HOLMES COUNTY, Ohio — A group of 17 U.S. missionaries including children has been kidnapped by a gang in Haiti during their mission trip. The missionaries were in Haiti working with Christian Aid Ministries, an organization based out of Holmes County, Ohio.
The group is made up of 16 Americans and one Canadian. Among them are five children; one of the kids is just 2 years old.
Haitian police said the 400 Mawozo gang kidnapped the group in Ganthier, a community that lies east of the capital of Port-au-Prince, Saturday on their way back from building an orphanage.
"At any one given time, we have a lot of Ohioans who are down in Haiti," said Governor Mike DeWine. He and his wife, Fran, started going themselves in the mid-90s.
According to the Associated Press,Christian Aid Ministries’ leaders sent out a voice message to other religious missionaries to alert others of the kidnapping. The voice message asked for prayers that the gang members would come to repentance.
The mission’s field director is now working with the U.S. Embassy. The director’s family and another individual with the group were staying at the ministry’s base when the kidnapping occurred.
"These are people who went down there with no ulterior motive other than to help others," said DeWine.
It is unclear if the gang has demanded ransom.
Christian Aid Ministries' website said among other services, it offers bible classes, feeds the needy and helps orphans in Haiti and other countries throughout the world.
The organization’s 2020 report stated its missionaries returned to their base in Haiti after a nine-month absence because of the country’s political instabilities.
Bishop Gerard Mirbel has been glued to his television screen since he heard the news about the kidnapping.
“They were there to help people,” he said.
Mirbel moved to Painesville from Haiti when he was 31 years old. Since then, he has dedicated his life’s work to leading mission trips back to his home country and helping the people of Haiti whenever he can.
“We had a school, we have an orphanage, we feed the population,” he said.
Mirbel said while the majority of Haitians are good, hard-working people, the political unrest and devastation from natural disasters have plagued the country with poverty and an uptick in gang violence.
“It’s been tough for Haiti,” he said. “Things will not last like this forever.”
Mirbel said the work missionaries provide for Haiti is important, but they have to do it safely and know the dangers of certain areas in the country.
“It’s important to have security,” he said. “I help a lot of people by telling them how to protect themselves. I had a chance to be a director of many missions, and there was no kidnapping, there was no gang violence.”
Christian Aid Ministries put out a statement on its website.
“We request urgent prayer for the group of Christian Aid Ministries workers who were abducted while on a trip to visit an orphanage on Saturday, October 16. We are seeking God’s direction for a resolution, and authorities are seeking ways to help.
The group of sixteen U.S citizens and one Canadian citizen includes five men, seven women, and five children. Join us in praying for those who are being held hostage, the kidnappers, and the families, friends, and churches of those affected. Pray for those who are seeking God’s direction and making decisions regarding this matter.
As an organization, we commit this situation to God and trust Him to see us through. May the Lord Jesus be magnified and many more people come to know His love and salvation.
“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust . . . For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” (Psalm 91:1,2,11).
Mirbel is praying for the safe return of the missionaries, and that fear doesn’t stop others from helping out his homeland.
“They need help,” he said.
Ohio lawmakers are also offering their support to the organization and those affected by the kidnapping.
The office of Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) shared the following statement with WCPO Sister Station News 5:
“We have reached out to Christian Aid Ministries to offer any assistance we can provide. We are not commenting on details for the time being. We are ready to work with the appropriate agencies as needed for a peaceful resolution. We urge the Biden administration to ensure the safety of Americans abroad. Congressman Gibbs is praying for everyone’s safe release.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) also shared a statement.
"Our office is very concerned by this news and has reached out to the White House, State Department, and Department of Justice for more information."