WASHINGTON (BP)–Five members of a Baptist volunteer team being detained in Haiti met with a judge in Port-au-Prince Feb. 2, according to the Voice of America and other news reports Feb. 3.
In all, 10 Baptist volunteers continue to be held by authorities in the capital city over allegations of illegally attempting to transport 33 children from the ravages of the Jan. 12 earthquake into the neighboring Dominican Republic.
Meanwhile, a Haitian pastor who assisted the team has told the Associated Press that the Baptist volunteers had permission from parents of children in the group who were not orphans to transport them into the Dominican Republic.
The pastor, Jean Sainvil, however, described the controversy as a misunderstanding stemming from the volunteers not having the needed paperwork for the children. Sainvil said the Baptist volunteers were acting “with a good heart.”
The five women on the team, members of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, were questioned by the Haitian judge Feb. 2.
The five men on the team, members of other Baptist churches, in Idaho, Kansas and Texas, were to meet with the judge Wednesday, Feb. 3.
No additional details about the proceedings were being reported in the media as of mid-afternoon Feb. 3.
News reports have varied widely since the Baptist volunteers’ arrest Jan. 29 regarding the circumstances that led to their arrest.
The leader of the volunteer group, Laura Silsby, was seen in several video interviews Feb. 1 and Jan. 31, which were permitted by authorities, as stating that the group had thought their plans were in order for transporting the children into the Dominican Republic until they were stopped by Haitian guards at the border between the two countries.
Among the examples of divergent news reports: A CNN report Feb. 1 stated that at least 10 of the children were not orphans, while an Associated Press report Feb. 2 stated that most of the children were between the ages of 3 and 6 and were unable to provide any details about their families.
CBS reporter Bill Whitaker, according to a Feb. 3 report on the network’s news website, “went to the home village of 20 of the children” and was told “by the children’s parents and siblings they willingly signed their children over to the Americans. To get a better life, one woman said. ‘We have nothing; look around here.’
“Did anyone offer anyone any money? asked Whitaker. No, they all said.”
Other reports, however, state that the children received flyers promising a good life under the care of the Baptist team’s New Life Children’s Refuge ministry.
The controversy has sparked widespread discussion in the media of fears that Haitian children may be transported from the country by individuals engaged in such illicit practices as sex trafficking.
Drew Ham, an assistant pastor at Central Valley Baptist Church, told CBS’ “The Early Show” Feb. 3 said he clearly understands the concern.
“… [T]he families who are here [in Idaho] have expressed their desire for the Haitian government to really raise those standards [for adopting orphans from the country]. So in many ways this is a positive step that they’ve raised those standards,” Ham said.
In addition to Silsby, the other members of Central Valley Baptist Church being detained are Charisa Coulter, Carla Thompson and Nicole and Corinna Lankford. Three detainees are from Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho: pastor Paul Thompson, his son Silas and church member Steve McMullen. The other detainees are Drew Culberth, a firefighter who also is an assistant youth pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., and Jim Allen, a businessman from Amarillo, Texas.
Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.
For Baptist Press Feb. 1 and Feb. 2 reports on the detainees in Haiti, see http://bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=32180 and http://bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=32188