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2 detainees appear before judge in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BP)–As enthusiastic friends and family in the United States welcomed home eight missions volunteers jailed in Haiti since Jan. 29, two other members of their team appeared Thursday before a judge in Haiti.

Laura Silsby and Charisa Coulter had to remain behind because Judge Bernard Saint-Vil wanted to question them about a trip the pair made to a Haitian orphanage in December. He also wants to know whether they knew Jorge Puello, a fugitive from justice in El Salvador, before he presented himself to the jailed Americans as a lawyer willing to help them for free.

Their appearance before the judge was shortened, however, because a court-appointed translator was out due to illness, CNN reported. Silsby said she told the judge it was not true she had misled the other missionaries in her group and said the December visit to the orphanage was to bring food, clothes and toys to the children.

As she left the proceedings, Silsby told reporters, “We’re trusting God for all truth to be revealed and believing that God will reveal the truth through the Haitian justice system. They are seeking the truth.”

In Boise, Idaho, Corinna Lankford, Nicole Lankford and Carla Thompson were welcomed by a crowd that greeted them with hymns and cheers, according to news reports. “Our God is an awesome God, and He stood with us every second we were there,” Thompson said, according to the Idaho Statesman. “I want you to continue to pray for Laura and Charisa’s release. He’s going to bring them home, too.”

The plane carrying the team members to Boise was delayed an hour, until after midnight. While they waited, the crowd sang “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art” in the airport lobby, the Statesman said.

Four other team members were greeted with similar enthusiasm Thursday when they arrived at the airport in Kansas City, Mo. One of the team members, Drew Culberth, hoisted his youngest child onto his shoulders while his wife, Marta, and their three other children crowded close, the Associated Press reported.

The eighth team member, Jim Allen, was cheered as he entered the civic center in Amarillo, Texas, where he was surrounded by about 20 relatives and his wife. “I want to thank the tremendous amount of people who were involved” in getting him released, Allen told reporters, his voice cracking with emotion. The crowd erupted in applause when he added, “I want to thank my God for protecting me.””

Allen said, “The reason I went was for the relief effort — to help these people — and they still need your help.”

In a statement posted on his church’s website, Allen said he hoped the release of the eight team members “will allow everyone to focus again on the dire conditions that remain in Haiti. 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.”

Despite Allen’s ordeal, members of his congregation, Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, 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.

Thompson, Nicole and Corinna Lankford, Silsby and Coulter are members of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho. Three freed detainees are from Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho: pastor Paul Thompson, his son Silas and church member Steve McMullen. Allen is a member of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas. Culberth is an assistant youth pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. Bethel Baptist is the only church not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.

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