As Haitian gang members surrounded them on their way back from an orphanage, the 17 missionaries began to sing.
The last hostages appeared to be doing well after leaving Haiti on a U.S.-based plane Thursday afternoon, Troyer said. He said the missionaries, including a 10-month-old baby and two other children, had spent much of their captivity praying, singing and telling their kidnappers that they needed to repent.
In the statement, Troyer addressed the captors, saying they had made the hostages and their families suffer.
“However, Jesus taught us by word and by His own example that the power of forgiving love is stronger than the hate of violent force,” Troyer said. “Therefore, we extend forgiveness to you.”
The group was released in the remote neighborhood of Morne à Cabrit, outside the capital, Haitian media reported. The location of the missionaries’ Haitian driver, who was also believed to be a hostage, remained unknown, according to human rights groups. The gang had demanded $1 million for each victim.
The abductions focused international attention on the volatile situation in Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation. The country battles endemic violence and now has the world’s highest per capita kidnapping rate — challenges that were further complicated in July by the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, which left a political vacuum.
Nate Mook, CEO of the José Andrés-run World Central Kitchen, has a culinary school in Port-au-Prince and provided emergency supplies after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in August. Security is a constant issue for nonprofits working there, he said, and people are aware that gangs pose a threat. Fuel shortages and public protests have also created safety issues recently, he added.
“Everything in Haiti is day-to-day,” Mook told The Washington Post. “And the situation can change quickly because of instability.”
The situation in Haiti has also been a source of concern for the U.S. State Department, which led a meeting about the Haiti’s security, economy and political situation on Thursday with more than a dozen countries and other organizations. The U.S. government has been seeking to strengthen the Haitian National Police and the country’s broader justice sector, Brian Nichols, an assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, told reporters on Friday.
The State Department’s most recent travel advisory for Haiti, which was last updated in August, warns Americans not to travel there, designating it a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” country. The advisory also includes a "K" risk symbol, indicating Americans are very likely to be kidnapped.
The federal government has been mostly mum on the kidnappings, except to say that the United States had partnered with Haitian authorities to secure the hostages’ freedom. Asked whether money was exchanged, Nichols reiterated that the U.S. government does not pay ransom for hostages but declined to say whether any other organization had paid.
Ronald Marks, a Michigan-based pastor to a kidnapped mother and her five children, said he was alerted to the last missionaries’ release by a text message from a contact at Christian Aid Ministries.
“Everyone is free,” it said, according to Marks. “Praise the Lord.”
Marks told reporters on Thursday that he believed the hostages were treated fairly well while in captivity and seemed to be healthy.
“We’re very anxious to hear their stories,” he said. “We’re rejoicing in the fact that they are free.”
Christian Aid Ministries, which has been serving in Haiti for 30 years, said it would share more information about the missionaries’ release at a news conference on Monday. For now, the organization’s members have declined to speak further.
“The only thing I can say,” said Marion Miller, a Christian Aid Ministries volunteer, “is, ‘God worked a miracle.’”