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Madras missionary back home safe from Haiti after daring escape ends 2-month kidnap ordeal

'And he’s like, 'Nope, I think we should go' -- and they just walked out'

MADRAS, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Madras resident Austin Smucker, along with 16 other Christian Aid Ministries missionaries kidnapped during a mission trip to Haiti, have safely returned home after a daring escape by moonlight.

“It was with great joy and deep thankfulness to God that I confirm that all 17 staff members of Christian Aid ministries who were held hostage in Haiti by the 400 Mawozo Gang are free!” David Troyer, general director of Christian Aid Ministries, said Monday. 

Back in Madras, Angela Rhodes is running her store, Penelope’s Soaps and Such, with a lot more ease, knowing Austin is home.

“She texted me first thing and told me that they were -- that they were out,” Rhodes said Tuesday. 

Rhodes opened Penelope's Soaps and Such last February, and sells homemade candles from her friend, Laura Smucker.

When she found out Laura's 27-year-old son had been kidnapped in Haiti, it didn't seem real. 

“All these simple things that you think about when you go out of the country -- and then it's like one day, she tells me that he’s been taken and I’m like, 'What? And we were worried about antibiotics?” Rhodes recalled. 

News spread about Austin, and people from all over the country started donating money -- and buying Laura's candles. 

But Austin's safety was always the main focus.

“She’d just come, and I'd say, ‘What’s happening?’ And she goes either, 'I don’t know,' or 'I can’t talk to you about any of it because it just puts their life in danger if I say a word,'” Rhodes said. 

Austin and the other Christian Aid Ministry members were captured on Oct. 16, when a violent Haitian gang surrounded them at a roadblock.

After two months in captivity, the group slipped out the door, put the three young children on their back and hiked nearly 10 miles, using just a landmark and the moonlight to find their way.

Rhodes said the group discussed escaping several times, but Austin never felt like it was the right moment. On the day they finally escaped, it was Austin who gave the group the okay.

“And he’s like, 'Nope, I think we should go' -- and they just walked out,” Rhodes said. 

She said Austin lost 20 pounds while being held hostage, but something else in him changed as well. 

“And then something that stuck out to me was probably at the beginning of this, he was not in a leadership position, because he was just a kid, and there were older people. But he was in the end, because they listened to him,” Rhodes said.

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Noah Chast

Noah Chast is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Noah here.



        1. Yes everyone who knows anything about the Bible knows those verses. My issue is religion is like… well the Covid vaccine. Stay with me here: some believe it’ll save you, some don’t, many just don’t care anymore. Many over educated and or self proclaimed “experts” will preach for or against it. Getting it requires a choice that makes life less comfortable, but gives the believer “protection.” Those that don’t get it are sick of hearing about it. Those that got it claim those that don’t are causing all the problems and need “fixed,” by force if need be. One thing’s for sure; everyone has heard of it. If they want it they’ve weighed the pros and cons and chosen thier side. So let’s just all pay more attention to Matthew 7:3-5 and and maybe we can get along.

    1. That’s the thing about Christian Aid Ministries, they don’t go in lecturing and pressuring about Christianity. They spread their faith through leading by example through their Love of Jesus Christ. They help build, restore, clean up after disasters, medical supplies, food, and in many other ways. If you dig deep, this organization is Anabaptist in origin . . . Amish and Mennonite to those that don’t know who the Anabaptists are.

    2. anonymousktvz is a good reminder that no one likes being lectured or pressured about his Communist ideology of Godlessness, theft of our wages by over taxation, Worshiping the Government, fake-demic propaganda and so on. Just curious how much money you spend a year feeding orphans in Africa, helping native Americans, feeding and clothing the local vets and homeless???? My guess is none.. To many drugs in the 60s left some angry and confused why they never amounted to much so they spew leftist ideology that we should hate the rich, belittle those with faith in God and bring all down to the leftist mediocre existence. In the last 125 years over 80 million people were murdered by the Godless communists.

  1. Really Barney? I can’t give this kid a piece of advice? One that comes from a litany of hard life lessons. What in my post violated your TOS? I’ll correct it, maybe make it a little “softer” if ya tell me.

  2. How would talking about it put their lives at risk? Anyway, Glad you were able to sell some more candles.

    Hopefully this doesn’t dissuade anyone from participating in missions. They are straight-forward for the most part, and although you may do some good over there it is always the missionaries who are the most changed/blessed by getting outside of their comfort zone and seeing some of the world.

    If you are interested in joining a mission, please consider contacting Forward Edge International who are a Christian org focused on children’s needs, and have missions to Kenya, Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Uganda, and Mexico. Very professional and effective. Vaya con Dios <3

  3. Riled ya up did I Barns? Honestly it’d be interesting to talk to you in person. Something that just doesn’t happen anymore. I feel strongly about things like this, frankly feel I could spare someone a wasted life. But your agenda doesn’t allow it.

    1. People who attack, IMHO, people in or referred to in our stories… the bar is set higher, or who in the world would be willing to talk to us>? So if folks can’t be the least bit sensitive and civil on their own, we have to step in. All the attacking anonymous commenters clearly have issues – and they aren’t a TV station. The hate and judgmental generalizations get old, no matter the season.

  4. So the first couple comments that stated some anecdotal Pablum are ok? But if someone actually addresses the core of the matter, 75% of thier comments are deleted? To protect the person they were aimed to advise? “Watching fight club?” That’s the useless comment you’ll allow? But I can’t speak to the matter? If this “survivor” is half as religious as I suspect he is, I guarantee he can listen to an honest discourse. So let it happen Barney!

    1. Is this the same Blue Danube that just two days ago said people who disagree with YOUR beliefs should be thrown in jail ??? It’s okay we understand. Your beliefs are right. All other beliefs are wrong and wrong people must be punished.

  5. I’m glad they are home but I question them being kidnapped if they, to quote him, just walked out. I have heard of people walking out after being kidnapped and held several months or years, as they were able to gain the confidence of the kidnapper(s), but never after only 2 months.

    1. This is your area of expertise, is it? So well-versed in the subject matter that you can say, in your vast and varied experience, people simply don’t escape kidnappers after two months? Takes much longer, ya say? Do go on, oh yes, please, do go on…

  6. I think everyone knows that when people to go to such far out places, there is always a high risk of danger. Please don’t drag your infants and young children with you, no matter what purpose you’re going there for!

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