▶ Watch Video: U.S. working to free 17 people kidnapped in Haiti

The group of 17 missionaries that was kidnapped by a gang in Haiti is affiliated with Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, which helps pay for school tuition, uniforms, textbooks and meals for Haitians.

CBS News obtained a WhatsApp message from a person who claimed to have been in contact with the abducted group. The message read in part, “please pray for us we’re being harrassed/kidnapped … they have control of our vehicle.”

In a statement, the ministry said, “We request urgent prayer for the group of Christian Aid Ministries workers who were abducted while on a trip to visit an orphanage.”

Sixteen of those abducted, just outside Port-au-Prince, are American, including as many as five children. The 17th person is Canadian.

There have been nearly 630 kidnappings in Haiti so far this year, according to The Centers for Analysis and Research in Human Rights. The “400 Mawozo” gang, suspected of abducting the missionaries, is known for mass kidnappings from buses and cars. It has successfully kidnapped Catholic clergy and even assaulted children at an orphanage.

It was not immediately clear if ransom had been requested in this case.

Haiti has been in a state of upheaval for years, still reeling from a deadly earthquake and the assassination of its president earlier this summer.

The violence and poverty that continue to plague the country’s capital has displaced thousands of Haitians who have fled to other countries in the last decade, recently seeking refuge in the U.S.

“This is one of the reasons why it was such a tragedy to have those people deported back,” Garry Pierre-Pierre, founder and publisher of The Haitian Times, told CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez. “There is no functioning government and the gangs rule Port-au-Prince and the country at large.

“Let’s get ready for the gangs to have the levers of government, to be passing edict and laws that will be respected by the population because they will be the ones in power. We’re inching very closely to that.”

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