By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Worthy News) - Seventeen U.S.-based missionaries kidnapped in Haiti could celebrate Christmas in freedom after most of them miraculously escaped the street gang 400 Mawozo, who held them for two months, a spokesman said.
The missionaries reportedly trekked for up to 10 miles (16 kilometers) by moonlight with a baby and a toddler to escape their kidnappers in Haiti.
The 12 people from Christian Aid Ministries, the Ohio-based mission group, took their chance to slip past guards on December 15-16 and used stars and a mountain to navigate their way.
Weston Showalter, a spokesman for the organization, recalled that “Traveling through woods and thickets, working through thorns and briars, one of the hostages said: ‘two hours were through fierce brambles, we were in gang territory the whole hike.'”
He suggested that God helped the missionaries in a way that resembled a Biblical story on how the people of Israel were guided to the Promised Land.
"The moon provided [the missionaries] light for their path. During times they weren't sure where to go. They stopped, and what do you think they did? They prayed, 'God, show us where to go.'"
A 10-month-old baby girl was wrapped in clothing to protect her, and the group carried the three-year-old boy until dawn. “When they found someone to call the police for them,” he added.
They were flown back to Florida last week on a U.S. coastguard flight. The group was among 17 missionaries abducted at a roadblock after they visited an orphanage in Ganthier, east of the capital Port-au-Prince in October.
Five missionaries were released in subsequent weeks, some of them because of health reasons. Those staying behind prepared for the right time with “God showing the way,” the spokesman added.
Exactly two months into their captivity, they put on their shoes, packing water in their clothes and stacking their mattresses in the corner of the room where they were held.
“When they sensed the timing was right, they found a way to open the door that was closed and blocked,” recalled Showalter.
They “filed silently to the path that they had chosen to follow and quickly left the place that they were held, although numerous heavily armed guards were close by,” he added. After a dangerous walk, interrupted by fervent prayers, they managed to reach safety, the spokesman stressed.
Their escape came after three other missionaries were freed earlier this month, and two were released in November.
All of the hostages — 16 Americans and a Canadian — appeared to be doing “reasonably well,” Christian Aid Ministries officials said.
David Troyer, the organization’s general director, said people had given the group money to pay the $1 million per victim ransom demanded by the gang.
He declined to say whether the organization ultimately paid money to the captors for at least some missionaries. The U.S. government has said that it does not pay ransom for hostages.
The kidnappings drew global attention to the volatility in Haiti, a desperately poor nation battling endemic violence.
Haiti has the world’s highest per capita kidnapping rate and faces a lack of stable political leadership after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July.
The missionaries had gone to Haiti to help rebuild homes and roads and install water systems after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck the country in August.
Their trip turned into tragedy on October 16 as they left an orphanage outside the capital, Port-au-Prince, and saw a roadblock ahead of them. Before they could turn around, members of 400 Mawozo surrounded their van with their vehicles, Showalter said.
The gang members forced them to drive to a small house, where they were placed in an approximately 10-by-12-foot room.
In the weeks that followed, Showalter said, the hostages were relocated several times.
They received essential hygiene items, water, and food, including small amounts of corn mush, scrambled eggs, rice and beans, and baby food.
About halfway through their captivity, the missionaries set up a 24-hour prayer rotation. They talked and sang through the walls to encourage hostages from other groups, Showalter said. They also addressed their captors.
“The hostages spoke to the gang leader on several occasions, boldly reminding him of God and warning him of God’s eventual judgment if he and the gang members continue in their gangs.”
Despite their ordeal, the missionaries “forgave” the gang ahead of Christmas, the spokesman explained. “In our minds and theirs,” Showalter said, “the true hostages are the hostage-takers.”
The ministry group vowed not to stop serving in Haiti. However, its General Director David Troyer said the kidnapping taught that they needed to strengthen their safety protocols. Christian Aid Ministries wants to better inform missionaries about the dangers they face.
However, “While the present conditions in Haiti make it very difficult to operate there, we do not want to abandon the Haitian people at what is perhaps their greatest hour of need,” Troyer explained.