For Christian Aid Ministries, charity in Haiti turns to chaos

Christian missionaries generally work in the dark, running medical clinics, building wells, and delivering Bibles without fanfare – until the crisis hits.

There was Andrew Brunson, an evangelical pastor from North Carolina who was swept aside in an attempted coup in Turkey in 2016 and held for two years. And Kent Brantly, a medical missionary who nearly died of Ebola in Liberia.

On Saturday, Christian Aid Ministries, a worldwide missionary organization in Millersburg, Ohio founded by Amish and Mennonites, reluctantly joined the ranks of those making the headlines when 17 of his group were kidnapped.

Six men, six women and five children were abducted, Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement posted on its website. “Join us in praying for those taken hostage, the kidnappers and the families, friends and churches of those affected,” the statement read.

The group was kidnapped by a gang outside of Port-au-Prince on Saturday afternoon. Amid political turmoil and the aftermath of a major earthquake in August, the capital was ravaged by crime; gangs are now said to control half the city.

The gang, known as 400 Mawozo, has also been accused of kidnapping five priests and two nuns in Haiti this year. The kidnappers demanded a ransom of one million dollars for these victims. It was not clear if the ransom had been paid, but everyone was eventually released.

“It was a great sign that they can do whatever they want,” said Timothy Schwartz, an anthropologist and consultant who has lived in the country since the 1990s. “Now they are taking another step forward with the Americans. “

Christian Aid Ministries, which was founded in 1981, states on its website that it “strives to be a reliable and effective channel for Amish, Mennonites and other conservative Anabaptist groups and individuals to meet the needs of physical and spiritual from all over the world “. Anabaptist communities date back to the Protestant Reformation and are known for their pacifism, simple lifestyle, and beliefs in adult baptism.

Christian Aid ministries did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday. But a former field director for the group in Haiti, Dan Hooley, said at least some of the kidnapped missionaries had not been in the country for a long time. A family had been living there for “a few months,” he said, and another man arrived on Friday to work on a relief project linked to the earthquake that hit the country in August.

There were approximately 1,700 Christian missionaries in Haiti as of mid-2020, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Most are Catholic, but Seventh-day Adventists, the largest Protestant group in the country, are also very present. There are more than 100 Christian missionary organizations working in Haiti, the group estimates.

Mr Hooley estimated that Christian Aid Ministries had more than 20 employees in the country. Along with Christian Aid Ministries, other Anabaptist mission groups in Haiti include smaller groups like Mennonite Gospel Mission, Haiti Relief and Missions, and Redeemed Vocational School.

Smaller Anabaptist missionary groups have worked in Haiti for decades, often affiliated with religious communities in the United States, particularly in the Midwest. Local Mennonite and Amish groups hold annual auctions across the country to raise funds for about 17 Anabaptist mission groups in Haiti, including Christian Aid Ministries, said Tim Miller, president of the Florida auction. This year, the auction raised around $ 4 million or $ 5 million, he said.

“Christian Aid Ministries is the big dog of the mission world,” he said. “They know how to get containers full of medicine into Haiti when a lot of other missions just can’t.”

More conservative Anabaptist communities feel comfortable working with Christian Aid Ministries, he said. The organization has a lot more resources than small mission groups, allowing it to use more high-end vehicles like Land Cruisers instead of older vehicles that small mission groups rely on, did he declare.

Some church mission groups “go for two weeks, do some work, and they all come home and then they don’t come back,” said Reverend Craig Morton, a Mennonite pastor from Boise, Idaho. In contrast, he said, “Most of the Mennonite organizations that I know of have had long-standing relationships.

Christian Aid Ministries reported income of over $ 130 million in 2019, according to his latest available tax returns. Almost all of this income came from contributions. The group is present in 126 countries around the world.

Miller, who also sits on the board of a smaller relief group called the Haiti Christian Union Mission, said his group brought his two missionary families to Haiti, including seven children, back to the United States after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July.

One of these missionaries, Michael Martin, 34, had lived in northern Haiti with his wife and children for three years, working on community financial savings projects. About 2,000 Haitians participate in the program, which helps them save money to start their own small businesses, he said.

“It’s dangerous – it always has been,” said Martin. “But God is a great God, and he is able to keep us safe.”

Other Americans in the country have expressed skepticism about the wisdom of Christian Aid Ministries to lead in the area where the 17 missionaries were kidnapped. Joel Trimble, who has been an independent Christian missionary in Haiti since the 1970s, said the area the missionaries were seized from was known to be particularly dangerous.

“Taking a vehicle of this size with so many white American missionaries and traveling anywhere in Port-au-Prince, especially in that region, was very unwise,” he said. “Kidnapping is quick money, and when they see a van full of white people, it’s a major dollar sign. “

Mr. Schwartz, the anthropologist, agreed. “What were they doing there? He wondered of the missing missionaries. “This place is a no-go zone these days.”

The State Department issued a Level 4 travel advisory for Haiti in August, ordering Americans not to travel to the country due to “kidnappings, crimes, civil unrest and Covid-19.” The warning described the kidnapping of U.S. citizens as common, with the kidnapping often involving ransom negotiations and physical harm to the victims.

Christian Aid Ministries’ most recent annual report said its U.S. staff left the country “due to political unrest” for about nine months in 2019. But the group returned to the country the following year.

Amish and Mennonite construction and manufacturing businesses thrive in today’s economy, but most believers don’t spend their money on the same consumer products that tempt many Americans. “There is a lot of excess profits from these successful businesses that people are looking to donate to charity,” said Cory Anderson, editor of the Journal of Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies.

Haiti is a popular cause, Anderson said, in part because of the effectiveness of Christian Aid Ministries’ messages. The country is very close to the United States, making it an easy location for short trips. And the depth of his needs makes him an attractive recipient of labor and largesse. “There’s this theological sense that we can’t blink at danger,” Mr. Anderson said. “We have to go to a place where it could become dangerous. “

Melina Delkic contributed reporting.

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