NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Baptist
volunteer who was jailed in Haiti for nearly three weeks says he hopes people
will once again focus on the plight of the citizens of the earthquake-ravaged
Jim Allen, one of eight detainees flown back to the United States Wednesday,
said in a statement on his church’s website that he thanks “the many people
around the world who prayed for me.”
Allen is a member of Paramount Baptist
Church in Amarillo, Texas.
“I hope (Wednesday’s) actions will allow everyone to focus again on the dire
conditions that remain in Haiti,” Allen said. “People are still suffering and
lack basic necessities. Please find it in your hearts, as I did in mine, to
find ways to give to those in need. For those whose cases have not been
resolved, we will continue to pray for their safe return.”
Two volunteers from the 10-member team remain in a Haitian prison on further
investigation: Laura Silsby and Charisa Coulter, both members of Central Valley
Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho. Three other members of that church were
released Wednesday, as were three members of Eastside Baptist Church in Twin
Falls, Idaho. A member of Bethel Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., also was
freed. Bethel is the only church not affiliated with the Southern Baptist
The 10 members were charged with attempting to transport 33 Haitian children
into the Dominican Republic without proper documents. The 10 had planned on
taking the children to an orphanage Silsby was establishing across the border.
The eight volunteers were released after Haitian parents told Judge Bernard
Saint-Vil they had freely given their children to the American group. They were
released without bond after promising to come back to Haiti if further questions
arise, the Associated Press reported.
At Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, associate pastor John Martinez said
the news of the detainees’ release was a “big relief.” Martinez has been
preaching in absence of pastor Paul Thompson, who was part of the group.
Thompson’s son Silas was a member of the group as was church member Steve
“We were just so thrilled,” Martinez told Baptist Press. “This is what we’ve
been praying for and going before the throne of God for day after day. Our
church has been on its knees.”
God used the incident to unify the church and to “grow us and teach us and
mature us,” Martinez said. He said the past few weeks could best be described
as a “roller coaster” in light of various news outlets that inaccurately
reported the detainees would be released.
“Our church is proud of our pastor and of Steve and of Silas,” Martinez said. “We’re
proud of why they went. We’re proud of how they behaved while they were there.
They certainly had a very visible witness.”
The group went to Haiti hoping to impact perhaps hundreds of people for Christ,
Martinez said, but “God chose to have them impact millions.”
As of Thursday the Thompsons and Steve McMullen were still in Kansas, the
Associated Press reported. Thompson’s brother-in-law is Drew Culbert, an
assistant youth pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., who was part
of the group.
Allen — who is Paul Thompson’s cousin — was scheduled to be welcomed home
Thursday afternoon at the Amarillo Civic Center during a community celebration.
In his statement Allen also thanked Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R.-Texas, for
speaking out on his behalf, and for Haitian attorney Louis Gary Lissade and his
Johnny Hunt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, expressed gratitude
for the detainees’ release.
“We are thankful for the release of these eight Baptist volunteers. We are
concerned for the health and release of the remaining two volunteers. From the
beginning, our hope and prayer for them all has been that their motives would
be vindicated and their freedom secured. We continue to pray to that end,” said
Hunt, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Woodstock.
Allen was a last-minute addition to the humanitarian effort and got word of the
trip from Thompson. Within 48 hours Allen had all the necessary shots and
documentation and joined the group just before they flew out of Miami. The
group, under the leadership of Silsby, planned to transport the children to a
facility in the Dominican Republic. An old hotel was going to be refurbished
and used as an orphanage and Allen was willing to lend his construction and
welding skills to the task.
Despite Allen’s ordeal, members of Paramount Baptist Church will be sending a
contingency to Haiti by week’s end. Before the quake, a team was scheduled to
work on an orphanage and in an AIDS hospital. That work will go on, Paramount
associate pastor Lance Herrington said.
The other freed members are Carla Thompson and Nicole and Corinna Lankford of
Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — With reporting by Bonnie Pritchett, a correspondent for
the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern
Baptists of Texas Convention.)