The Ohio-based missionary group Christian Aid Ministries — whose 17 workers and children were kidnapped by a Haitian gang on Saturday — had only returned to the nation in 2020 after a nine-month absence that came amid reports of growing lawlessness on the island.
The group did not specify a reason for that withdrawal, but the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti said there were 234 kidnappings in the nation during 2020. The situation has worsened since, with at least 328 kidnapping victims reported to the National Police in the first eight months of this year, according to media reports.
Sixteen of the victims taken Saturday are Americans, the group said in a statement, and one is a Canadian citizen. Six men, six women and five children are among those taken, the statement said.
Christian Aid Ministries said its Haiti School Program “provides an opportunity for more than 9,000 Haitian children to attend school.”
CAM, as the Berlin, Ohio, organization is known, considers itself “a channel for the church,” specifically “Amish, Mennonite and other conservative Anabaptist groups,” according to its website. The 40-year-old group spends $100 million annually, according to media reports, to support its international programs, including “Medicines-For-Multitudes,” which distributes medicines and supplies to 380 locations overseas; a “Bibles-For-the-World” program; and a “Clothing Bundle” project that sends used clothing to nations including Nicaragua, Nigeria, Syria and Ukraine.
The Anabaptist tradition, though fragmented among a variety of sects, opposes the baptism of infants, as practiced in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions, among others. They say believers must be able to verbalize their faith commitment before baptism. Many Anabaptist communities, including the Amish and Mennonites, are distinguished by their pacifism.
The organization said that last year, 133 nations and territories “received aid, literature, or teaching” via its ministry, which reached more than 14 million people. They reported shipping 211 sea containers during the year, as well as purchasing the equivalent of 610 semi truckloads at field locations overseas.
The group has a disaster response arm that worked in 27 U.S. disaster areas in 2020, responding to 105 incidents. Volunteers restored or rebuilt 158 homes and their food kitchens served 38,488 meals.
The organization also has a microfinance program that operates in 20 nations and offers training to help people escape poverty, the group said. “SALT,” which is an acronym for “Shared Accountability, Lending, and Teaching,” offers savings groups, agricultural programs, and vocational schools overseas, as well as financial teaching programs in the United States.
Not every interaction CAM had over the years in Haiti was positive, however. In 2019, the group disclosed that a former CAM employee, Jeriah Mast, had confessed to molesting boys in Haiti during his time there. Mast was convicted of child molestation charges in Ohio and sentenced to nine years in prison.
CAM apologized for not being aware of Mast’s behavior in Haiti and paid $420,000 to assist with housing and other forms of restitution.