The 17 missionaries and family members kidnapped Oct. 16 in Haiti are from six states including Wisconsin and Canada. One family is from Rusk County. They attend Shiloh Mennonite Church southwest of Conrath.
Information about the hostage’s state residency was revealed last week, Thursday, during a news conference where Weston Showalter, a spokesman for the non-profit Christian Aid Ministries in Ohio addressed the media and shared a letter from families of the hostage victims.
The ages of the adults being held captive range from 18 to 48. The ages of the children are 8 months, 3 years, 6 years, 13 years and 15 years. These families are from Amish, Mennonite and other conservative Anabaptist communities in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Ontario, Canada. They continue to band together and support each other with prayers and encouragement during this difficult time. Times of difficulty have a way of bringing people together. Pray for these families.
Dan Korver, the father of a Rusk County man being held hostage with his wife and two children, said in a phone interview officials have asked him not to comment.
“We’ve basically been instructed to keep it as quiet as we can,” he said. “At this point we are kind of waiting quietly.”
Ryan, Melodi, Andre and Laura Korver are among the hostages in Haiti.
“They are part of the 17,” Dan Korver said.
He acknowledged social media comments being made locally regarding the hostages and his family.
“They feel like it is best if there is less news rather than more for the investigations, negotiations and so forth,” Dan Korver said.
He declined further comment.
The leader of the 400 Mawozo gang that police say is holding the missionary group members is seen in a video, also released last week, Thursday, saying he will kill them if he doesn’t get what he’s demanding. The video posted on social media shows Wilson Joseph dressed in a blue suit, carrying a blue hat and wearing a large cross around his neck.
“I swear by thunder that if I don’t get what I’m asking for, I will put a bullet in the heads of these Americans,” he said in the video.
The gang has become infamous in Haiti for mass kidnappings, including the abduction of several Catholic priests and nuns earlier this year.
The church’s news conference in Berlin came before someone posted the video of the gang leader, who also threatened Haiti Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the chief of Haiti’s National Police, Léon Charles, as he spoke in front of the open coffins that apparently held several members of his gang who were recently killed.
“You guys make me cry. I cry water. But I’m going to make you guys cry blood,” he said.
The 400 Mawozo gang has asked for $17 million total, apparently $1 million for each hostage, according to published news reports.
The victims, who were on a mission trip sponsored by the nonprofit ministry were taken Saturday, Oct. 16, when their vehicle was hijacked at gunpoint outside Port-au-Prince, while on their way to the airport after working at an orphanage that receives support from Christian Aid Ministries.
Before the kidnapping, their work throughout Haiti included supporting thousands of needy school children, distributing Bibles and Christian literature, supplying medicines for numerous clinics, teaching Haitian pastors, and providing food for the elderly and vulnerable, according to Christian Aid Ministries. In recent months, they were actively involved in coordinating a rebuilding project for those who lost their homes in the August 2021 earthquake.
“They continue to band together and support each other with prayers and encouragement during this difficult time,” Showalter said. “It’s amazing how times of difficulty have a way of bringing people together.”
He also read a letter from the victims’ families that asked for continued prayers for their release.
The letter states in part, “God has given our loved ones the unique opportunity to live out our lord’s command to love our enemies.”
The congregation observed a special day of prayer and fasting on Thursday, Oct. 21, praying for “our workers, loved ones that are being held hostage in Haiti.”
Shiloh Mennonite Church Pastor Phil Smucker said the congregation has about 200 worshipers at its Sunday service. He asked everyone to pray for the people involved.
“We hope more people do,” Smucker said.
“I am satisfied that the people trying to work through the situation are doing the best they can,” Smucker said. “All we can do now is pray.”
Smucker noted Ryan Korver grew up in the congregation that has supported Christian Aid Ministries for a long time. He said donations and other assistance are not being requested.
“Everything is playing out elsewhere,” Smucker said.
Founded in 1981, Christian Aid Ministries is based in Millersburg, Ohio, and serves the Amish, Mennonite and other conservative Anabaptist groups and individuals, according to its website. The charity last year reported $87 million in assets.
Showalter became a bit emotional as he read the letter.
“We ask Him to hear our prayers and bring our families home,” he read, working to maintain his composure.
After reading the letter, Showalter thanked the media for the continuing coverage, and did not take questions.
“It is amazing how times of difficulty have a way of bringing people together. Pray for these families. They are in a difficult spot,” Showalter said. “Pray for the hostages. We desire their release, and also pray that they can endure faithfully and display a spirit of Christ-like love.”
Showalter also asked for prayers for the kidnappers, “That they would experience the love of Jesus and turn to him, and we see that as their ultimate need.”
Showalter also asked for prayers for government leaders and authorities as they work toward release of the hostages.
“We greatly appreciate the work and assistance of people that are knowledgable and experienced in dealing with situations like this,” Showalter said. “Thank you again for your prayers. We greatly appreciate the outpouring of support from all around the world during this difficult time. God bless each of you.
Haitian officials have said the cash-strapped government is not involved in any of the negotiations and is in no position to pay any ransom amount.
The White House reiterated, last week, its guidance to Americans not to visit Haiti, noting that a State Department warning against travel to the Caribbean nation is at its highest level as U.S. law enforcement grapples with the hostage crisis.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters, last week, that the Biden administration would decline to discuss details of the case until each American is freed and safe. But she said that longstanding U.S. policy against ransom payments has not changed.
“Kidnapping is widespread, and victims regularly include U.S. citizens,” Psaki said. “We know these groups target U.S. citizens who they assume have the resources and finances to pay ransoms even if that is not the case.”
The FBI is leading the U.S. effort to free the hostages, and has a team on the ground in Haiti alongside State Department officials working toward their release with the Haitian National Police. They are in touch with the gang responsible.
This week, 32 Republican lawmakers signed a letter addressed to President Joe Biden urging him to locate and rescue the missionaries and children being held hostage.
“Given your administration’s failure to safeguard Americans in Afghanistan, we believe it is more important than ever to demonstrate on the world
stage that the United States of America will always protect its citizens,” the letter states.
U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, the congressman representing northern Wisconsin including Rusk County, is concerned about any American who is stranded in a foreign country and supports the FBI and State Department’s efforts to free them as outlined in the letter, a spokesperson said. “Due to the quick turnaround of the letter, the Congressman was unable to sign on, but he is in full support of their efforts.”
Tiffany has personally spoken at length with the U.S. Deputy Consul General in Port-au-Prince, who confirmed that there are hostages from Wisconsin among the group of missionaries abducted by a well-known gang in Haiti, the congressman’s spokesperson said.
“He was informed that the State Department, in conjunction with the FBI, the diplomatic security services, and the Canadian government, are running a coordinated effort to resolve the situation,” the congressman’s spokesperson said. “We cannot disclose operational details of those efforts, or provide any additional information about the hostages themselves due to privacy considerations, but continue to monitor the situation and expect to receive additional updates from the State Department.”
The same day that the missionaries were kidnapped, a gang also abducted a Haiti university professor, according to a statement issued by Haiti’s Office of Citizen Protection. It also noted a Haitian pastor abducted earlier this month has not been released despite a ransom being paid.
“The criminals ... operate with complete impunity, attacking all members of society,” the organization said.
Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators blocked roads and burned tires in Haiti’s capital to decry a severe fuel shortage and a spike in insecurity and to demand that the prime minister step down.
The U.S. Department of State currently recommends U.S. citizens do not travel to Haiti due to kidnapping, crime, civil unrest, and COVID-19.
The Area Clergy Association has not functioned in Rusk County in quite awhile due to the many leadership changes in the local faith community.
Rusk County Sheriff’s Department Chaplain Craig Voldberg said he would hope to speak for area clergy in saying there is a unanimous outpouring of prayers in regard to the safety and release of the missionaries.
“Our local community is directly involved in this tragedy with Ryan, Melodi, Andre and Laura Korver being among the kidnapped missionaries,” Voldberg said. “It is difficult to fathom how this beautiful family, dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor in the name of God, can be abducted and held for ransom by organized gangs who prey on their own people for power and profit.”
Voldberg asked people to hold the Korver family up in prayer, both in Haiti and here at home.
“May the Lord protect all the missionaries in this ordeal and bring them safely home,” Voldberg said.
Text of letter from families of the hostage victims.
Dear Church of Christ around the world,
Thank you for your prayers on behalf of our family members who are being held hostage in Haiti.
God has given our loved ones the unique opportunity to live out our Lord’s command to, “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you” (Matthew 5:44).
God invites us to call upon His name in the day of trouble. (Psalm 50:15) We thank Him that He is God, and ask Him to hear our prayers and bring our families home.
We also pray that the light of God’s love might shine out against the darkness of sin, and that the gang members might be freed from their bondage to sin and experience freedom in Jesus Christ.
Thank you, brothers and sisters in Christ, and please keep praying!
— The families of the hostages, and that is the end of the letter.