Oregon missionary home in Madras after escaping kidnappers in Haiti – OregonLive

Austin Smucker, the first man standing to the left, poses for a photo with other Mennonite missionaries before their kidnapping in Haiti.
An Oregon man is back home in Madras after he and a band of Christian missionaries escaped their kidnappers in Haiti and returned to the U.S.
Austin Smucker arrived home Monday after being held captive by the fearsome 400 Mawozo gang, who kidnapped him and 16 other Mennonite missionaries as they left a rural orphanage east of Haiti’s capital on Oct. 16.
Smucker’s mother told the Madras Pioneer her 27-year-old son was “physically well” but had lost weight during his two months in captivity.
“He’s home but very tired. He needs time to recuperate,” Laura Smucker told the newspaper.
Leaders of the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said during a Monday news conference that they had raised money for a ransom, but negotiations broke down. The missionaries then took matters into their own hands after realizing “God was calling them to leave,” said Weston Showalter, a spokesperson for the ministry.
“They made plans as they could, but ultimately placed themselves in God’s hands,” Showalter said during the news conference.
Showalter said the missionaries packed up water, stacked their few mattresses in a corner of their cell and broke through a loose door before hiking as many as 10 miles, using a nearby mountain and the light of the moon to navigate through clearings and thickets.
“Yes, there were times when there were thick brambles,” Showalter said. “But at other times it felt like God had prepared a path before them.”
Members of the group, which included a 10-month-old baby and three other children, had entertained themselves by singing church songs and quoting chapter and verse from memory while in captivity, as they did not have access to a Bible, Showalter said.
Ministry leaders declined to discuss if they paid any ransom or say precisely why the kidnappers stopped communicating. The gang had raised the price of the missionaries’ freedom to $17 million, or $1 million per person, prior to the harrowing escape, the Miami Herald reported.
Laura Smucker told the Madras Pioneer that her son and his four siblings grew up in Poland, where they were part of another Mennonite mission. Her son was in Haiti, which has been wracked by earthquakes and the assassination of its president, for a six-month tour rebuilding homes.
The U.S. Coast Guard airlifted the group to Miami, the newspaper reported.
“I don’t think this would hinder (his mission work) in the future,” Laura Smucker told the newspaper.
— Zane Sparling; zsparling@oregonian.com; 503-319-7083; @pdxzane
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