Nearly two weeks before the notorious 400 Mawozo gang in Haiti kidnapped 17 mostly American missionaries and demanded a $17 million ransom, Pastor Jean Pierre Ferrer Michel, another American, was abducted from his church along with two others. And like the missionaries, Michel is still missing.
“They don’t talk about it, like they are talking about the case of the group of 17. But this man is an American citizen, too,” a family friend told the Miami Herald on the condition of anonymity in a recent interview about the kidnapping of Michel, who is a founding member of the church Jesus Center in Delmas 29. “It’s not the same attention that the 17 people who they abducted in Croix-des-Bouquets are getting.”
A Haiti Libre report said at about 8 a.m. on Oct. 3, heavily armed individuals dressed in different uniforms of the National Police of Haiti kidnapped Michel, 79, Isabelle Devendegis and Norman Weiner in front of the Jesus Center Church of Delmas 29.
While the gang released the female congregant, Michel and Weiner are still being held hostage even though they have paid a ransom that was initially $15 million for the three Christians, including $8 million for Michel.
“When they (gangsters) say dollars, you don’t know if they are talking about American dollars or Haitian,” the family friend said. “They asked us for a ransom, the two families came together and paid a ransom and after we paid it, they called and said the money wasn’t enough and they cannot release them. Since then, there has been no contact.”
While there have been rumors that Michel had been released, the pastor’s wife, Maryse Michel, released a video Tuesday in Haitian Creole begging for his freedom.
“They have yet to release him after 17 days,” she said. “He’s without his medication. He’s an old man who is nearly 80 years old, and doesn’t have a lot of years in front of him. I’ve come to plead, and I came to ask everyone who it concerns: Release the pastor. Release my husband. Give the children back their father. Give the family back their brother because we did everything already. They are still holding them. They have to let them go. We did everything we were supposed to do.”
The Christian Post reached out to Michel’s family for further comment Thursday, but they weren’t immediately available.
While the missionaries and Michel are now getting widespread international attention, the targeting of the church by kidnappers in Haiti has been ongoing for months and has resulted in at least one casualty.
On Sept. 26, as they prepared to enter the First Baptist Church of Port-au-Prince, 60-year-old deacon Sylner Lafaille and his wife, Marie Marthe Laurent Lafaille, were attacked by a heavily armed group. They tried to kidnap the deacon’s wife, but he fought back the gunmen and was fatally shot for his bravery. Some church members who witnessed the attack were injured, a Haiti Libre report said.
In April, gunmen were also recorded in a livestream broadcast on Facebook and YouTube kidnapping a pastor and three members of the Seventh-day Adventist Gospel Kreyol Ministry Church in Diquini on the outskirts of the capital Port-au-Prince. The pastor and his congregants were released three days later. It is unclear if a ransom was paid.
Gregory M. Figaro, whose father, Greger Figaro, founded the church, told the Miami Herald that eight to 10 gunmen were involved in the attack.
“If this can happen, then anything is possible in the country because there is no respect for any institution, whether it’s a church or school,” Figaro said.
Earlier this week, Christian Aid Ministries said an 8-month-old baby is among the 16 American missionaries and Canadian colleague waiting to be rescued from the 400 Mawozo gang.
Haitian Justice Minister Liszt Quitel confirmed Tuesday that the gang, which kidnapped the missionaries Saturday while they were working with Christian Aid Ministries, demanded $1 million each for their safe return.
Christian Aid Ministries said Tuesday that officials in the troubled Caribbean nation and the U.S. are working to negotiate the release of the missionaries, which include six men, six women and five children.
The international charity has been calling for prayers for the abducted group since the first day they were reported missing but called for a day of fasting on Thursday.
“We are entering day number five since our workers and loved ones were kidnapped in Haiti. We, along with government authorities, continue to work hard to bring them home safely. We appreciate the work of those knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with kidnapping cases,” the charity said in a statement. “As CAM associates, we plan to have a special day of fasting and prayer…, October 21. We invite believers around the world to join us in seeking God for His mighty hand to work.”
Christian Aid Ministries also drew attention to the worsening crisis of governance unfolding in Haiti. Since the kidnapping of the missionaries, Haitians have taken to the streets demanding their release. Schools and most businesses were closed for a second consecutive day in Port-au-Prince Wednesday, according to The Haitian Times, following a call for a general strike to protest kidnappings and widespread insecurity which followed the assassination of the country’s late President Jovenel Moïse in July.
“This time of difficulty reminds us of the ongoing suffering of millions of Haitians. While our workers chose to serve in Haiti, our Haitian friends endure crisis after crisis, continual violence, and economic hardship,” the charity said. “Despite the difficulties and dangers involved in working there, both our Haitian and American workers carry a vision to minister the love of Jesus in Haiti. Our goal is to seize opportunities around the world, even in difficult contexts, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who ‘went about doing good’ (Acts 10:38).”