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Kidnapped American pastor freed in Haiti as gang holds 17 missionaries hostage

Haiti
Tires are burning following a call for a general strike by several professional associations and businesses to denounce the insecurity in Port-au-Prince on October 18, 2021. - A nationwide general strike emptied the streets of Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince on Monday with organisers denouncing the rapidly disintegrating security situation highlighted by the kidnapping of American and Canadian missionaries at the weekend. The kidnapping of 17 adults and children by one of Haiti's brazen criminal gangs underlined the country's troubles following the assassination of president Jovenel Mose in July and amid mounting lawlessness in the Western hemisphere's poorest nation. |

Jean Pierre Ferrer Michel, a 79-year-old American pastor who was kidnapped by the 400 Mawozo gang two weeks before 17 mostly American missionaries were abducted by the group earlier this month, has been freed after $550,000 was reportedly paid for his release.

Michel’s release was announced in a video posted on Facebook by his daughter on Tuesday.

The pastor, who is a founding member of Jesus Center in Delmas 29, Haiti, was kidnapped from the church by heavily armed individuals dressed in different uniforms of the National Police of Haiti at about 8 a.m. on Oct. 3, Haiti Libre reported. Two other church members, Isabelle Devendegis and Norman Weiner, were also taken.

While the gang released the female congregant, Michel and Weiner were held hostage even though they reportedly paid a ransom. The Miami Herald reported Tuesday that relatives of Michel and the two congregants initially paid $300,000 to secure their release. Délex Etienne, a communications consultant in Haiti, said in a statement on Twitter that an additional $250,000 was paid on Monday for Michel and Weiner's release.

Michel’s family did not immediately respond to a request for an interview when contacted by The Christian Post on Wednesday, but his daughter thanked supporters on Facebook who helped bring awareness to his abduction after the kidnapping of the missionaries appeared to get all the media attention.

“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 prior to Michel’s release. “It’s not the same attention that the 17 people who they abducted in Croix-des-Bouquets are getting.”

While Michel is now free, the missionaries remain in captivity pending payment of a $17 million ransom. U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told the Miami Herald on Tuesday that President Joe Biden continues to be briefed daily about the kidnapping of the 16 Americans and a Canadian citizen who work for Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries. Biden is reportedly particularly concerned about the five children in the group, the youngest of which is only 8 months old.

“I personally give an update on this issue every single day to the president, who is taking a deep interest in making sure we get every single one of those people home safely,” Sullivan said.

Shortly after the kidnapping of the missionaries on Oct. 16, he said, three FBI agents were deployed to Haiti. Since then, Sullivan said the United States has sent “a significant number of law enforcement specialists and hostage recovery specialists to work closely with the ministry, the families and the Haitian government to try to coordinate and organize a recovery.”

“We are looking at every possible option for how to go about doing that,” he explained. “I will be sensitive to what obviously is a delicate situation, not say more here, other than we have put the assets and resources in place that we believe can help bring this to a successful conclusion.”

As they wait for a peaceful resolution of the hostage situation, Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement to CP that they would dedicate Wednesday as another special day for prayer and fasting.

“We invite believers from around the world to join us. We again request ongoing prayer for those being held, government officials who are assisting, and the kidnappers themselves,” the ministry said Tuesday.

“Recent media attention has focused on the kidnapping of our workers and loved ones, but a civil society group reports that 600 kidnappings in Haiti were recorded from January to September 2021, compared with 231 over the same period last year. While fasting and praying, we encourage you to remember others who are being held hostage as well as those recovering from the experience of being kidnapped,” the group said.

Since the kidnapping of the missionaries, Haitians have taken to the streets to demand their release. Schools and most businesses were closed for several days in Port-au-Prince last week, 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.

In their statement Tuesday, the international charity also defended their decision to have missionaries working in dangerous places like Haiti.

“Occasionally we are asked why our workers were in Haiti. Why travel to dangerous places? Why not let these countries take care of their own issues? These are good questions which deserve an answer,” the group said.

“We live in a very broken world. A world of broken relationships, broken trust, and broken political systems. It is a world of loneliness, fear, and violence. And Jesus came, not just so men could go to Heaven when they die, but also to show the kind of a world God intends right here on Earth,” they continued.

“We go to places like Haiti because we have found Jesus and His teachings to be the answer for our own lives and we want others to enjoy the joy, peace, and redemption we have experienced in the kingdom of God,” they added.  “… Haitians live under constant fear. They have no way to escape. For many, every trip to the market is overshadowed by the continual threat of violence. As we continue to pray earnestly for our American staff, we also encourage fervent prayer for the Haitian people.”

As negotiations for the missionaries' release continue between the gang and officials in the troubled Caribbean nation and the U.S., a recent video of Wilson Joseph, leader of the 400 Mawozo gang, showed the crime boss wasn't pleased with the pace of negotiations.

“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,” Joseph threatened last Thursday, according to a translation cited by Bloomberg Quicktake. 

Joseph further threatened Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry, as well as the chief of Haiti’s National Police, Léon Charles. Bloomberg noted that Joseph’s speech was made in front of 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.

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