A group of 17 missionaries was kidnapped Saturday by an armed gang in Haiti while they were on their way back from building an orphanage.

An audio recording obtained by the Washington Post stated that “men, women and children” were being held by the gang. Authorities said the kidnapped included 16 Americans and one Canadian. Also part of the kidnapped group is believed to be a 2-year-old and another child.

"The mission field director and the American embassy are working to see what can be done," according to the recorded message. "Pray that the gang members will come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ."

The missionaries are from Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries. The audio message included a minute-long "prayer alert" from the organization and a person working with them on abduction.

 

 

An abducted missionary made a call for help in a WhatsApp group during the kidnapping, a source told the Post. "Please pray for us!! We are being held hostage, they kidnapped our driver. Pray pray pray. We don't know where they are taking us," the message said.

The missionaries are believed to have been abducted by the notorious 400 Mawozo gang, which targets religious groups are located outside of the capital of Port-au-Prince.

A State Department spokesperson released a statement that the safety of the missionaries is a priority. 

"The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State. We are aware of these reports and have nothing additional to offer at this time," the spokesperson said.

Gang activity and kidnappings have surged in Haiti due to a lack of resources. A report in September by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti known as BINUH showed that there were at least 328 kidnapped victims in the first eight months of 2021, compared to 234 for all of 2020.

“Political turmoil, the surge in gang violence, deteriorating socioeconomic conditions — including food insecurity and malnutrition — all contribute to the worsening of the humanitarian situation,” BINUH said in its report. “An overstretched and under-resourced police force alone cannot address the security ills of Haiti.”