Diaspora

Remaining 12 missionaries hatched daring escape from Haitian captors – Wooster Daily Record

BERLIN –  After much discussion and prayer, the 12 remaining missionaries from an Ohio-based group decided on a brazen plan to escape their Haitian captors.
Officials from Holmes County-based Christian Aid Ministries outlined the daring Dec. 15 plot during a press conference on Monday and offered new insight into the group’s ordeal.
More:Christian Aid Ministries: Released kidnapped victims ‘seem to be doing reasonably well’
The missionaries were “nudged” by God to attempt an escape, said Weston Showalter, CAM spokesperson. The group banded together and put their plans in God’s hands despite the danger, he said.
The group prepared by putting on their shoes and packing water in their clothes. They found a way to slip out of the room where they were being held despite the blocked door. With guards all around, the group got out quickly and headed toward a mountain they saw in the distance.
After walking for hours through bush and brambles, the group came upon a person who helped them call for help as dawn approached. 
During the press conference, CAM shared photographs of the 17 missionaries taken by members of the 400 Mawozo gang on Oct. 16, a short time after visiting an orphanage.
The group, including 12 adults and five kids, can be seen smiling in the photos. A father, who was not kidnapped, joined members of his family who were part of the kidnapped group for the picture.
Other photos show a smiling 10-month-old and a 3-year-old boy reading a book. 
Showalter said the children appeared to have been well cared for by their captors. 
He spent some time with the group over the weekend, saying it was nice to see the kids playing and reading books after their ordeal.
The group remained strong and relied on each other to keep up their spirits, singing and praying.
“They are very resilient,” he said. “They faced a lot. It hasn’t been easy.”
Their faith – and the prayers of their loved ones and people around the world – carried them through the ordeal, he said.
Christian Aid Ministries has been working in Haiti for three decades, offering programs that minister to both the physical and spiritual needs of people there.
Director David Troyer said its missionaries provide aid and guidance in a number of dangerous locations, including Haiti. 
“If we only go where it’s safe, we would stay at home,” Troyer said. 
The kidnapping has prompted officials to reexamine safety protocols, he said, adding that trips to the country may take a pause but they will return to help the Haitian people.
“We cannot abandon them in their greatest time of need,” Troyer said. “We want Haitians to flourish economically and spiritually.”
The group, all of whom have signed multi-year commitments to minister in Haiti, included 12 adults ranging in age from 18 to 48, and five children, ages 8 months (at the time of the incident), 3, 6, 13 and 15 years old.
They were invited to visit an orphanage supported by Christian Aid Ministries, he said.
The gang had demanded millions for the safe return of the hostages.
On Nov. 21, two of the 17 hostages were released. Two weeks later on Dec. 5, three more of the hostages were let go, with the last of the 12 hostages escaping Dec. 15, two months after the kidnappings.
Troyer said the group had been looking forward to the orphanage visit as they like to get out in the community and meet the people.
“(They) reported it was a calm, beautiful Saturday when they gathered to pray before heading out,” he said. “They enjoyed their day at the orphanage.”
According to details at Monday’s news conference:
After spending about three hours talking with the orphans, the group headed back to base camp.
Minutes later they saw a road block and tried to turn around, but a truck cut off their path. They were surrounded by gang members with vehicles blocking their van in both directions.
The Canadian CAM staff member was driving the van, Troyer said, dispelling rumors that a Haitian national was with the group.
Gang members sped away from the area with the missionaries’ van in tow.
At some point, upset with the speed and driving of the missionary driver, they removed the driver. He was later reunited with the group when they arrived at the small house where they would be held captive.
The group stayed in a 10-by-12 room. It had some mattresses but there wasn’t enough room for the captives to lie down and sleep.
Besides the tight sleeping quarters, the group endured mosquitoes and the Caribbean heat. Over time the group developed a daily routine of prayer and singing.
Their captors allowed them to go outside daily.
Showalter said gang members provided them with a Haitian breakfast spaghetti and half of a boiled egg.  Sometimes receiving corn mush or scrambled eggs to eat, a welcome change.
They ate rice and beans for dinner. On Thanksgiving, they had Haitian stew, Showalter said adding some even enjoyed it.
The captors provided clean drinking water along with meals, but Showalter said the portions were never enough. 
While the adult missionaries were sometimes left hungry, their captors provided a large amount of baby food.
“Babies are precious to everyone,” he said, adding the guards enjoyed playing with the baby.
They also provided some hygiene items, including toothbrushes, toilet paper and water to bathe, although the water was contaminated. Some missionaries suffered sores from infected insect bites after using the dirty water, he said. The children did experience some sickness.
The gang members provided fans.
While their safety was threatened, none of the detained suffered any physical abuse.
Throughout the two months, the group spoke to others held captive. They talked through the walls and the others joined in song and prayer.
Several times, the group had discussed escaping but could not agree on when and how, Showalter said. Eventually, they agreed on several specific things that needed to occur in order for them to seek freedom.
They would look for a sign from God to ensure it was the right time. Twice, they were provided with signs to stay put, he said.
Finally, one hostage felt God was calling them to make a break and the group united behind the plan. Showalter said the missionaries believe it was the greatest miracle they experienced. 
A married couple, four single men, two single women and four children – including the baby and 3-year-old, slipped out in the dark of the night.
“At times they felt God prepared a path before them,” he said. “God was leading them.” 
Breaking down in tears for the second time during the press conference, Showalter shared the group was finally free.
“Thanks be to God,” he said. 
The group was flown by the Coast Guard to Florida, where they reunited with other hostages. By Tuesday, all hostages will be reunited with their families. 
“They faced fear and danger,” Showalter said. “They did what they could to encourage each other.”
More:Christian Aid Ministries: Released kidnapped victims ‘seem to be doing reasonably well’
More:‘We glorify God for answered prayer:’ Ohio-based group says all Haiti hostages freed
Donors provided funding to help free the hostages, but Troyer did not indicate how much or if they paid a ransom. He said he could not provide any further information about the negotiations.
Troyer thanked not only those who prayed for their safe return but also the United States government and the news media.
Despite their ordeal, Troyer said, the kidnapped missionaries have fond memories of their visit to the orphanage and are hoping their captors will find the power of God’s love. 
Showalter said the group chooses to forgive.
“In their mind, the true hostages are those who took them,” he said. “Our prayer is (that the) hostage-takers be transformed. We choose to extend forgiveness to them. We would love for them to become brothers in Christ.”
Reach Amy at 330-775-1135 or amy.knapp@indeonline.com
On Twitter: @aknappINDE

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