NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A national media report claiming American missions volunteers in a Haitian jail feared for their lives and had been lied to by their team leader was “a complete fabrication,” one of those volunteers told Oprah Winfrey Feb. 19.
NBC reported Feb. 6 that one of the jailed volunteers slipped a note through the bars of their cell that said in part: “We fear for our lives in Haiti. There is corruption and extortion. Laura wants to control. We believe lying. We’re afraid.”
The note purportedly added: “Please, you must listen. We have no way to call. Court will not let us have a say with anything about truth for us. We only came as volunteers. We had nothing to do with any documents and have been lied to.”
The report was “a complete fabrication,” Allen told Winfrey’s television audience via satellite from his home in Texas. “I don’t know anything about that at all. I know what went on with the five men because we were together. The women were separated. Us five men had no ill feelings toward anybody.”
The 10 missions volunteers were charged with attempting to transport 33 Haitian children into the Dominican Republic, allegedly without proper documents. The 10 had planned on taking the children to an orphanage Silsby was establishing across the border. Although police determined several of the children were not orphans, eight of the volunteers were released after Haitian parents told Judge Bernard Saint-Vil they had freely given their children to the American group. The volunteers were released without bond after promising to come back to Haiti if further questions arise, the Associated Press reported. Team leader Laura Silsby and an associate, Charisa Coulter, remain in detention while the judge investigates a trip they made to Haiti in December.
Allen told Winfrey he didn’t know anything about Silsby until he met her at the Miami airport on the way to Haiti. Winfrey asked what he thought about speculation that Silsby planned to make money by placing Haitian orphans with American families.
“During the whole trip, I didn’t get any indication myself that anything like that was going on,” Allen said. “It seemed like everyone in the group was legitimately concerned about the children and helping them, to the point that it was almost amazing to me they were so concerned.”
Although conditions in jail were difficult, Allen said he thought Haitian officials were doing the best they could with a bad situation.
Jail was “hard but they treated us as well as they could with what they had,” Allen said. “We slept on a concrete floor but we had a roof over our heads. We had one hot meal coming to us [each day]; it was actually enjoyable and good.”
The roof of the prison leaked when it rained but Allen said his thoughts turned to homeless Haitians who had to sleep in the open because the earthquake destroyed their homes. “They had it worse than I had it,” he said.
While he was shocked to find himself in prison, Allen said he understood the situation and trusted things would work out. He said he recognized that Haitian authorities needed to go through their legal process and believed that when the facts were known the volunteers would be released.
“We had done nothing wrong,” Allen said. “I felt we would be coming home. I just didn’t know when it would happen.”
Allen is a member of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas. Team members Carla Thompson, Nicole and Corinna Lankford, Charisa Coulter and Laura Silsby are members of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho. Three other detainees are from Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho: pastor Paul Thompson, his son Silas and church member Steve McMullen. Team member Drew Culberth is an assistant youth pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. Bethel Baptist is the only one of the three congregations not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.