PAINESVILLE, Ohio — U.S. officials confirmed Monday they are working with Haitian leaders to try to free the 17 members of the Northeast Ohio-based missionary group who were kidnapped this past weekend in the Caribbean nation.
“Safe and sound, that's my prayer,” says Bishop Gerard Mirbel, leader of the Miracle Revival Ministry Assemblies of God in Painesville.
Sitting over 1,500 miles away, all Mirbel can do is pray.
“They went there to build an orphanage for children. For them to do that, that's unbearable,” Mirbel says.
Mirbel is a voice for Haitians in Northeast Ohio, but relates far deeper to the missionaries through more than just prayer.
“I am a product of missionary,” Mirbel tells 3News.
Mirbel grew up in Haiti, spending time in missionary with his mother. Mirbel’s wife and Assistant Pastor, Lady Bishop Jacqueline Mirbel, devoted all their mission trips to Mirbel’s home country.
“We went there a lot for missionary trips,” Jacqueline says.
“I went to Haiti 13 times as missionary,” Mirbel adds.
The 12 adults and five children — including a 2-year-old — were abducted Saturday while visiting an orphanage east of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. The missionaries are affiliated with the Christian Aid Ministries, which is based in Holmes County in the heart of Ohio's Amish country.
No one at the ministry location would speak on the situation Monday. The ministry is offering daily updates left on its voicemail.
“Civil authorities in Haiti and the United States are aware of what has happened and are offering assistance. We continue to monitor the situation and are in earnest prayer,” the voice message read in part.
The group was kidnapped in Port-au-Prince and isn't the first religious group to be taken by the Haitian gang, according to authorities.
“They feel these organization have funds and money they can get right away,’ Jacqueline says.
“It’s a matter of time for [the authorities] to get where they are,” Mirbel adds.
When asked to speak directly to the missionaries, the Mirbel’s sent a message of courage and determination.
“Don't give up. It looks bad right now but don't give up,” Jacqueline said.
“Those that are kidnapped, we want them to know that we do not forget about you. We are speaking for you,” Mirbel said.
Mirbel’s message included his plan on starting a coalition to speak with Haitian leaders to address the violence the gang is causing, but said before any negotiations happen, the missionaries must be released immediately.
Gov. Mike DeWine announced Monday he has ties to Haiti. A school there is dedicated in memory of his daughter Becky DeWine. The governor said he can't comment on this kidnapping, but knows many Ohioans are in Haiti at any given time to offer help.
3News' Mark Naymik contributed to this story. You can watch his report below.