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Michigan family releases statement days after escaping kidnappers in Haiti

by Tribune News Service | December 21, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

DETROIT -- Ray Noecker stayed behind to work on a sermon while his wife and five of his children went to an orphanage in Haiti as part of their mission trip. His family was kidnapped on Oct. 16, two of them were released Dec. 5, and four remaining in captivity escaped last week.

Now, he's spoken out for the first time.

In a statement given to longtime family friend Carleton Horst and shared at a news conference, Noecker wrote that God has answered his prayers and his family has been united just in time to celebrate Christmas.

"My family is all together and in good health," he wrote "We are rejoicing together over the many ways that God answered the prayers of these people from all around the world. ... Please continue to pray for those in Haiti and around the world who are still being held against their will."

Noecker, 49, said they plan to return to their home in west Michigan before the year ends.

The Noeckers are from the Hart area of Oceana County and were part of a group of 17 missionaries who were kidnapped on their way to an orphanage in Port-au-Prince by the 400 Mawozo gang. Kidnappers demanded $17 million for the hostages' release -- $1 million per person.

Horst said he was going about his day when Ray texted to say his family was finally free.

"I was very elated, it was just a very great, great joy, that they were finally free, that this had come to an end, or at least this portion of things had come to an end," Horst said, "I'm sure that for the family, there's gonna be some time of healing and recovering from what they had gone through, but the fact that they were no longer being held hostage, I was just praising the Lord for what God had done."

The family attends the Hart Dunkard Brethren Church in the nearby small town of Hart. Six members of the 11-person family were kidnapped -- the mother and five children.

His wife, Cheryl Noecker, 48, and their youngest son to be kidnapped, Shelden Noecker, 6, were released earlier this month. The other hostages in the family were Brandyn, 15, Kasondra, 14, Courtney, 18, and Cherilyn Noecker, 27.

The 12 missionaries still in captivity last week, including four of the Noecker family, made a daring overnight escape, said Christian Aid Ministries officials, the Ohio-based group that organized the mission trip, on Monday. They eluded their kidnappers and traveled by foot for miles in the dead of night, according to the Associated Press.

"After a number of hours of walking, day began to dawn and they eventually found someone who helped to make a phone call for help," said CAM General Director David Troyer at a news conference. "They were finally free."

They eventually reached safety and were flown to Florida on a U.S. Coast Guard Flight and reunited with the five hostages already released, AP reported.

Troyer said they raised funds to pay the ransom, but he declined to say whether they ever paid one.

CAM said that the captives were moved around several times, but were not physically harmed. Some developed sores from bathing in contaminated water, though, and faced challenges from high temperatures and lots of mosquitos.

Ron Marks, minister at Hart Dunkard Brethren Church, said that all the sores have healed and there are no remaining physical health issues among the Noeckers.

Both Marks and Horst said that, despite being kidnapped for over two months, they believe the Noeckers would continue to do missionary work in the future.

As a self-proclaimed believer, Horst said he has compassion and concern for the kidnappers, and said he hopes they can find God.

Horst said one of the things that most inspired him was that the hostages were able to be together and sing together, which helped keep their spirits up.

Just as the small Hart community came together to support the Noeckers' congregation, the hostages were able to support each other.

"They were all able to spend time together as, as a group, they were not kept in separate areas, so that was a blessing as well, they were able to encourage one another," Horst said. "It's always good to have support of family, of friends, of churches, of community. You pull an ember from a fire, and you send it off by itself, it will soon die out. But yet, when that ember is with the remaining coals, it will continue to burn for a long time and continue to put out heat. And so community, whether that community is part of family, whether it's part of church, it's always very important."

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