The United States is on the hunt for the missing missionaries in Haiti.

The F.B.I. is working to locate and recover 17 American and Canadian missionaries who went missing in the community of Ganthier in Haiti over the weekend. The kidnappers are believed to be one of the most vicious gangs in the country. 

The gang, referred to as the 400 Mawozo or the 400 “inexperienced men,” abducted the group which included seven women, five men and five children and who were all American except one Canadian. The group belongs to Christian Aid Ministries (CAM), a conservative Anabaptist organization based in Ohio. 

The kidnapping took place after the missionaries visited an orphanage on Saturday in Croix des Bouquets, a suburb northeast of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. When the group departed from the orphanage and headed north towards Titanyen, members of the 400 Mawozo stopped their bus at gunpoint. The kidnappers are asking for $17 million upon the release of the missing missionaries which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. 

“This is a special prayer alert,” CAM said in a message sent to various religious missions. “Pray that the gang members would come to repentance.”

The gang has begun to use a new kind of kidnapping to Haiti this year: mass abductions, where entire buses are stopped at gunpoint and held hostage until a ransom is paid.  

The notorious gang is known for extorting businesses and ransoming kidnapped victims. They have abducted dozens of people this year alone, including foreign nationals. Sources say kidnappings in Haiti are one of the only growth industries, having become worse since the assassination of its president, Jovenel Moise, earlier this year. 

The American government is involved in the search for the missing missionaries and their kidnappers. 

“The president has been briefed and is receiving regular updates on what the State Department and the F.B.I. are doing to bring these individuals home safely,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said at a news briefing. “We can confirm their engagement, and the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince is coordinating with local authorities and providing assistance to the families to resolve the situation.”

According to CBS News, newscaster Manuel Bojorquez and his team working in Haiti were able to obtain the phone number of the leader of the gang. Authorities believe this leader is behind the kidnappings. CBS dialed the number and a man picked up, right before hanging up after hearing who was on the other end of the line.  

In addition to the massive kidnappings in Haiti, the country faces invasive crime and destruction every day. Haitian citizens took to the streets of Port-au-Prince on Monday to protest over the multiple crises facing their nation including a growth in gang violence and abductions, the loss of their president and a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck southern Haiti on Aug. 4 that killed more than 2,200 people. 

“We are calling on authorities to take action,” said Jean-Louis Abaki, a moto taxi driver who joined the strike Monday to rail against killings and kidnappings in the hemisphere’s poorest region. 

On Friday, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to extend the U.N. political mission in Haiti. Despite the help that the U.N. brings, many Haitian citizens dislike their involvement, seeing it as an affront to their country’s sovereignty. 

“The vast majority of Haitians don’t like foreign military intrusions, especially given the failed intervention of the U.N.,” said Robert Fatton Jr., a professor in the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia who was born and raised in Haiti and has written several books about the country. “When they left there was nothing.”

The kidnapping of the missionaries comes just days after high-level U.S. officials visited Haiti and promised more resources for Haiti’s National Police. This included $15 million to help reduce gang violence, which is one of the major reasons why Haitians live on the streets or in temporary shelters, facing increasingly unhealthy conditions. 

As teams from the U.S. continue to fight the violence in Haiti and help return the missionaries home, CAM is asking for all prayers.

“Today, we again commit our workers to God’s care,” CAM said.” ‘For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11).’ Pray that our workers could respond to hatred with Jesus’ love, overcome the spirit of fear with faith, and face violence with a genuine desire to bless their oppressors.”