Missionaries have longtime ties to Haiti, aim to 'serve our fellow man' despite dangers – Wooster Daily Record

BERLIN – Christian Aid Ministries’ tradition of helping the less fortunate in other countries dates back 40 years.
The organization began its work in 1981, distributing Christian literature to children in communist Romania.
Its efforts later grew to other impoverished nations like Haiti, where 17 of the group’s missionaries, including children, were kidnapped by a gang and remain captive.
The turn of events shocked many. But agencies like CAM and organizations like it aim to help others and “serve our fellow man.”
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It’s a basic tenet, according to Marcus Yoder, executive director of the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center and the Ohio Amish Library in Berlin.
And many of the CAM workers have devoted themselves to Haiti, said spokesman Weston Showalter.
“This might shed some clarity on why our staff chose to move to Haiti, despite the apparent risks involved,” he told The Daily Record on Tuesday. “These workers, for the most part, were long-term staff members in Haiti and were not on a short-term mission trip … . Most of them actually have been living in Haiti for some time.”
Yoder is active in preaching, teaching and writing in the Mennonite Church. He has a master’s degree in the history of Christianity from Yale University.
The Mennonite community, he said, is known for mutual aid and caring for each other, noting “it is less about what we say and more about how we live.”
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In his book, “Cathedrals, Castles and Caves: The Origin of the Anabaptist Faith,” he shares that the Anabaptist faith traces its roots to the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s in Europe around Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
Among the Anabaptist groups still present are mainly the Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites.
In 1981, Christian Aid Ministries was known as Christian Aid for Romania, Showalter said.
“Soon after, God opened doors to provide food parcels to Romanian families struggling under persecution and poverty. Over the years, as concerned churches and individuals shared their support, more doors opened to begin bases of operation, not only in Romania, but also in Moldova, Ukraine, Haiti, Nicaragua, Liberia and various other locations.
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The group has another day of prayer and fasting planned today as it continues to “work toward the release of our workers in Haiti,” a statement posted Tuesday on its website reads.
The organization also has canceled an open house that was to be held Nov. 4-6 at its Ephrata, Pa. location because of the Haiti kidnappings.
“Occasionally we are asked why our workers were in Haiti. Why travel to dangerous places? Why not let these countries take care of their own issues,” the statement reads. It goes on to explain the ministry wants to help make the world a better place.
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“God desires a world where the hungry are fed, abandoned orphans are cared for, and where lonely refugees are provided for,” it states. “… We go to places like Haiti because we have found Jesus and His teachings to be the answer for our own lives and we want others to enjoy the joy, peace, and redemption we have experienced in the kingdom of God.”
The Holmes County community, where CAM is headquartered, has united through the kidnapping crisis. The county has one of the largest Amish settlements in the world and a large Mennonite population.
One of the models of Mennonite missions is Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which began in the 1920s, according to Yoder.
“Their first relief efforts were to feed starving refugees who were being pushed out of Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution,” he said. “One of the aid workers was captured by Red forces, and actually died in Russian army camps.”
He added there is a long history in Mennonite circles to take the love of Christ to the world, and Christian Aid Ministries is modeled after some of those early aid organizations.
Because Haiti is in the backyard of the United States and has many needs, it has became a popular destination for missionaries.
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“Back in the 1980s and ’90s, when many of these efforts began, Haiti was easy to get to,” Yoder said. “And there is a great deal of poverty, and we, as a people have always been good at addressing those needs when we are able.”
According to Showalter, CAM began its work in 1981, distributing Christian literature to children in communist Romania.
“Over the years, as concerned churches and individuals shared their support, more doors opened to begin bases of operation, not only in Romania, but also in Moldova, Ukraine, Haiti, Nicaragua, Liberia, and various other locations,” he said. “CAM’s purpose is to provide a trustworthy and efficient channel for Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist groups and individuals to minister to physical and spiritual needs around the world.”
More than 100 people gathered Sunday in a small Michigan town to pray for the safe release of a local family among 17 members of a missionary group kidnapped by a gang in Haiti more than a week ago.
The vigil in the western Michigan community of Hart took place after a video was released Thursday showing the leader of the 400 Mawozo gang threatening to kill those abducted if his demands are not met. Haitian officials have said the gang is seeking $1 million ransom per person.
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Those at Sunday’s vigil in a town park sang and prayed with pastors from several area churches for the safety of the missionaries.
Among those kidnapped were four children and one of their parents from a family in Hart, a town near Lake Michigan about 200 miles (321.87 kilometers) northwest of Detroit, their pastor told The Detroit News. The youngest from the family is under 10, said minister Ron Marks, who did not identify them. They arrived in Haiti earlier this month, he said.
Anabaptist comes from the Greek word Ana, which means again. A distinctive tenet is adult baptism, which involves the public confession of sin and faith, sealed by a baptism. They also share a unique view that church and state are separate entities, which, with their different beliefs about baptism, led to persecution.
“Church members were called to take the Gospel of Christ out into the world they were in and the worlds they moved in,” Yoder said.
News:Haiti gang leader threatens to kill 17 kidnapped missionaries, family members if demands not met
The Mennonites escaped religious persecution by coming to America in the 1680s, and more than 100,000 Germans emigrated to Pennsylvania in the early 18th century, becoming known as Pennsylvania Dutch.
Formal missions began in the 1800s among the Mennonite churches, sending missionaries to Africa.
A missionary is a member of a religious group sent into an area to promote their faith or perform ministries of service, such as education, literacy, social justice, health care and economic development.
Showalter said CAM targets areas “with deep economic and spiritual needs,” and steers its resources there. “We have bases in various countries, but also work through a network of contacts around the world that we have established over the years.”
CAM reacts to a crisis such as an earthquake, said Showalter, or, in some cases, will establish a base in some countries where there’s an ongoing need.
Christian Aid Ministries has a camp in Titanyen, Haiti because of it’s close proximity to the U.S. and the extreme poverty.
Holmes County Commissioner Joe Miller believes continued prayer for the victims can only help.
“The more we knock on heaven’s door, the better the chances are that God will hear our prayers,” Miller said.
Larry Hasemeyer, pastor of Gateway Fellowship in Millersburg, encourages the community to continue coming together in prayer.
“It is in times like this that we come together as a community of like precious faith,” Hasemeyer said. “Praying in faith and love is no small thing.”
Showalter said day after day, families of those held hostage face uncertainty and long for the return of their loved ones.
“We would like to create a channel through which people can bless them,” he said.
CAM has set up a message line where people can send encouraging words to family members and share prayers or personal stories of faith. Messages can be sent to: prayers@christianaidministries.org.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Reach Kevin at klynch@the-daily-record.com


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