Father of kidnapped missionary family says they will not be deterred from future mission trips.

January 3, 2022

Cheryl Noecker gets a ‘welcome back’ hug. Husband Ray and son Shelden are pictured behind her.

Father of kidnapped missionary family says they will not be deterred from future mission trips.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

WEARE TOWNSHIP — Ray Noecker, 49, of Shelby, whose wife and five children were kidnapped in Haiti, spoke with the media following a community luncheon Sunday, Jan. 2, at the West Michigan Research Center.

“I was waving and shouting. I just remember running up; the window was up; and I started yodeling,” Ray said of the

Ray Noecker addresses the group Sunday.

reunion with his family as they arrived in vehicles to meet him. “I learned to yodel in Kenya,” referring to previous mission trips.

“Everybody got out of the vehicle, and we spent about 20 minutes praising the Lord. It was a really exciting time for us.”

The community celebrated the Noecker family’s freedom from captivity in Haiti with a “Community Rice and Beans Luncheon.”

Cheryl Noecker, 48, and her five children — two of whom are adults — were among the 17 missionaries snatched, Oct. 16, and held captive in Haiti by a violent gang during a two-month ordeal. 

They were abducted shortly after visiting an orphanage in Croix-des-Bouquets. Ray was not snatched, because he stayed back at the mission camp the day of the kidnapping to prepare his teaching materials and get ready for the next day’s Sunday service. “The teaching schedule was intense, so one of the reasons I stayed back that day was to prepare for the coming week. But also, the next Sunday, they were planning to have communion service with the mission’s staff, and as an ordained minister, it was my responsibility to prepare for that service. So I stayed there to prepare. I wanted to be ready for Sunday.

“I wanted to be with my family, and I asked God to open a way that I could be with them. We discussed it, and we talked to the FBI about the possibility of someone going in to be with them and join them, and we never had that opportunity.” 

Pictured are some of the Noecker children.

Their captors from the violent 400 Mawozo gang demanded $17 million in ransom. Ray confirmed that ransom was paid, but said he did not how much or by whom.

Cheryl and her youngest child, 6-year-old Shelden, were among three hostages released, Dec. 5. Brandyn, 16, Kasondra, 14, Courtney, 18, and Cherilyn, 27, were among the 12 hostages who escaped, Dec. 16. The Noecker family attends the Hart Dunkard Brethren Church.

Ray recalled his reunion with his wife and youngest child a few weeks earlier at the US Embassy in Port-Au-Prince. He had been notified about an hour earlier that his wife and two other people were released. “We did not know who the two other individuals were.” An official said one of the other people released was “a boy about this high,” said Ray as he held up his hand to his son’s height. “Right then, I knew it was my son, Shelden.”

Another woman was released with his wife and son.

Cheryl Noecker gets a hug from long-time friend Tracy McGhan.

After walking through several corridors, he finally reunited with Cheryl. “It was so nice to see my wife sitting there smiling.” He picked up his son and hugged them both.

“There had been a ransom agreement reached with the hostage takers. The ransom agreement was for the entire group, but there was some division within the gang so they were not able to release all of them at the time.

“The gang would have told the group that were in captivity (their release) was because of the sores — the medical condition of my wife and the other lady.

“I do not know the amount of the ransom or who paid it.”

The remaining captive missionaries found freedom by making a daring overnight escape, walking 10 miles through briars and thorns with a baby and other children in tow, according officials from Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries that sponsored the trip.

The group of 12 navigated in the moonlight to reach safety, officials said during a press conference. The details of their journey to safety came after the news, Dec. 16, that the missionaries were free.

Ray Noecker and his youngest son, Shelden.

“There had been a lot of talk about trying to escape through the time they were there. There were a couple of days in particular they had made plans

Pastor Ronald Marks of the Hart Dunkard Brethren Church leads a prayer Sunday.

and they were looking at some particular aspects.” 

One day the guards were sleeping late, and the hostages considered escaping, but two more guards arrived that morning so the plan was halted. 

“God had done several things for them. Two days before they escaped, they had a heavy rain storm. During that rainstorm, the compound was partially flooded. Right outside the door where they eventually escaped from was a power strip where the guards would plug in their phone chargers. So, they liked to hang out at the door at night because they were just talking and charging their phones. With that rain, the power strip was partially in the water and they moved it around to the other side of the building.

“There was a lot of prayer and seeking God’s direction during that time,” said Ray Noecker of the escape. “Most of their trek was through Haitian farmland. They did encounter a body of water, and once they skirted around that body of water, they got into more brambly briars and spent about an hour making their way through the briars.

“Their goal was a spot they could see on the mountain side. They had seen a road passing up the mountain, and they knew if they could get up there, they could probably get help. That was their goal.”

Ray said there were two WhatsApp conversations with the captives — one on the day of the kidnapping and a second one on the “third or fourth week.” He did not talk directly to his family during their two-month captivity. 

“All of the group would say they would have had their ‘up days’ and their ‘down days. Fortunately, because there was a group of them, there was always someone who was up and could encourage the group.”

During their captivity, the adults received small food portions, such as rice and beans, for dinner.

CAM is supported and staffed by conservative Anabaptists, a range of Mennonite, Amish and related groups whose hallmarks include nonresistance to evil, plain dress and separation from mainstream society. 

“I’m overjoyed and very grateful,” said Tracy McGhan, a close friend of Cheryl Noecker, who attended the Sunday luncheon. “I’m so grateful that they weren’t harmed or molested in any way and that they all came home safely. To know they were there was hard.”

“They’re doing great,” said Ray of his family’s wellbeing following the ordeal. 

The family arrived back in the area last Thursday, Dec. 30, he said. 

Cheryl, Ray and Shelden Noecker pray before their meal.

“I had originally intended to do some discipleship teaching with Christian Aid Ministries teaching Haitian pastors.” His plan was to do that for six weeks. 

Ray said he is not deterred from continuing his mission because of his family’s kidnapping. “If God opens that door, we have been on missions in Kenya. This was my first time going to Haiti. I now have a much better understanding and appreciation for the needs of that country as well. I certainly will be open to that.”

The Noecker family spent seven years in Kenya on a mission trip. His daughter, Courtney, was born in Kenya. 

Some of the Noecker children eat together during the luncheon.

His oldest daughter, Cherilyn, has also been to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. 

“We live each day with a level of risk,” said Ray when asked why he would take his family into such a dangerous place. “Things can happen no matter where we’re at. We also need to look at the needs of the world around us. There are a lot of people living in Haiti — a lot of families living in Haiti — some of them American citizens. A lot of the Haitian people have needs. God calls us to minister to helping people. That would be why we went as a family, because there was a need and opportunity we felt to make a difference in people’s lives. I think we would be willing to do that again. God has been faithful.

“It’s a little overwhelming to look and see each one of you who have taken

Worship Leader Carleton Horst of the Hart Dunkard Brethren Church addresses the group Sunday while Pastor Ron Marks is pictured right.

time to come and share in this time of thanksgiving with us,” said Ray as he addressed the group Sunday. “I certainly want to praise God and give thanks to Him for hearing our prayers and being faithful for protecting each one of the captives and bringing them home. I know as you gathered in October to pray, it was a blessing to me to see how the community gathered together, and each one that came to pray for our family and even for the captors that God would touch their hearts. I know the purpose of this gathering today was actually to continue that prayer on behalf of those who are still in captivity. So we thank you for that.

“In a very brief WhatsApp conversation with the hostages — about in the middle of the time they were in captivity — we were able to share with them the message that the world is praying. We could do that because we knew that not only was our community joining together — not only the churches here in west Michigan — but all around the world people were gathering together and taking time to meet and to pray. So, thank you. God bless you. I would just encourage us to continue to pray for those who are still in captivity both in Haiti and around the world. God encourages us that we would not be faint or weary in prayer. And as we pray, we also rejoice. And that is why we are here today. So thank you and God Bless you for your prayers. Amen.”

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Brandyn Noecker and Sharita Prowant embrace.

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