Prayer for the captors deeply rooted in the faith of the missionary group
When the Amish gather for worship each week, they regularly sing the solemn hymns in German dialect that their spiritual ancestors composed nearly five centuries ago in a condition similar to that of 17 recently kidnapped missionaries in Haiti – captivity.
These hymns emerged from the miserable prison conditions experienced by the early Anabaptists – founders of the movement today carried by Amish, Mennonites, brethren and others – and their lyrics extolled the virtues of loving your tormentors and persevering in life. risk of persecution, even martyrdom.
So when kidnappers in Haiti abducted 12 adult missionaries and five of their children, including an infant, it was no surprise that those sharing this Christian tradition were inspired by these values ââby joining 24-hour prayer vigils. on 24.
The words of the families and sympathizers of the kidnappers, while giving hope for the safety of the hostages, strongly emphasize different themes: “Love your enemies”. âForgive them. “Pray for the kidnappers.”
A joint statement from the families of the hostages even referred to the situation in terms of welcome. “God has given our loved ones the unique opportunity to live our Lord’s commandment: ‘love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you,” said the statement released by Christian Aid Ministries. It is based in the heart of Ohio’s Amish, Holmes County, and has operated in Haiti and other countries for nearly four decades.
Such statements may seem surprising, if not insensitive, to those who might expect prayers to focus on the well-being of loved ones.
But these statements are deeply rooted in the unique religious tradition of conservative Anabaptists – a group that shares certain beliefs with mainstream evangelical Christians, such as salvation through Jesus, but who also have marked differences.
Conservative Anabaptists largely seek to live apart from mainstream society and are distinguished by their simple attire, with women wearing headgear. They emphasize a ânon-resistanceâ to evil and violence, a position that goes far beyond their refusal to serve in the military. They also have a deep tradition of martyrdom – well deserved, since their ancestors suffered fierce persecution from their origins in the Reformation in the 16th century, when they were deemed too radical for Catholics and other Protestants.
Anabaptists in particular draw inspiration from the Biblical Sermon on the Mount, which contains some of Jesus’ most radical and counter-cultural sayings: love enemies, live simply, bless persecutors, turn the other cheek, endure suffering with joy.
âLiving the principles of the Sermon on the Mount is one of the key tenets of our faith,â said Wayne Wengerd, a member of a steering committee that represents the Amish in church-state relations. “It’s something we take literally.”
These principles state that “we do good to those who hurt or persecute us, and we pray not only for like-minded people, but also for those who are not yet in the faith,” he said. declared.
Wengerd, who lives in Wayne County next to Holmes, said it would be a misunderstanding to view such a state of mind as unresponsive to the real suffering associated with the kidnappings.
âPeople are always worried, they are aware, they talk about it, they pray and of course hope for a good outcome,â he said. At the same time, âWe realize that as Christians, as followers of Christ, there will be persecution. ”
The missionary group was kidnapped on October 16 as they returned from a visit to a CAM-supported orphanage. The 400 Mawozo gang has threatened to kill all 16 Americans and one Canadian if the ransom demands are not met.
CAM says those kidnapped belong to conservative Amish, Mennonite and Anabaptist communities in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Ontario. Conservative Anabaptists form the core of CAM’s missionary staff, donors and volunteers.
Wengerd said the Anabaptists rely on resources such as “Ausbund,” a hymnbook that includes sixteenth-century prison hymns, and the “Martyrs Mirror” book to “remind us of the cost of training. disciple in the kingdom of Christ “.
âMartyrs Mirrorâ tells the story of hundreds of Anabaptists and other Christians who died for their faith. One entry is about Dirk Willems, a 16th-century Dutch Anabaptist who fled authorities in winter – but turned to save the life of a pursuer who had fallen through the ice. Willems was arrested and executed anyway. His example of sacrificial love for an enemy is still widely taught.
An oft-cited modern example of Anabaptist values ââis the response of the Amish community around Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, after a gunman killed five Amish schoolgirls and injured five others in 2006 before committing suicide. The local Amish immediately expressed their forgiveness for the killer and supported his widow. âIf we don’t forgive, how can we expect to be forgiven? Amish leaders said in a statement.
Marcus Yoder, executive director of the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center in Holmes County, said he often told Dirk Willems’ story to groups visiting the museum. One tour included a survivor of the Nickel Mines shooting.
âShe cried and cried and cried,â Yoder recalls. âHer father had used the story to talk about forgiveness to his own family. These pieces of our history have truly resided in our worldview and our theology for a long time. ”
Yoder, a Mennonite minister, said these examples should not mask the ordeal of those whose loved ones have been kidnapped. “I cannot imagine the anguish that families are going through,” he said.
Steven Nolt, professor of history and Anabaptist studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, recalled attending one of the Nickel Mines funerals at which the preacher said in the space of a few minutes: “We don’t understand, but we just accept what happened as will” and “It is not the will of God that people shoot at other people.”
It seems contradictory, Nolt said. But it reflects a deep belief in “divine providence” – that believers cannot always understand why things happen, but they “can know what God wants and how humans are to live.”
Ron Marks, pastor of Hart Dunkard Brethren Church in Hart, Michigan, whose members include a parent with children who are among the hostages, said it is “our Lord’s command” to pray for his persecutors and seek their conversion. “It would be the ultimate positive result of this ordeal,” he said.
Many in the outside world valued the Anabaptist beliefs in forgiveness.
But it has a dark side, say advocates for victims of sexual abuse in Anabaptist communities. They say victims and their families are often forced to come to terms with perpetrators after the perpetrators confess and undergo a brief period of discipline.
Hope Anne Dueck, co-founder of A Better Way – an Ohio-based group that provides education on sexual abuse and advocates for victims in Anabaptist settings and other churches – said the current focus needs to be on the security of hostages.
But the kidnappings follow two years after the outbreak of a sexual abuse scandal involving one of CAM’s longtime former missionaries in Haiti, Jeriah Mast. He was sentenced in Holmes County in 2019 to nine years in prison for previously abusing two boys in Ohio, and his judge said during his sentencing that Mast also confessed to assaulting at least 30 boys in Haiti. .
The current hostage crisis “has caused a lot of pain in the community of survivors and advocates for those who have suffered sexual abuse or mourned what happened to the victims of Jeriah,” said Dueck.
She strongly supported the current chain of prayer on behalf of the hostages, but lamented, âAs far as I know there were no 24/7 prayer chains for the victims of Jeriah. .