Two members of kidnapped Michigan missionary family released, sources say

Carol Thompson and John Barnes
The Detroit News

Hart — Two of the three hostages released by a Haitian gang Sunday night are from Michigan, according to two sources, while four Michigan residents remain kidnapped. 

The Michigan family, a mother and five children, was taken hostage Oct. 16 after leaving an orphanage outside Port-au-Prince. They were in a van with a group of 11 other Anabaptist missionaries from the United States and Canada when they were captured. 

The Michigan missionaries are members of the Hart Dunkard Brethren Church, a small congregation in the roughly 2,000-person city of Hart. Dunkard Brethrens are staunchly anti-secular and dress in plain, conservative clothes — bonnets and ankle-length dresses for women and loose slacks, beards and sometimes black hats for men. They are opposed to war, avoid the legal system and practice immersion baptism.

The kidnapped family lives south of Shelby, a small village near Hart. It is rural, with rolling hills, nearby farm fields and sugar maples. Neighbors described them as kind and hardworking.

The mother is 48 and the children range in age from 6 to young adults. The 49-year-old father of the Michigan family is in Haiti but did not go on the bus and was not kidnapped.

Hart Dunkard Brethren Church Pastor Ron Marks said Tuesday the father called a friend in the congregation to tell them about the releases. The father is the teacher at Maple Valley Christian Day School, a small private school operated by a group of churches where the younger children attend.

Marks said he believes all the prayers being said for the family are having an impact. He hopes this is the beginning of more releases, Lord willing. 

"The steps in our path are not our own steps. They belong to God," Marks said. 

"We don't understand the mind of God, but we know his will."

Terri Lambrix, a lifelong resident of the area, had not yet heard that local captives were released.

“That’s amazing. Great news,” said Lambrix, the manager at Shelby State Bank in downtown Shelby.  

“I can’t even believe what the families are feeling right now,” she added Tuesday. "The whole community has been praying for them.”

Marks said Christian Aid Ministries and the State Department have asked family and friends not to disclose details. The pastor said he has not heard directly from Christian Aid Ministries, the Ohio-based nonprofit that organized the trip to Haiti and offers missionary opportunities for members Mennonite, Amish and other Conservative Anabaptist groups. 

Christian Aid Ministries regularly emails the press about the kidnapping asking for prayers for the victims as well as Haitians living in the volatile Caribbean country. They sometimes ask people to pray for the kidnappers.

The 400 Mawozo gang has claimed responsibility for kidnapping the missionary group. Its leader asked for a $1 million ransom for each captured missionary and threatened violence if he isn't paid.

The gang is active in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, The Haitian Times reported in October. It has claimed responsibility for other kidnappings, including that of a 9-year-old.

On Monday, Christian Aid Ministries announced three of the captured missionaries had been released Sunday night. Another two were released in late November. The group said it cannot provide any details about who was freed or the circumstances of their release.

"Please continue to intercede for those who are still being held as well as those who have been released," Christian Aid Ministries wrote in a Monday press release. "We long for all the hostages to be reunited with their loved ones. Thank you for your prayer support."

The Detroit News has decided not to name the family.

Yuvanka Clark of Shelby was taking tickets at a Shelby High School basketball game when she learned of the releases.

“Fantastic,” Clark said. “My niece knows the family. I have been praying for them. My niece has been praying for them.” 

More:Church tries 'to keep going' as Michigan family's hostage ordeal passes a month

The Hart Dunkard Brethren Church emphasizes missionary work, Marks told The Detroit News in October. Its members go to faraway places including Haiti, Africa and the southwest United States for humanitarian and teaching projects.

Haiti is experiencing a rise in kidnappings this year, as well as civil unrest and a spike in crime after former President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July and a devastating earthquake hit in August.

The U.S. Department of State warns Americans not to travel there, saying violent crime is common and kidnapping is widespread. It warned Americans to leave in November.

Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.