HART, Mich. — Months after they left for their mission to Haiti, the Noecker family is finally home in Hart, Michigan. The family of seven planned to spread gospel for six weeks, but instead were kidnapped by a Haitian gang. The main focus since has been bringing them home.
"There was always a desire to be home for Christmas," Ray Noecker said. He was prepping for a day of teaching pastors at the time his family was taken, along with 11 other missionaries.
On Dec. 5, his wife, Cheryl, and six-year-old son, Sheldon, were two of three people released in exchange for a ransom payment. The rest of the hostages, including his four other children, Cherilyn, 27; Courtney, 18; Brandon, 16; And Kosandra, now 14, would remain in the gang's camp.
Kosandra was 13 when the group was captured, but spent her birthday as the gang's prisoner. Ray says the group's morale would falter here and there, but faith kept them strong.
"All of the group would have said they had their up days and their down days," He said. "Fortunately because there was a group of them there was always somebody who was up and could encourage the group."
Ten days after the release of Cheryl and Sheldon, the remaining hostages would get their chance to break free. The guards who watched them at night would gather around an extension cord to charge their phones. Heavy rains meant the cord was underwater, and the guards had to move to the opposite side of the building. That's when the group fled, aiming for a spot they had seen on on the side of a hill.
Their trek took them through farm land, around a body of water, and through thick bramble lined woods before reaching a road and finding help. Finally, the Noeckers could be reunited as a family.
"I just remember running up, the window was open," Ray said of the vans bringing his family to safety. "Jumping on the side, I just started yodeling."
The Noecker's returned to West Michigan on Thursday. Sunday, the community that prayed for their safe return once again gathered to pray, hug their neighbors, and share a meal together.
"We just want to celebrate what god did," pastor Ryan Vanderzwah said. "We prayed and he answered."
"One thing like today that we’re thankful for is the chance to meet the people that were praying for us." Ray said. "And just say thank you."
When asked why he would take his family into a place like Haiti that may be dangerous or unfriendly to missionaries, Noecker said the question answers itself.
"God calls us to minister to the hurting people," he said. "So that would be why we went as a family, because there was a need and an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives."
He says future missionary work is not out of the question for their family, potentially even a return to Haiti. He said if that's what God calls them to do, they'll answer the call.
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