I've been hearing a lot about the 10 missionaries from an Idaho-based ministry "New Life Children's Refuge" (NLCR) who have been in jail in Haiti since their arrest.
The suspects were detained at Malpasse, Haiti’s main border crossing with the Dominican Republic, after Haitian police conducted a routine search of their vehicle. Authorities report that the Americans had no documents to prove they had cleared the adoption of the 33 children - aged 2 months to 12 years - though any embassy and no papers showing these children to be orphans.
The group has a Haitian lawyer, Edwin Coq, who says that the judge found sufficient evidence to file charges against the Americans. Coq said that under Haiti's legal system, there won't be an open trial, but a judge will consider the evidence. It could take the judge three months to render a verdict. Each of the kidnapping counts carries a possible sentence of five to 15 years in prison.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the case "unfortunate." "The Haitian nation acted to protect children who were being removed from their country without appropriate documentation," she said. "It was unfortunate that, whatever the motivation, this group of Americans took matters into their own hands."
Yves Cristalin, Haiti's social affairs minister, explains that "No children can leave Haiti without proper authorization and these people did not have that authorization."
NLCR was founded by Laura Silsby, 40, and Charisa Coulter, 23, who are both members of the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho. This Baptist church is part of the Southern Baptist Convention, but these women did not go through the denomination to form their charity and instead independently formed the group. Laura Silsby incorporated NLCR in Idaho this past November, and says that it is "dedicated to rescuing, loving and caring for orphaned, abandoned and impoverished Haitian and Dominican children, demonstrating God's love and helping each child find healing, hope, joy and new life in Christ". NLCR had planned to buy land and build an orphanage, school and church in Magante on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic.
After the earthquakes, the NLCR's aim became to "rescue Haitian orphans abandoned on the streets, makeshift hospitals or from collapsed orphanages in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, and bring them to New Life Children's Refuge in Cabarete, Dominican Republic". The written plan involves an interim plan of leasing a 45 room hotel and converting it into an orphanage until the building of the NLCR is complete. I've read that Silsby says NLCR was working with Haitian pastor Jean Sanbil of the Sharing Jesus Ministries, who already had an orphanage in Haiti that was severely damaged during the earthquakes. I have not been able to verify any information about Jean Sanbil or Sharing Jesus Ministries.
One of the issues here is that the Haitian government has suspended adoptions amid fears that parentless or lost children are more vulnerable than ever to human trafficking. Without proper documents and concerted efforts to track down their parents, they could be forever separated from family members able and willing to care for them. Prime Minister Max Bellerive's personal authorization is now required for the departure of any child from Haiti without his parents. Max Bellerive told The Associated Press Sunday he was outraged by the group's "illegal trafficking of children" in a country long afflicted by the scourge and by foreign meddling.
The harsh reality is that in this desperately poor country — especially after the catastrophic Jan. 12 quake — some parents openly attest to their willingness to part with their children if it will mean a better life. Several AP news interviews have shown many Haitians to have this sentiment. I read the following in one such interview:
"Some parents I know have already given their children to foreigners," Adonis Helman, 44. "I've been thinking how I will choose which one I may give — probably my youngest."
Another issue is that Christian missionaries are not necessarily seen as good in Haiti. Two-thirds of Haiti's 9 million are said to practice Voodoo, a melange of beliefs from parts of west Africa and Catholicism; voodoo is widely practiced and deeply ingrained in the culture. Max Beauvior, a leader of Haiti's vodoo priests, had this to say about Christian missionaries:
"They are very arrogant, I have seen those missionaries coming here, supposedly sent by Jesus to save us. From what? I don't know. That is what they say, and I believe that is wrong. We don't need that kind of savior."
I watched this interesting video showing what these missionaries are saying from jail:
When I read all the information, I see so many ways it could be looked at and interpreted. Personally I lean toward thinking these missionaries were naive and would have better served the people they wanted to help by working with, and through, their denomination or some other larger group that is knowledgeable of the laws and inner working of Haiti. I don't see them as out to make money off these children or participating in human trafficking. I hate to think that they would end up spending years in prison in Haiti.
What do you think? Are these people with the NLCR well meaning people trying to help children in a devastated country? Do you think they are they human traffickers? Do you think they were well intentioned but ignorant? Do you think they should have to serve jail sentences in a Haitian prison?
5 hours ago