Diaspora

Faith groups curb Haiti work due to chaos, 2021 kidnapping – Kearney Hub

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A manager at the Christian Aid Ministries headquarters, left, speaks with a worker on Nov. 21, 2021, at the door of the center in Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. A year after 17 North American missionaries were kidnapped in Haiti, Christian Aid Ministries, the agency that sent them hasn’t made a permanent return, and several other international groups have also scaled back their work there. 
A year after 17 North American missionaries were kidnapped in Haiti, beginning a two-month ordeal before they ultimately went free, the agency that sent them hasn’t made a permanent return, and several other international groups have also scaled back their work there.
The kidnapping underscored a deteriorating security situation that has worsened in the past year, with Haitian leaders calling for foreign troop deployments to help break the paralyzing grip of gang activity and protests.
The missionary group, including five minors ranging from an infant to teens, was abducted Oct. 16, 2021, while returning from a visit to an orphanage supported by their organization, Christian Aid Ministries.
It was the largest kidnapping of its kind in recent years, though hundreds of abductions have targeted Haitian nationals and drawn scant international attention.
The hostage-takers from the notorious 400 Mawozo gang demanded $1 million ransom for each victim, CAM says. After two were released for medical reasons and three others ransomed by a third party for an undisclosed amount, the remaining 12 went free Dec. 16 after what they described as an overnight escape.
The standoff came just a few months after a presidential assassination and an earthquake that killed and injured thousands.
Currently, basic supplies such as fuel and water have dwindled since a powerful gang seized control of a main fuel terminal in the capital, Port-au-Prince. Demonstrators have blocked roads to protest a spike in fuel prices, and gas stations and schools have closed.
Some North American workers from CAM have visited Haiti in the last year, “checking up on things as they’re able,” spokesman Weston Showalter said. But there’s no timetable for a permanent return.
“It seems like things are more difficult there than ever,” he said, adding that Haitian staff work is also hindered by the crisis.
The kidnapped missionaries included 16 Americans and one Canadian. Christian Aid Ministries, based in Berlin, Ohio, draws support from conservative Mennonite, Amish, Brethren and related groups. The agency, which has worked in Haiti since the 1980s, is weighing the lessons of 2021.
“We’ve become hypersensitive to the risk,” Showalter said. “So especially the matter of women and children being present there, I would say that is a big matter of discussion.”
Other faith-based agencies are also struggling to respond to Haiti’s plight.
“There’s not a clear path forward,” said Alex Morse, deputy regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean for Church World Service, a partnership of more than 30 Christian denominations and communions in the U.S. that provides development assistance and disaster relief worldwide.
As of August, CWS decided to operate its remaining programs in Haiti with only local staff — agriculture and food security programs in the northwest, housing construction and social support for children in the southwest.
Morse worked in the country after a devastating earthquake in 2011 and recalls that many Haitians found resilience in their belief in God.
It’s different now.
“I’m hearing people saying they’ve lost hope,” he said. “People who used to be quick to turn to their faith — we’re hearing less of that.”
Patrick Nelson, a Haitian who is CWS’s top representative in the country, said children and students “want to be in school and studying right now, taking courses, but schools and universities are closed.”
However, he said people are discouraged but not despairing.
“If people didn’t have faith in God or hope that things could be different in Haiti, they wouldn’t be in the streets demanding change,” Nelson said via email.
One of CWS’s members is the Church of the Brethren, which has offered programs for more than 20 years in Haiti and has 30 congregations there. It had a main base in Croix-des-Bouquets, near Port-au-Prince, but the area has been an epicenter of gang activity, according to Jeffrey Boshart, manager of the church’s Global Food Initiative.
Earlier this year one of the program’s drivers was kidnapped — though later released — and his vehicle stolen, Boshart said, prompting the church to suspend all its activities in the Port-au-Prince region. The remaining programs, involving agriculture, drinking water and home construction, are mostly in rural areas far from the capital and staffed entirely by Haitians, he added.
Boshart said the church also has sharply curtailed a mobile medical clinic program because several of the Haitian doctors who participated have fled to the U.S.
Catholic Relief Services has more than 200 staff members in the country, almost all of them Haitian, but they’ve largely been working remotely. Many of their educational and health care outreaches are on hold.
“Roads are blocked, and they can’t get on the road to go to the office,” said Akim Kikonda, the CRS country representative. “There is no gas to drive their cars, and in some cases there is no internet at the office.”
He added: “You can imagine our frustration … when we see the needs are greater than they have ever been, but we are unable to go meet those needs.”
He hopes that international supporters will rally behind Haiti.
“Haiti has been close to the edge so many times and has always been able to come back,” Kikonda said. “This time I’m seeing a very difficult and challenging situation, hoping there is a light, but personally I can’t see it yet.”
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A manager at the Christian Aid Ministries headquarters, left, speaks with a worker on Nov. 21, 2021, at the door of the center in Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. A year after 17 North American missionaries were kidnapped in Haiti, Christian Aid Ministries, the agency that sent them hasn’t made a permanent return, and several other international groups have also scaled back their work there. 
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