On October 16, members of the 400 Mawozo gang abducted 17 missionaries from the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries near the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.
A bus carrying the 12 adults and 5 children — including an 8-month-old baby — was hijacked as it made its way home from an orphanage outside Port-au-Prince.
The leader of the 400 Mawozo gang — a violent group with a history of killings, kidnappings, and extortion — threatened to kill his captives if his demands are not met, which include the payment of $1,000,000 for each of them.
Following the release of a video message of the gang leader, Christian Aid Ministries issued a statement asking supporters for prayers and outreach to the victims' families.
“You may wonder why our workers chose to live in a difficult and dangerous context, despite the apparent risks,” the statement said. “Before leaving for Haiti, our workers who are now being held hostage expressed a desire to faithfully serve God in Haiti.”
“Pray that their commitment to God could become even stronger during this difficult experience,” Christian Aid Ministries said.
Haitian Bishop Pierre-Andre Dumas of the Catholic diocese of Anse-a-Veau and Miragoane has appealed directly to the kidnappers, asking for mercy and reminding them they will have to answer to God for their actions.
“I learned with great dismay and horror the sad news of the kidnapping,” Bishop Dumas said in his October 19 appeal on social media. “My heart as a shepherd of souls remains deeply shaken by this wicked and hateful act which continues to debase once again the already too tarnished image of our beautiful and dear wounded country of Haiti, and to mortgage our ancestors' ideal of freedom, of fraternity, and of equality.”
The bishop pleaded with the kidnappers “to show some humanity, to have mercy on these foreign aid workers who came to help build an orphanage for poor Haitian children and orphans, and to unconditionally release these innocent victims, who include women and small children.”
“I appeal to the fundamental goodness that was placed into the heart of each of you by the Creator,” Dumas added, noting that they “will certainly have to answer one day before God, before their conscience, and before the court of history for their unworthy and inhuman acts committed against their brothers and sisters in humanity.”
Haiti has been in political and social turmoil since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7, as rival factions vie with one another for power. The impoverished island nation was then struck by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake in August, which killed more than 2,200 people.
Criminal gangs have exploited the chaos to raise money from ransom payments from kidnappings and Haiti now has one of the highest rates of abductions in the world.