U.S. church youth groups are currently on their way back home after being stuck in Haiti over the weekend due to violent anti-government riots that erupted last week.
The groups, from Woodland Community Church and The Glade Church, were being hosted by My Life Speaks, which operates in Neply, Haiti, with a mission to "provide every person in Neply the opportunity to experience LIFE as God intended." Woodland said in an update Monday morning: "Our team is safe and on their way back from Haiti! Thank you for your continued prayers and support!"
As Reuters reported, the riots in Haiti erupted over fuel prices last week, forcing Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontan to announce on Saturday a temporary suspension of double-digit increases to gasoline, diesel and kerosene prices.
According to Fox News, at least three people were killed as protesters set fire to cars and looted stores, clashing with authorities and security guards.
Flights were canceled to the island nation over the weekend, with the violence making travel dangerous.
My Life Speaks said on its Facebook page on Saturday that on their way to the airport, the youth groups faced several roadblocks, which were part of the protests over the higher gas prices. So they turned around and returned to their rural village of Neply for safety reasons.
"[W]e have chosen to stay safe and sound here in Neply. With the potential of violence surrounding these incidents we are committed to the safety and security of our team, our staff, our community, and the people of Haiti," the group stated.
Despite the assurance of safety, parents in Bradenton, Florida, told News Channel 8 that they felt "helpless" and that they would not sleep until their children were back home.
"When they got to the main road, that is when they encountered all of the riots," said one parent, Jill Kramer, whose 15-year-old daughter is on the trip.
"They were on a bus with the owners of the mission, the leaders, other adults, three armed guards and they just kept getting stopped by road blocks and people asking for money and that is when they decided, at that point, it was not worth it," Kramer added of the youth group's decision to return to the base in Neply.
"She says, 'Mom, there is something crazy going on. Tires are being lit on fire in the street,'" said Heather Terwilliger, speaking of her 15-year-old daughter, Abby.
In an update on Sunday, My Life Speaks expressed gratitude for prayers and noted that the youths have been "making the most of their extra time in Haiti by spending time in the #commUNITY and hanging out at the beach."
Woodland Community Church, based in Bradenton, Florida, also reported that the youths held a "spontaneous worship gathering in the village last night."
"God has moved in mighty ways as we have served throughout the week. We are marked by Majesty. No darkness can stand against us," the church stated.
Meanwhile, My Life Speaks said the groups have not been discouraged but "are instead encouraged by the opportunity they've had to be an example of Christ's unending love for His people in a time when it was so desperately needed."
"Though the last few days have been challenging and we are heartbroken to see the place we love and call home in so much conflict, we are more confident than ever in our call to Haiti and it's people. The people we have built (and will continue to build) relationships with are a hardworking and determined people who are in need of sustainable, positive solutions for critical issues. myLIFEspeaks will continue to work alongside the Haitian people no matter what challenges may come."
The youth groups made it to the the airport in Port-au-Prince Monday morning and are scheduled to arrive in the U.S. later in the day.