how you will affect someone’s life. Our actions, words, and emotions can do so many different things across the 6 degrees that separate every single human being in the world. It is almost impossible to track how this affected that, there.

For all that you know, smiling and waving ‘hello’ at that stranger on the sidewalk could have reminded that person that they didn’t brush their teeth this morning and, because of that, they got caught brushing their teeth in the office bathroom before an important meeting by their boss that afternoon, who then praised them for their dedication to dental hygiene, saying “people don’t go to the dentist often enough.” Thus leading them to remember that — Eureka! — they themselves had a dentist’s appointment that night that they had completely forgotten about. 

A stretch, maybe, but stranger things have happened.

One of those stranger things has crossed our doorstep here at The18: Lionel Messi has saved the life of a man he never met

The story starts with Santiago Lopez Menendez, a 28-year-old Argentine engineer with a heart of gold, or, at the very least, with a charitable streak long enough to put us all to shame.

As an engineer, the young Menendez probably could have found a job in a clean office, and afforded a nice apartment in a trendy part of whatever town he chose to live in. Instead, he worked in Kontagora, Nigeria, for the company Flour Mills, helping local farmers plant soy and corn. Menendez’ work was nothing if not for the people: people less fortunate than he.

He had been doing the work since June of 2014, and was the last of his group to stay behind. Little did he know he would be punished for his dedication. 

This past Wednesday, the 24th of June, Menendez was kidnapped by three armed men. 

For three days he was held without food, water, and rest, and was the subject of violence. His life was in danger. Luckily, in the midst of that nightmare, Menendez held onto his wits.

He realized that, even though they spoke almost no English, the men who had kidnapped him thought he was American. In an attempt to do something, anything, to help himself out, Menendez began to try and convince his captors that he was Argentine. After vain attempt after vain attempt, he finally found a way to get the message across. “Messi. Messi. Messi,” he said, over and over again, and it worked. His captors stopped beating him. His life was no longer in immediate danger.

After those three days of terror, Four Mills paid the ransom held over his head. He was released to Nicaraguan authorities. His nightmare was at an end.

Since his release from captivity, Menendez has made a single public statement: “Thank you Messi, mentioning your name saved my life.” 

Who knows exactly how his three captors came to know the name of Lionel Messi. Maybe they saw a goal, a game, or a jersey. What we do know is that Lionel Messi’s accomplishments on the pitch have allowed him to become so well known that merely saying his name can connect people across a language barrier, and that his name’s ability to connect saved the life of Santiago Lopez Menendez.

“Score a goal and save a life” is a bit too much of a simplification, but it’s not lightyears from the truth. You just have to score enough goals to become the greatest footballer of all time in order to have a chance of doing it. 

You and I better stick to smiling and saying, “hello.” 

Follow me on Twitter: @yetly

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