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Baptists detained in Haiti relief mission
Baptist Press
February 01, 2010
7 MIN READ TIME

Baptists detained in Haiti relief mission

Baptists detained in Haiti relief mission
Baptist Press
February 01, 2010

MERIDIAN, Idaho — Members of two Southern Baptist churches in Idaho are

awaiting word on what a Haitian judge will decide Feb. 1 when he hears

the case of 10 Americans accused of unlawfully trying to remove 33

children from Haiti.

Five of the 10 are members of Central Valley Baptist Church in

Meridian, Idaho, and three are from Eastside Baptist Church in Twin

Falls, including Eastside’s pastor, Paul Thompson. Two others are

believed to be from other states.

“Both churches are very missions-minded and have sent members overseas

many times,” said Rob Lee, executive director of the Utah-Idaho

Southern Baptist Convention. “They went over to help. I really don’t

believe they had anything less than perfect motives.”

Lee said while he had been informed by email that the churches were

planning trips to Haiti, the trips were not coordinated through the

Utah-Idaho convention.

Clint Henry, pastor of 500-member Central Valley Baptist, said he has

been able to piece together some information from spotty communications

with the team.

In an Associated Press report, Henry denied that his church members had

anything to do with child trafficking and said he didn’t believe those

kinds of reports from Haiti.

“They were at the border Friday night and were told they needed one more piece of paperwork,” Henry said.

“They returned to Port-Au-Prince to get that paperwork and that’s when

they were detained,” he added to give emphasis that the group was not

trying to flee with the children.

The Haitian government is struggling to keep a semblance of order in a

nation brought to its knees in the aftermath of the devastating Jan. 12

earthquake.

Violence and looting still break out in some areas and even basic electricity and phone services have yet to be restored.

U.S. officials have estimated that up to 1 million children lost their parents in the earthquake.

Many have been surviving despite food shortages, safe shelter and needed medical treatment.

Hundreds of orphans have been airlifted to the United States for

adoption, but Haitian government officials have slowed such adoptions

amid rising fears that child traffickers may be taking advantage of the

desperate situation to steal children.

Amid these heightened concerns, members of the Idaho mission team found

themselves caught in a tense situation between Haitian and American

officials.

In a statement to the press, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive

said, “We did not arrest Americans, we arrested kidnappers.”

Some have pointed to the situation to illustrate why orphans should not leave Haiti at all right now.

“I am the parent of adopted children,” Henry, the Idaho pastor, said,

“So we are very concerned about the impact this might have on other

Haitian adoptions that are currently underway.”

Henry said Laura Silsby and another member of his church started New

Life Children’s Refuge before the earthquake as a way to help orphaned

Haitian children.

According to an AP report, given the living conditions for the children

and the breakdown in government control, Silsby said she didn’t think

about Haitian permission to take the children out of the country.

She said they only had the best intentions and paid no money for the

children, whom she said were brought to a Haitian pastor by distant

relatives.

Child trafficking “is exactly what we are trying to combat,” Silsby

told AP. “In this chaos the government is in right now, we were just

trying to do the right thing.”

Silsby is the founder of PersonalShopper.com, an online tool which has

been featured in major newspapers and on television networks

nationwide, and in 2006 she won an international businesswoman of the

year award for her “visionary leadership, impressive accomplishments

and strong commitment to helping others.”

Silsby and her team had been working with a Haitian pastor named Jean Sanbil of Sharing Jesus Ministries, AP said.

The earthquake destroyed the orphanage facilities, and facing the chaos

that followed the earthquake, the ministry team was trying to help

Sanbil ensure the immediate safety and welfare of the children.

Sanbil had made arrangements for housing the children temporarily in

the Dominican Republic, and the team was working to help him transport

the children there.

“When the earthquake happened, their hearts were breaking for the Haitian children, just like everyone else,” Henry said.

Silsby located a hotel in the Dominican Republic and made arrangements

for it to serve as a makeshift orphanage until a more permanent home

could be built, Henry said, adding that the plan was for the mission

team to work with one or more orphanages in Haiti that had been

destroyed in the earthquake and bring those children to safety.

According to Henry, family members of those arrested have been working

through the American Embassy in Haiti and an attorney is en route to

Haiti in hopes of being able to represent the group at Monday’s

hearing.

“It is our prayer that our people will be released and that the orphans

will soon have a place where they can be cared for,” Henry said.

The Utah-Idaho convention, in a statement on its website, lauded Henry as “one of our finest pastors” and requested prayer.

“At this time we ask for your prayers for the mission team in Haiti,

for their families waiting for news, for Central Valley Baptist Church

family, and for Pastor Clint Henry. We also ask you to pray for the

Haitian government and then most importantly for the children of Haiti

as they struggle to survive the earthquake disaster,” the Utah-Idaho

convention said.

Mike Ebert, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist North American Mission

Board, told Baptist Press that in a situation like the earthquake

aftermath in Haiti, it’s especially important for local churches and

individuals to coordinate their plans and any mission trips through

their state convention or through NAMB or the International Mission

Board.

“Part of that is just because we are keeping informed about all the

requirements and regulations in play and restrictions and travel issues

and safety issues and things like that,” Ebert said. “As part of our

normal disaster relief work, NAMB is constantly in touch with local

governments and many other disaster relief entities. So we have a lot

of information about what is actually happening on the ground and how

people can be the most effective.”

Ebert said he doesn’t have any doubt that the team from Idaho had the

best intentions as they were moved with compassion for children in

Haiti.

“The whole situation has served to illustrate the importance of working

through the process that Southern Baptists have put into place over the

years,” he said.

“We’re preparing to send another team now into Haiti that will

establish a more permanent disaster operations center there and will

hopefully serve to help the free flow of Southern Baptist aid to the

churches and the people that need it the most,” Ebert added.

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