BERLIN, Ohio – After much discussion and prayer, the 12 remaining missionaries held captive in Haiti decided Dec. 15 to escape their captors.
Officials from Christian Aid Ministries outlined the daring plot during a press conference on Monday.
The missionaries were “nudged” by God to attempt an escape, said Weston Showalter, CAM spokesperson. Despite the danger, the group banned together and put their plans in God’s hands, he said.
The group prepared by putting on their shoes and packing water in their clothes. They found a way to slip out of the room they were being held in despite the blocked door. With guards all around, the group got out quickly and headed toward a mountain they saw in the distance.
After walking for hours through bush and brambles and as dawn approached, the group came upon a person who helped them call for help.
During the press conference, CAM shared photographs of the 17 missionaries who were taken by members of the 400 Mawozo gang on Oct. 16, a short time after visiting an orphanage.
The gang had demanded $17 million for the safe return of the hostages. On Nov. 21, two of the 17 hostages were released.
Two weeks later on Dec. 5, three more of the hostages were let go, with the last of the 12 hostages freed Dec. 16, two months after the kidnappings.
In the photos, the group, including 12 adults and five kids, can be seen smiling. A father, who was not kidnapped, joined members of his family who were part of the kidnapped group for the photo.
Other photos show a smiling 10-month-old girl and a 3-year-old boy reading a book.
Showalter said the children appeared to have been well cared for by their captors.
He spent some time with the group over the weekend, saying it was nice to see the kids playing and reading books despite their ordeal.
The group remained strong and relied on each other to keep up their spirits, singing and praying.
“They are very resilient,” he said. “They faced a lot. It hasn’t been easy.”
Their faith – and the prayers of their loved ones and people around the world – carried them through the ordeal, he said.
What happened in Haiti?
Christian Aid Ministries said they have been working in Haiti for three decades, offering programs that minister to both the physical and spiritual needs of people there.
Christian Aid Ministries Director David Troyer said missionaries from the organization provide aid and spiritual guidance in a number of places that are dangerous, including Haiti. They understand the potential danger.
“If we only go where it’s safe we would stay at home,” Troyer said.
The kidnapping has forced officials to reexamine their safety protocols, he said, adding that trips to the country may take a pause but they will return to help the Haitian people.
“We can not abandon them in their greatest time of need,” Troyer said. “We want Haitians to flourish economically and spiritually.”
The group, all of which have signed multi-year commitments to minister in Haiti included 12 adults ranging in age from 18 to 48, and five children, ages 8 months (at the time of the incident), 3, 6, 13 and 15 years old.
They were invited to visit an orphanage supported by Christian Aid Ministries, he said.
Troyer said the group had been looking forward to the visit as they like to get out in the community and meet the people.
“(They) reported it was a calm, beautiful Saturday when they gathered to pray before heading out,” he said. “They enjoyed their day at the orphanage.”
After spending about three hours talking with the orphans, the group headed back to the base camp.
About five to 10 minutes from the orphanage, they saw a road block up ahead and attempted to turn around, but a pick up truck cut them off.
They were surrounded by gang members with a vehicle blocking the missionaries van from the front and another in the back.
The Canadian staff member was driving the van, Troyer said, dispelling rumors that a Haitian national was with the group.
Gang members sped away from the area with the missionaries’ van in tow.
At some point, upset with the speed at which the missionary driver was traveling, the gang members removed the driver from the van. He was later reunited with the group when they arrived at the small house they would be held in.
The group was ushered into a 10-foot by 12-foot room. The room has some mattresses but there wasn’t enough room for the captives to lay down and sleep.
Besides the tight sleeping quarters, the group endured mosquitos and the Caribbean heat.
Over time the group developed a daily routine that included singing and praying.
In the morning they spent hours in prayer. Around 1 p.m. they focused their prayers on deliverance.
Their captors allowed them to go outside daily.
Showalter said gang members provided them with a Haitian breakfast of spaghetti and half of a boiled egg. Sometimes receiving corn mush or scrambled eggs to eat, the group welcomed the change.
For dinner, they ate rice and beans. On Thanksgiving, they had Haitian stew, Showalter said, adding some even enjoyed it.
But one hostage was having a difficult time that day. He wrote a letter to his family not knowing if he would see them again.
At times, the captives had access to coconuts. They enjoyed the white meat inside and the coconut water. The captors provided clean drinking water along with meals, but Showalter said the portions were never enough.
While the adult missionaries were sometimes left hungry, their captors provided large amount of baby food.
“Babies are precious to everyone,” he said adding the guards enjoyed playing with the baby.
They also provided some hygiene items including toothbrushes, toilet paper and water to bathe although the water was contaminated. Some missionaries suffered sores after insect bites became infected after using the dirty water, he said. The children did experience some sickness.
The gang members provided fans to allow the captives to cool themselves for portions of the day.
While their safety was threatened, none of the detained suffered any physical abuse.
Throughout the two months, the group spoke to others being held captive. They talked through the walls and the others joined in song and prayer with the group.
United in prayer
Several times, the group had discussed escaping their captors.
They could not agree on when and how, Showalter said. Finally, they agreed upon several specific things that would need to occur in order for them to attempt an escape.
They would look for a sign from God to ensure it was the right time to seek their freedom. Twice, they were provided with signs to stay put, he said.
Finally, one hostage felt God was calling them to make a break and the group united in the plan. Showalter said the missionaries believe that was the greatest miracle they experienced. They had been unable to come together to agree on a plan but God finally brought them together.
On Dec. 15 they planned to escape with God guiding them along the way.
A married couple, four single men, two single women and four children, including the baby and 3-year-old boy, slipped out of their prison in the dark of the night.
“At times they felt God prepared a path before them,” he said. “God was leading them.”
Breaking down in tears for the second time during the press conference, Showalter shared the group was finally free.
“Thanks be to God,” he said.
The group was flown by the Coast Guard to Florida where they reunited with other hostages. By tomorrow, all hostages will be reunited with their families.
“They faced fear and danger,” Showalter said. “They did what they could to encourage each other.”
The power of prayer
While the missionaries were praying for their safety and release, at home and across the world others were joining together to pray for the same things.
“Your prayers played a big part in all of the hostages being reunited with their loved ones,” Showalter said.
A multitude of people worldwide sent well wishes and encouragement to the families of the hostages, Troyer said.
“There is power in prayer,” he said adding the missionaries shared with their captors if they repented they could be saved.
From day one the kidnappers demanded $17 million for the safe return of the missionaries. Troyer said they spend many intense hours grappling over how to bring their to a non-violent end.
People provided funding to help free the hostages, but Troyer did not indicate how much or if they paid a ransom. He said he couldn’t not provide any further information about the negotiations.
Troyer thanked not only those who prayed for their safe return but also the United States government and the news media.
Despite the ordeal, Troyer reports the kidnapped missionaries have fond memories of their visit to the orphanage and they are hoping their captors will find the power of God’s love.
Showalter said the group chooses to forgive the gang members.
“In their mind, the true hostages are those who took them,” he said. “Our prayer is they hostage-takers be transformed. We choose to extend forgiveness to them. We would love for them to become brothers in Christ.”
Reach Amyon Twitter: @aknappINDE