By Kelly Mehler
Disaster struck Port-au-Prince, Haiti, twice within the last month. First was the catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake that shook the already impoverished country on Jan. 12. Natural disaster isn’t the only tragedy shaking up the country, though.
Haitian authorities arrested 10 American Baptist missionaries for trying to leave the crippled nation with a busload of young children. The missionaries said they were bringing the kids to an orphanage located in the Dominican Republic. While many Americans aid in the recovery process of Haiti by donating money, these Americans are shamelessly stealing actual family members from others.
The missionaries from Idaho’s Central Valley Baptist Church were clearly carrying out their own type of “mission.” Leader Laura Silsby of Meridian, Idaho, told the Associated Press the 33 stolen children were from orphanages in Haiti. She also said the children did not have any living relatives. But authorities discovered at least 22 of the children still have living parents.
After the 35-second earthquake devastated the country, Silsby and her group took a plane to Haiti and assembled 33 young boys and girls to lead to “salvation.” Haitian police then stopped them and discovered Silsby and her followers had none of the documents required to take children out of the country. Was their intended rescue, as Silsby believes, backed by God – or was the real miracle that they were stopped?
Authorities jailed the missionaries after charging them with kidnapping charges. Eight of the missionaries are now free without bail, while two missionaries are still being detained on the island. Judge Bernard Saint-Vil continues to investigate whether a trip the two took to Haiti in December is connected to present allegations.
Americans might be sympathetic towards missionaries sitting in a dark, isolated Haitian jail cell. But stealing warrants imprisonment. The Haitian government is right to hold these missionaries accountable for their criminal actions. While thousands of other Americans raise millions of dollars in Haiti relief funds, these missionaries have made it more difficult for those truly interested in the welfare of neglected or abandoned children to help.
Justice has still not prevailed. Most of the American missionaries were freed from jail on Feb. 18. The group’s quick departure from Haiti began when Judge Bernard Saint-Vil said eight of the 10 missionaries were free to leave without bail, since parents of the victims had testified they voluntarily gave their children to the missionaries in the belief the Americans would give them a better life. Still, this act is beyond criminal.
The group continues to deny the child trafficking accusations, saying that the trip was a selfless “rescue mission” for young victims. One of the accused, Jim Allen of Amarillo, Texas, appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” explaining how harsh the conditions were in the prison where they stayed. According to Allen, they slept on a concrete floor and only had one meal a day. Cry me a river.
One cannot even imagine the distress Haitians are going through right now, trying to provide for their families in these days of tremendous ruin. It has been full of moments of grief and despair, which is why it is the absolute wrong moment to take a child out of his or her home and into an unfamiliar country with new life-changing decisions. This wasn’t an act of charity; it was an act of selfishness and criminality.