HOLMES COUNTY, Ohio — A group of 17 missionaries, including children, were kidnapped by a gang in Haiti during their mission trip over the weekend.
The missionaries were in Haiti working with Christian Aid Ministries, an organization based in Holmes County, Ohio.
The group includes 16 Americans and one Canadian. Among them are five children, one of whom is just 2 years old.
Haitian police said members of the 400 Mawozo gang kidnapped the group Saturday in Ganthier, a community east of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. The group was on their way back from building an orphanage.
According to the Associated Press, leaders with Christian Aid Ministries sent a voice message to other religious missionaries to alert them of the kidnapping. The voice message asked for prayers that the gang members would come to repentance.
The mission's field director is now working with the U.S. Embassy.
The director's family and another individual with the group were staying at the ministry's base when the kidnapping occurred.
It is unclear if the gang has demanded ransom.
The Christian Aid Ministries' website says that among other services, it provides bible classes, feeds the needy and helps orphans in Haiti and other countries throughout the world.
The organization's 2020 report stated its missionaries returned to their base in Haiti after a 9-month absence due to its political instabilities.
Bishop Gerard Mirbel has been glued to his television screen since he heard the news about the kidnapping.
"They were there to help people," he said.
Mirbel moved to Painesville, Ohio from Haiti when he was 31. Since then, he has dedicated his life's work to leading mission trips back to his home country and helping the people of Haiti whenever he can.
"We had a school, we have an orphanage, we feed the population," he said.
Mirbel said while most Haitians are good, hard-working people, the political unrest and devastation from natural disasters have plagued the country with poverty and an uptick in gang violence.
"It's been tough for Haiti," he said. "Things will not last like this forever."
Mirbel said the missionaries' work for Haiti is essential, but they have to do it safely and know the dangers of certain areas in the country.
"It's important to have security," he said. "I help a lot of people by telling them how to protect themselves. I had a chance to be a director of many missions, and there was no kidnapping, there was no gang violence."
Christian Aid Ministries posted the following statement on its website that read, in part:
"As an organization, we commit this situation to God and trust Him to see us through. May the Lord Jesus be magnified and many more people come to know His love and salvation."
Ohio lawmakers are also offering their support to the organization and those affected by the kidnapping.
Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, issued the following statement.
"We have reached out to Christian Aid Ministries to offer any assistance we can provide," Gibbs said. "We are not commenting on details for the time being. We are ready to work with the appropriate agencies as needed for a peaceful resolution. We urge the Biden administration to ensure the safety of Americans abroad. Congressman Gibbs is praying for everyone's safe release."
"Our office is very concerned but this news and has reached out to the White House, State Department, and Department of Justice for more information," Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in a statement.
This story was originally published by Jessi Schultz on Scripps station WEWS in Cleveland.