MILLERSBURG, Ohio — After nearly two months being held hostage in Haiti, members from the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries found their freedom by escaping their captors in the darkness of night.
“After discussing their plans, the group felt they should escape on the night of Wednesday, Dec. 15," spokesman Weston Showalter announced during a Monday morning press conference. "They made plans as they could, but ultimately placed their situation in God’s hands, depending on him for protection and guidance.”
It was the first time officials with Christian Aid Ministries were able to provide in-depth details about the situation -- and there was a lot of new information (which you can see in a breakdown at the bottom of this story).
We streamed the entire press conference, which you can watch in full below:
“They decided if specific things didn’t happen at specific times that they had determined as a group, they would accept that as God’s direction to wait," Showatler said of their escape.
That night, the group put on their shoes, packed water in their clothes and stacked mattresses in the corner as they prepared to leave.
“When they sensed the timing was right, they found a way to open the door that was closed and blocked, filed silently to the path that they had chosen to follow and quickly left the place that they were held despite the fact that numerous guards were close by," Showalter explained. "In the distance they could see a mountain feature that they had recognized and identified in the previous days. They identified this landmark before and they knew that this was the direction they needed to go. They also followed the sure guidance of the stars as they journeyed through the night, traveling toward safety."
Photo above was taken Saturday, Dec. 18. The man in the upper-right corner is not one of the hostages, but a father with family members who were kidnapped.
The group who escaped included the following people:
- A married couple
- 10-month-old baby, which was "wrapped very carefully in a lot of blankets and so forth so she would be protected from the briars and brambles."
- 3-year-old child
- 14-year-old girl
- 15-year-old boy
- Four single men
- Two single women
"With God’s help, protection and leading, they quickly made their way through the night," Showalter continued. "They walked for possibly as much as 10 miles.”
He said the moon had also given them light along the way.
“After a number of hours of walking, day began to dawn and they eventually found someone who helped them make a phone call for help," Showalter said. "They were finally free. Finally free. Thanks be to God.”
Later that day, Showalter said they all were on a Coast Guard flight to Florida where they were reunited with the other hostages who had previously been released.
“The hostages emphasized strongly that they desire that God be glorified in that way that he cared for them during their time in captivity and also the way that he arranged for their deliverance.”
Before their escape, David Troyer, General Director of Christian Aid Ministries, said they were all pushed to their knees as they sought God's direction on how to respond to the situation.
"Recognizing the lives at stake and having a desire for a non-violent resolution, we grappled for many hours over the proper course of action – many intense hours, I might say," he said. "Other people who sought to help us provided funds to pay a ransom and allow the negotiation process to continue. As you can imagine, we are not able to say anything further in respect to these negotiations.”
Troyer confirmed the return of all 17 people last week on Dec. 16.
“Everyone, including the 10-month-old baby, the 3-year-old boy, and the 6-year-old boy, seem to be doing reasonably well,” Troyer wrote.
While Troyer also expressed gratitude to God, families of the hostages, all those who prayed, the U.S. government, the news media and more, he also posted the following note to the kidnappers:
“We do not know all of the challenges you face. We do believe that violence and oppression of others can never be justified. You caused our hostages and their families a lot of suffering. However, Jesus taught us by word and by His own example that the power of forgiving love is stronger than the hate of violent force. Therefore, we extend forgiveness to you. The hostages told you plainly how you can also be forgiven by God, if you repent. Our desire is that you and all who hear or read this statement may come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, our Savior, the Son of God, and the Prince of Peace. Jesus died for all so that all can be saved.”
NEW DETAILS FROM CHRISTIAN AID MINISTRIES ABOUT THE KIDNAPPING
- Shortly after visiting an orphanage in mid-October, the group encountered a roadblock. As they attempted to turn around, a pickup truck cut them off. That's when the kidnapping took place.
- “All the hostages were taken later that day to a small house where they were placed in a small room approximately 10 by 12 feet. … They spent the first night almost sleepless," Showalter said. "There wasn’t sufficient space for all of them to lie down.”
- “After a few days in captivity, their days developed a pattern and were grateful that the kidnappers allowed them to go outside," Showalter said. He added that each day was started with a time of worship to share inspiration with each other, praying and sharing inspiration.
- They were generally given a meal of rice, beans and fish sauce. On Thanksgiving, however, they were fed a traditional Haitian stew. “Although the hostages received food each day, they were often still hungry after what was given to them," Showalter explained. "At one location they were being held, they said that they really enjoyed having access to coconuts.” They were also given "large amounts" of baby food for the small children.
- It was a constant challenge for the group to have sufficient water, Showalter explained. Although they were also given water to bathe, it was severely contaminated -- which resulted in festering sores. The group said they would boil water and add ashes to it as a mixture to soak their sore feet.
- They were provided with basic hygiene items like toothbrushes and toilet paper, although supplies were limited.
- While they were generally barricaded in a house for the night, some were able to sleep outside on certain occasions.
- “In times when they faced fear and danger during the night, they prayed that God would wake believers around the world and nudge them to pray for them – and that truly did happen," Showalter said. "On this side, it’s amazing how we’re hearing stories of people that were awakened at night and had an urge to pray for the hostages there. It’s amazing how God works in making those connections.”
- One of the hostages shared: “There was intense spiritual warfare in that place. We often heard the voodoo drums at night and saw other signs of overt satanic worship. Twice, the powers of darkness and light clashed in loud conflict – but praise the Lord we’ve got the power in the name of Jesus.”
- Showalter said none of the hostages were hurt: “In miraculous ways, God delivered the hostages from being harmed by their captors. Although they were threatened on multiple occasions and even wondered if death was near in some cases, none of the hostages were physically hurt or abused by the kidnappers – and we are so grateful to God for that.”
- About halfway through their time in captivity, the hostages set up an around-the-clock prayer schedule, taking turns praying for a half hour during the day and an hour during the night: “One hostage would pray for his timeslot, then he would hand the watch to the next who would take their turn," Showalter said. "Even through the night, they prayed while fighting sleep and then passed the watch on continuing in prayer.”
- The hostages pointed their captors to Jesus: "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 continued in their ways.”
- Nov. 20: Two hostages were released.
- Three more hostages were released on Dec. 5.
- The hostages said they were sensing God nudging them to attempt an escape: “To attempt such a thing would be dangerous," Showalter said. "They sought God over and over again, seeking direction from him. It took time and God’s work, but after much discussion and prayer, they became solidly united that God seemed to be leading them this way.”
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- RELATED: Haiti gang demands $17M for kidnapped US missionaries linked to Northeast Ohio group, official says