Christianity Today interviewed me, along with several other experts, about the consequences of paying ransom in kidnapping cases in Haiti.
Having been personally involved with multiple critical incidents and crisis negotiations in Haiti and around the world, I can tell you that Haiti is a unique situation and quite different from other high threat areas in places like Latin America, the Middle East, and the Sahel. To that end, we must be careful creating false comparisons or painting with a broad brush when it comes to how kidnappings around the world are resolved.
To be clear, I am not pro or anti-ransom. I just know that paying ransom to get a loved one back safely is something that happens more often than we like to admit. That said, I would submit to you that the pressing question isn’t whether or not Christians should pay ransom; the more pressing question to ask is: “Are Christians (and their churches and organizations) prepared to steward well a critical incident involving their loved ones, honor God in the process of resolution, and trust Him with the outcomes?
I have the distinct pleasure of knowing personally several of those who are quoted in the article. I deeply appreciate their ministries and their demonstrated Christian walks.
One of the men quoted in the article is Dieumème Noelliste. While I have never met Brother Noelliste, from what I do know of his reputation, he is a faithful brother in Christ, and I respect his opinions. That said, my one disagreement with him concerns the conclusions he draws from the Christian Aid Ministries (CAM) kidnapping incident in 2021, as it concerns the likelihood and impact of kidnapping trends in Haiti.
Brother Noelliste surmised that, because of how the CAM kidnapping ended:
“This means that foreign missionaries are now fair game,” Noelliste said. “[And] if the criminal elements have no compunction attacking American citizens who have the protection of the United States, what restraint would they show for a Haitian congregation? … The Haitian church therefore has nowhere to turn, and the gangsters know it.”
My disagreement with Brother Noelliste is threefold:
1. Foreign missionaries were already fair game for criminal gangs BEFORE the 2021 CAM incident. Sadly, there is a long list of expats, including American faith-based workers, that have been kidnapped in the last 3-5 years prior to the 2021 CAM incident. Likewise, groups like 400 Mawozo already had little fear holding Americans, Canadians, and Europeans (not to mention Latin Americans) for ransom. Prior to the CAM incident, I am personally aware of Americans, Europeans, and Latinos who were taken by the gangs.
2. The gangs had already demonstrated little restraint against the Haitian church prior to the CAM incident. Pastors, deacons, and their family members were regularly kidnapped before the CAM missionaries were taken. One case in point, six months before the CAM incident, a Haitian pastor was kidnapped during a church service streamed live on YouTube and Facebook Live. Sadly, that pastor is not alone as hundreds of congregations have faced the reality of having their clergy and/or parishioners kidnapped before and after the CAM incident. A video of that kidnapping in April can be found here: Haitian Kidnapping.
3. American citizens abroad have no guaranteed protection from violence because of protections afforded by the US Government. An assertion was made that, somehow, American citizens have some sort of tacit protection overseas because of the United States Government. I would strongly submit this is a false assumption. The US Embassy is not the cavalry coming over the hill to the rescue anyone. In fact, quite often US Embassies state on their webpages that the United States does not have the ability to help all American Citizens; especially those in high-threat areas. Even the State Department has a dedicated page for American citizens to review that outlines what the US Government can and cannot do in a crisis in order to help Americans travelers and expats have a more realistic view of what is possible on behalf of the United States if they are in trouble: What the State Dept can and can’t do in a crisis..
While there may have been some level of perception by local criminal elements in Haiti of US Government protection for its citizens in the past, by and large, I have not found that to be true in recent years. Remember, the biggest surprise for security professionals when the CAM missionaries were taken was not the fact that such a large group of Americans and a Canadian were kidnapped at the same time. Instead, the biggest surprise for most was that 17 expatriate missionaries were traveling by bus in an area that had such a high threat of kidnapping in the first place. Likewise, every security professional worth his or her salt knows that expats kidnapped in Haiti have little hope of being rescued safely by their home governments. Instead, a negotiated release will have to be accomplished which, most likely, means some form of extorted compensation (ransom) for the criminals will be required to ensure safe release of the hostages.
Finally, Haitian congregations with Americans in their ministries were never safer before or after the CAM incident. Again, to reiterate what Brother Noelliste states:
“[And] if the criminal elements have no compunction attacking American citizens who have the protection of the United States, what restraint would they show for a Haitian congregation? … The Haitian church therefore has nowhere to turn, and the gangsters know it.”
Brother Noelliste is absolutely correct in saying the “Haitian church has nowhere to turn and the gangsters know it.” This is why Concilium is working hard to equip both expats and Haitian Christians with the principles of Security In the Context of Ministry (SICM). Concilium desires for every Christian congregation in Haiti to be well trained in order to build resilience into their ministries by lowering their vulnerabilities to the threats the gangs pose. Most of all, as the Church in Haiti learns to practice the principles of SICM, they do so as they rely on Jesus, the Author and the Finisher of their faith, Who for the joy before Him endured the cross, despised the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God so that Christ’s Church may not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:2-3).
I want be very clear and on the record here: My disagreement with Dieumème Noelliste is of a small concern in the grand scheme of things. Dieumème Noelliste is a man of great faith and character and I by no means want my disagreement with him on these small points to be an indictment of his character or experiences in Haiti. He certainly has much experience and perspective that would be helpful to anyone wanting to minister in Haiti.
In closing, I resubmit to you that the pressing question isn’t whether or not Christians should pay ransom. The more pressing question to ask is:
“Are Christians (and their churches and organizations) prepared to steward well a critical incident involving their loved ones, honor God in the process of resolution, and trust Him with the outcomes?
As you read the article, allow me to draw attention to what I said about being prepared for a critical incident, and this includes how organizations prepare the families of team members for an event that, while very low in likelihood, has an incredibly high impact on everyone involved. To that end, I would encourage every mission sending organization and agency to review not only their contingency plans for team members, but the processes and structures for engaging with immediate family and extended family in the event of a critical incident.
Concilium has programs and training that are helping Christians around the world prepare for these kinds of critical incidents. For more information, please email us [email protected] Let us help you develop the mind of Christ as it applies to these kinds of critical incidents.
It really is my heart to help our brothers and sisters in Christ be transformed from the pattern of the world through the renewing of their minds as it pertains to dealing with issues of safety and security. That way, they can better prove what God‘s will is in a critical incident; a will that is good (for them), acceptable (in the situation), and perfect in God’s sovereignty (Romans 12:2).
But If Not!