Captive missionaries made daring escape.

December 20, 2021

A photo of the missionaries taken after their release. The Oceana County father (who was not kidnapped) is also pictured with them in the back right.

Captive missionaries made daring escape.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

Captive missionaries in Haiti found freedom last week by making a daring overnight escape, walking 10 miles through briars and thorns with a baby and other children in tow, according Christian Aid Ministries officials.

The group of 12 navigated in the moonlight to reach safety after a two-month kidnapping ordeal, stated officials of the Ohio-based agency that sponsored the trip during a press conference Monday, Dec. 20.

The 3-year-old boy shown after their escape.

The details of their journey to safety came after the news Thursday, Dec. 16, that the missionaries were free.

A total of 17 people from the missionary group — including an Oceana County woman and her five children — were abducted Oct. 16 shortly after visiting an orphanage in Croix-des-Bouquets. The Shelby woman and her five children are members of the Hart Dunkard Brethren Church. Her husband was also on the mission trip but was not kidnapped. He stayed back at the mission camp the day of the kidnapping to write a sermon for the next day’s service.

Their captors from the violent 400 Mawozo gang initially demanded $17 million in ransom. Five other captives had earlier reached freedom. It is still unclear if any ransom was paid.

CAM General Director David Troyer said supporters of CAM raised funds for possible use for a ransom, but declined to say whether ransom was paid for either of the releases.

The dozen who fled last week carried the 10-month-old baby girl and a 3-year-old boy, wrapping the baby in blankets to protect her from the briars and brambles, said CAM spokesman Weston Showalter.

They escaped Wednesday, Dec. 15, during the night, after opening a blocked door. “Numerous guards were close by,” said Showalter. They packed their clothes with water and set off on their journey to freedom guided by the stars.

The 12 who escaped included a married couple, the baby, the 3-year-old, a 14-year-old girl, a 15-year-old boy, four single men and two single women.

The baby girl who was held captive pictured after the escape.

They walked about 10 miles through the woods through thickets, thorns, briars and “fierce brambles.” They were in gang territory the entire hike.  “After a number of hours of walking, day began to dawn and they eventually found someone who helped to make a phone call for help,” Showalter said, his voice trembling. “They were finally free.”

The 12 were flown to Florida on a US Coast Guard flight and later reunited with the five hostages who were released earlier.

CAM displayed photos at the news conference showing the freed hostages being reunited, along with a video of the group singing a song that had inspired them during their captivity.

The missionaries were taken hostage on their way back from the orphanage on the afternoon of Oct. 16.

“They had no idea what was ahead of them,” Showalter said. Only five or 10 minutes after getting underway, they saw a roadblock up ahead. The group’s driver – the one Canadian in the group — turned around, but a pickup truck pursued them, and “gang members surrounded the van,” Showalter said. 

He said they were initially crowded into a small 10-by-12 foot room in a house, but were moved around several times during their captivity. “They spent the first night almost sleepless,” said Showalter. 

They were not physically harmed by the kidnappers, he said. The main physical challenges included the heat,

The group walking to freedom after their daring escape.

mosquitoes and contaminated water for bathing, which led some of them to develop “festering sores.” Sometimes the young children got sick. “All of them endured heat, mosquitoes and uncertainty. Sleeping conditions were tight in the barricaded house. Heat was an issue.”

However, officials said everyone appears to have emerged from captivity in good health. “All of them are doing fairly well,” said Troyer. They appeared healthy and happy in the photos and videos of them after their release. 

“Our workers were not on a short-term mission trip,” said Showalter. “They went to Haiti knowing their work would involve risks.

“Our group was not the only group held, and they would sing with them or talk through the walls.” The hostages would sometimes share food and water with other captives.

Although the organization does not intend to abandon the people of Haiti due to the kidnapping, missionary work there will be “paused,” said Showalter. “There will be a pause no doubt.”

They were able to develop relationships with the kidnappers and spoke with the gang leader on several occasions. The guards enjoyed talking to the baby, Showalter said.

“There was intense spiritual warfare in that place,” Showalter read a statement from one of the hostages. “We heard voodoo drums at night and saw overt signs of satanic worship.”

They were threatened on multiple occasions, but none were physically hurt or abused by the kidnappers. 

CAM staff had conference calls with the hostages twice a day. 

Two were released Nov. 20, and “hope was injected into the situation.” Three more were released Dec. 5. 

The adults received small food portions, such as rice and beans for dinner, although the captors provided plenty of baby food for the small children, he said. “They received food each day, but were often hungry.” They also had access to clean drinking water, but it did not taste good and was not plentiful.

The hostages gathered multiple times during the day for prayer and song. They also encouraged the other hostages who were being held for ransom in separate kidnappings, Showalter said.

Over time, the hostages agreed to try to escape, and chose the night of Dec. 15 to flee.

“When they sensed the timing was right, they found a way to open the door that was closed and blocked, filed silently to the path they had chosen to follow, and quickly left the place they were held, despite the fact that numerous guards were close by,” Showalter said. 

Based in Berlin, Ohio, CAM is supported and staffed by conservative Anabaptists, a range of Mennonite, Amish and related groups whose hallmarks include nonresistance to evil, plain dress and separation from mainstream society. 

None of the freed hostages were at the press conference. They came from Amish, Mennonite, and other Anabaptist communities in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Ontario, according to CAM.

After the news conference, a group of CAM employees stood and sang, “Nearer My God to Thee” in the robust, four-part acapella harmony that is a signature of conservative Anabaptist worship.

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