Two of the five missionaries from a west Michigan family kidnapped by a Haitian gang on Oct. 16 were released Sunday night, Hart Mayor Vicki Platt confirmed.
"We are thankful to God that three more hostages were released last night," said Christian Aid Ministries, the group that organized the mission trip, in a statement. "Those who were released are safe and seem to be in good spirits."
Longtime family friend Carleton Horst said it has been a rough few months since the family was kidnapped and he's just doing his best to go about daily life. The news that two of his friends have been released brought him some joy.
"I just continue to feel hopeful," Horst said. "We just continue to trust that God's gonna continue to work in the situation, gonna provide a way of escape. We're just rejoicing in that."
The family is part of a group of 17 missionaries who were kidnapped on their way to an orphanage in Port-au-Prince by the 400 Mawozo gang in October.
The two from the Oceana County-based family were released along with one other person. The first two hostages were released in late November. Twelve hostages remain in captivity.
Kidnappers demanded $17 million for the hostages’ release — $1 million per person.
Authorities say the missionaries were abducted in the community of Ganther, which lies in 400 Mawozo’s territory. Gang presence surged in Haiti after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July and a severe earthquake devastated the region.
The FBI and the U.S. State Department are working to secure the release of the hostages.
"A number of U.S. citizens remain hostage in Haiti," said State Department spokesperson Ned Price during a Monday news briefing. "We’re continuing to work at the highest levels with the Haitian government, continuing to work as an interagency and together with our Canadian partners to do everything we can to see to it that the remaining hostages are released as soon as possible."
Six of the 11 people in the family went to Haiti, Ron Marks, their minister at the Hart Dunkard Brethren Church, told the Free Press in October. Five of them are among the kidnapped — the mother and four children. The father stayed behind to prepare a sermon while his family went with other missionaries to an orphanage.
The kidnapped family is characterized by their friends as deeply devoted to their religion and extremely kind. They knew Haiti was dangerous but felt called to help, Jeremiah Johnson, another minister at Hart Dunkard Brethren Church, told the Free Press in October.
Although the family lives near Shelby, they attend church in Hart and are a part of that community as well. The town is small, with a population of just over 2,000, and close-knit.
"It's a very close-knit community," Horst said in October. "Hart is a very rural town, a very small town, everybody knows everybody, so to speak. And so we're a close-knit community as a whole, and so when one person suffers, it's kind of suffering for everybody else involved."
Marks said this news is "encouraging" and "definitely relief" for the community in an interview with Fox 17. He said he is trusting that more good news is on the way.
The Hart community is relying on their faith to get them through the tough time. Trusting in God's plan relieves some of the helplessness they feel, Marks previously told the Free Press.
"As announced on Friday, we would like to focus the next three days on praying and fasting for the hostages," the Christian Aid Ministries statement said. "Please continue to intercede for those who are still being held as well as those who have been released. We long for all the hostages to be reunited with their loved ones. Thank you for your prayer support."
Contact Emma Stein: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: 2 Michigan missionaries kidnapped in Haiti were released Sunday