Seventeen American missionaries in Haiti, including children, were kidnapped by a gang on Saturday, reports say. The information comes from a voice message sent to several Christian missions by a person with firsthand knowledge of the incident.
A "prayer alert" from the group asks for people to "pray that the gang members will come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ."
Additionally, a spokesman from the U.S. State Department said they are aware of the allegations and are looking into them.
"The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State. We are aware of these reports and have nothing additional to offer at this time," the spokesman said.
According to the audio recording provided to Christian Aid Ministries, the missionaries were kidnapped while returning from an orphanage visit. Among those kidnapped were seven women, five men, and five children
One guy and his family were recorded as staying at the organization's Haitian facility in Titanyen, which is approximately 12 miles north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital. All of the other members of the team who had gone to the orphanage with them were also kidnapped.
Haitian abduction watchdogs report that a notorious gang known as 400 Mawozo kidnapped the missionaries. 400 Mawozo is well-known for its anti-religious operations and has snatched large swaths of Ganthier, a village east of Port-au-Prince, as a base. Its members have reportedly stepped up their bus and automobile kidnappings in the past months.
Officials in Haiti refused to answer questions on the ongoing talks to release the abducted missionary workers. Abduction watchdogs in Haiti think the abductees are being kept in Croix-des-Bouquets, a town east of the city.
Five priests and two nuns, including French citizens, were abducted by 400 Mawozo in April of this year. They were all ultimately freed. In response to the protests, many Catholic colleges and institutions have shut their doors. After a series of gang-related crimes, including a strike on an orphanage where children were sexually molested, the country's prime minister, Joseph Jouthe, was forced to resign.
According to Charisma News, a deacon was assassinated in front of a church in Port-au-Prince last month and his wife kidnapped, one of numerous abductions in recent months.
A report released last month by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) states that Haiti's National Police has received reports of 328 abduction in the first eight months of 2021, up from 234 in all of 2020.
BINUH's reports stated that "political turmoil, the surge in gang violence, deteriorating socioeconomic conditions-including food insecurity and malnutrition-all contribute to the worsening of the humanitarian situation," adding that "an overstretched and under-resourced police force alone cannot address the security ills of Haiti."
But prior to the recent kidnapping, top U.S. officials reportedly visited Haiti and pledged additional resources for the country's National Police, including $15 million to support them in their effort to control gang violence, which has forced thousands of Haitians from their homes and forced them to live in increasingly unsanitary temporary shelters.
The United Nations Security Council reportedly approved the extension of the U.N. political mission in Haiti on Friday.
Readers are urged to pray for the safety and release of the kidnapped missionaries, and for their safe return to the U.S.