Five of kidnapped missionaries in Haiti are from Michigan, including 4 children, pastor says

Five of the 17 missionaries kidnapped in a brazen attack by a gang in Haiti over the weekend are from Michigan's Oceana County, including four children, their pastor told The Detroit News. 

They are members of Hart Dunkard Brethren Church, Minister Ron Marks said Monday. The local missionaries went as a family, one parent and four children, in early October, said Marks, who declined to identify them. The youngest child is younger than age 10, he added.

“Our primary focus is on God and His providence to bring us through this,” Marks said.

The missionaries were taken Saturday as they left an orphanage outside Port-au-Prince in the community of Ganthier. The group included six men, six women and five children— all Americans except for one Canadian, according to their sponsoring organization, the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries. 

"Join us in prayer that God’s grace would sustain the men, women and children who are being held hostage," the group said in a Monday statement. 

A spokeswoman from Christian Aid Ministries declined Monday to provide more information about the kidnapping.

Children stand in the courtyard of the Maison La Providence de Dieu orphanage it Ganthier, Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, where a gang abducted 17 missionaries from a U.S.-based organization.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday afternoon that President Joe Biden has been briefed and is receiving regular updates on what the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are doing to bring those kidnapped home safely.

“The FBI is part of a coordinated U.S. effort to get the U.S. citizens involved to safety,” Psaki said. “Due to operational considerations, we’re not going to go into too much detail on that but can confirm their engagement.”

She added the U.S. Embassy in Haiti is also involved and coordinating with local authorities and working with the individuals’ families.

The 400 Mawozo gang, a group that controls the area where the attack took place, has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, the State Department said. The gang captured five priests and four nuns in April, holding them for three weeks, according to reports.

The latest abduction is part of a surge in kidnappings in Haiti this year amid political chaos, gang violence and general lawlessness since the assassination in July of President Jovenel Moïse. 

"It’s a sad day for west Michigan," said Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, whose district includes Oceana County.

"My office is working in cooperation and consultation with the State Department and the Biden administration to secure the safe return of the missionaries and their family members," Huizenga said in a statement. "I hope you will join me in praying for those who have been taken, as well as those working to secure their safe release.

"Out of respect for the privacy and the safety of all involved, I will be limiting public comment until this very fluid and dangerous situation is resolved.”

Hart Dunkard Brethren Church emphasizes missionary work, Marks said. Members go to places including Haiti, Africa and the southwest United States to do humanitarian and teaching work.

The church did not sponsor its members’ trip to Haiti, but it is common for members to go on mission trips with other groups like Christian Aid Ministries, Marks said. 

Dunkard Brethren Church in Hart, Mich., is pastored by Ron Marks and is the home of one of the missionary families kidnapped in Haiti.

Congregants at home have held special prayer meetings for their counterparts in Haiti since they left in early October. News that the family had been abducted was hard on the close-knit group, Marks said.

Dan Hooley, a former field director for Christian Aid Ministries in Haiti, told CNN on Sunday that the kidnapped missionaries were believed to have been together in one vehicle, and some were able to contact the organization's local director before they were seized.

"A couple of fellows right away messaged the director and told him what was going on. And one of them was able to drop a pin, and that's the last thing (the organization) heard until the kidnappers contacted them later in the day," Hooley told the network.

Hooley, who knew several of the victims personally, told the New York Times several missionaries had not been in Haiti for long but one family lived there for “a couple of months.” One man, who arrived Friday, was there to work on a relief project following the recent earthquake.

The State Department is part of a small team dispatched to Haiti from the U.S. to work closely with Haitian authorities on the kidnapping case, spokesman Ned Price said Monday. 

"This is something that we have treated as with the utmost priority since Saturday," Price said. "Our teams across the building have been working closely with our interagency partners and ... with our partners on the ground in Haiti to do all we can to seek a quick resolution to this." 

Price would not say whether the U.S. has been in touch with the 400 Mawozo gang.

The nonprofit Christian Aid Ministries, based in Millersburg, Ohio, was founded in 1981 and works with Amish, Mennonite and other conservative Anabaptist groups to "minister to physical and spiritual needs around the world." 

The organization said it was active in 126 countries and seven territories to distribute aid, literature or education in 2020, reaching more than 14 million people, according to CAM's 2020 annual report.

American staff from the organization recently returned to its base in Haiti after a nine-month absence due to political unrest in the country.

The group's work in Haiti has included medicine distribution, a sponsor-a-child program and running the Joshua Memorial Clinic in the LaSource area. The group says it also created work for wages projects, such as road repair and water projects, to allow Haitians to earn money to feed themselves and their families.

The child-sponsor program provides textbooks, school supplies and meals each school day for 9,430 students at 52 schools in Haiti, as well as biblical training and subsidized pay for teachers, according to the annual report.