MILLERSBURG, Ohio – The audacious abduction of U.S. missionaries and their family members as they left an orphanage outside Port-au-Prince has brought the political strife sweeping across Haiti home to this quiet Ohio town.
Seventeen people – seven women, five men, five children, all Americans except one Canadian – were seized Saturday in the community of Ganthier east of the capital, the Millersburg-based Christian Aid Ministries said.
“We are seeking God’s direction for a resolution, and authorities are seeking ways to help,” the missionary group said in a statement.
Jen Psaki (White House Press Secretary) said Monday that the FBI, State Department and other agencies are trying to free the hostages. According to Jen Psaki, President Joe Biden is being kept informed and receives regular updates.
Psaki stated that the FBI was part of an effort by U.S. governments to bring Americans to safety. “We are not going to go into too much detail on that but can confirm their engagement.”
Psaki stated that the U.S. Embassy was “providing support to the families in order to resolve the problem.”
The kidnapping was the work of the 400 Mawozo gang, which controls the area where the attack took place, Haitian police say. The gang – whose name loosely translates from Creole to “400 unskilled,” or “400 inexperienced” – was blamed for the kidnapping of five priests and two nuns in April.
The gang demanded $1 million as ransom in that instance. Authorities did not specify whether ransom had been paid, although all seven prisoners were freed.
A wanted poster was issued by the Haitian Police for Wilson Joseph on murder, attempted murder and theft of vehicles carrying goods.
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It was not clear why the gang would target Christian Aid Ministries. Aid groups in Haiti often rely on guarantees of safe passage from gang leaders who issue public assurances for aid workers. However, kidnappings have increased alarmingly due to the collapse of government control.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R- Ill., told CNN the U.S. should negotiate with the kidnappers but not pay ransom.
“We need to track down where they are and see if negotiations – without paying ransom – are possible,” he said. Or do what we have to, whether it’s on a police or military front.
Christian Aid Ministries includes Amish, Mennonite and other conservative and Baptist denominations and has worked in Haiti as part of its global mission “to minister to physical and spiritual needs.” Workers returned to Haiti last year after staying away for nine months because of safety concerns stemming from gang violence.
About 3,000 residents call Millersburg home, located 65 miles from Cleveland. Resident James Beachy, 59, said his family and others volunteer at Christian Aid Ministries, sorting clothes or funneling donations.
Beachy stated that “they do a tremendous job in Haiti, Third World countries to aid people.” “We’re just glad to be a part of people who can help.”
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The ministry was established as a charity in 1981 and received federal tax-exempt status the next year. Recent financial reports claimed that the ministry provides annual service for over 14 million people living in 133 different countries. The charity supports three programs that total more than $100 millions annually.
The Medicines-For-Multitudes program, spending $57.3 million, distributes medicines and medical supplies to 380 sites in Eastern Europe, Liberia, Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and other parts of the world.
The Bibles-for the-World program – $39 million – translates, prints and distributes Bibles and biblical literature to needy families, the elderly and others. The Clothing Bundle Project – $10 million – ships used clothing, footwear and comforters around the world to impoverished and war-torn countries such as Nigeria, Ukraine, Nicaragua, Syria and more.
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Haiti is the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country and could use your help. President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated at his home in July. In August, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake killed more than 2,200 people and destroyed more than 130,000 homes, along with roads and other infrastructure. The country was hit by Tropical Storm Grace, which flooded the country with up to 10 inches of rainfall and caused widespread flooding.
Just last week, Christian Aid Ministries blogged about a struggling Haitian student, an under-resourced educator and the humanitarian organization’s Haiti-Sponsor-A-Child School Program. The group claims that donations to the program will provide books, school supplies, and warm meals for 9430 students attending 52 Haitian schools.
In Haiti, local unions and other organizations were launching strikes Monday to protest the nation’s rampant kidnappings and violence. Méhu Changeux, president of Haiti’s Association of Owners and Drivers, told radio station Magik9 the work stoppage would continue until the government could guarantee people’s safety.
“Everyone is concerned,” he said. “They’re kidnapping from all social classes.”
Sunday was a day when the U.S. State Department declared that it is in close contact with Haitian officials, and will work together to secure freedom for hostages.
“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” the agency said in a statement.
Bacon was based in Arlington, Va. Doug Livingston contributes to the article. Akron Beacon Journal; The Associated Press
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