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'Jaw-dropping': Vigil held for West Michigan missionaries kidnapped, held hostage in Haiti

An adult and four children from Hart were on a mission trip in Haiti when they and 12 others were kidnapped. They are now being held for ransom.

HART, Mich. — Hart's streets are typically slow in the evenings, but Sunday night was different. Community members from all over the state gathered at the Hart Commons to pray for the 17 kidnapped missionaries in Port-a-Prince, Haiti. The small town of about 2,000 has been rocked by the kidnapping because five of the hostages call Oceana County home.

The nation has its eyes on a small West Michigan town, which is hopeful its pleas can change the hearts of those nearly 2,000 miles away.

"It is very jaw-dropping," community member Sean Southwell told 13 ON YOUR SIDE's Morgan Trau. "It does hit close to home."

Southwell and his wife, Wendy, as well as the other community members in attendance, bowed their heads in prayer.

"I'm always shocked when I, just personally, see people get kidnapped even in the United States," Mayor of Hart Vicki Platt said. "Then to have five of them from Oceana County, I was like 'What? That's happening in Oceana County and Hart?'"

An adult and four children from the Hart Dunkard Brethren Church were on a mission trip on the Caribbean island and were reportedly taken after leaving an orphanage on October 16, according to their pastor Ron Marks.

On Sunday, local pastors led the community in singing for the release of the hostages and urged the kidnappers to open their hearts to Jesus.

"It's wonderful to see all the Christians coming together to pray for this family," Wendy Southwell added.

She and her husband work at the Child Evangelism Fellowship in Shelby, MI. They say their hearts are breaking for the five total children held captive, as they work with little kids.

RELATED: West Michigan missionary and four children kidnapped, held hostage in Haiti

The non-profit hosting the mission trip, Christian Aid Ministries (CAM), gave a statement to 13 ON YOUR SIDE, announcing that the ages of the adults being held captive range from 18 to 48. The ages of the children are eight months, three years, six years, 13 years and 15 years, the group said.

Despite the terrifying situation, the Southwell's say their belief in their savior can provide strength for the community and victims.

"It's a win-win," Wendy said. "Either [they're] released to go to their families or released to go to God."

Even if they were killed, the couple knows where they are going, she said. 

"God is either going to have us here on earth where we can serve him, or he is going to take us home," she added. "These missionaries, they have that same peace.

"They know Christ is their savior, they know where they are going."

This sentiment was agreed upon by many other community members, citing that their Lord has a plan. 

"It's just neat to see during these types of situations... Just to watch what God does to spread his kingdom, but then to watch the world watch how we're responding and just to know that there is so much care, and so much support out there around the world," local pastor Ryan Vanderzwah said. "We're all a part of the family of Christ." 

Their identities aren't being released for their safety, but community leaders said a sixth person from Oceana County was on the trip, too, but wasn't with his family when they were cornered.

The group of 17 missionaries is being held hostage by a Haitian gang with a $1 million ransom over each person, according to the White House. The government said it had a team on the ground in-country, working in conjunction with the FBI and US embassy. Of the hostages, 16 are Americans and one is Canadian, according to Platt.

Platt provided a statement that was sent to her by CAM on Friday. It reads, in part, "It has been a week of many tears and thousands if not millions of prayers." Their full statement is on their website. 

"You find out that they go overseas, and they get kidnapped by people that don't really want them there — it hits close to home," Sean said.

After the vigil tonight, services were held at churches around the area. The community leaders are asking for everyone to please continue praying until the missionaries are safe. They also asked for extended media coverage of the kidnappings.

"Hopefully, It will make a difference in the kidnappers hearts and release these people soon," Platt added. "I was hoping we could celebrate tonight that they were released. Wouldn't that have been awesome?"

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