Three weeks before a notorious Haitian gang kidnapped 17 missionaries visiting an orphanage outside Port-au-Prince on Oct. 16, armed gunmen attacked the morning worship service of First Baptist Church in the capital city’s downtown.
As shots flew near the front gate, Haitian church members ducked under pews and bolted for safety. The assailants shot a 60-year-old deacon as he tried to protect his wife from abduction. The gang fled with the 59-year-old wife, and her husband later died from his injuries.
It’s the kind of attack that would have been surprising just a few years ago. Though Haiti has suffered long from danger and violence, churches were often considered safe zones—or at least safer zones.
That perceived protection is vanishing as spiraling gang violence and frequent abductions put everyone in the potential crosshairs. “In some cases they go after influential people,” a missionary in Port-au-Prince told WORLD. “But now they’re just grabbing anybody.”
On Oct. 16, members of a Haitian gang known as 400 Mawozo grabbed 16 Americans and one Canadian associated with Christian Aid Ministries—an Ohio-based organization founded by members of the Mennonite and Amish communities. Abductees included six men, six women, and five children. The group said the youngest child is 8 months old.
Haitian authorities said the gang demanded a $17 million ransom. FBI agents were working to assist with negotiations, though it was unlikely the kidnappers would successfully obtain such an enormous payout.
Christian Aid Ministries offers Bible studies, medical assistance, and other practical help. The group began as an outreach to Romania in 1981 but grew into a multicountry effort, with some 100 field staffers in countries around the world, according to its most recent annual report.
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