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Freed detainee asks that people focus on Haiti citizens

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A Baptist volunteer who was jailed in Haiti for nearly three weeks says he hopes people will once again focus on the plight of the citizens of the earthquake-ravaged country.

Jim Allen, one of eight detainees flown back to the United States Wednesday, said in a statement on his church’s website that he thanks “the many people around the world who prayed for me.” Allen is a member of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas.

“I hope [Wednesday’s] actions will allow everyone to focus again on the dire conditions that remain in Haiti,” Allen said. “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.”

Two volunteers from the 10-member team remain in a Haitian prison on further investigation: Laura Silsby and Charisa Coulter, both members of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho. Three other members of that church were released Wednesday, as were three members of Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho. A member of Bethel Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., also was freed. Bethel is the only church not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

The 10 members were charged with attempting to transport 33 Haitian children into the Dominican Republic without proper documents. The 10 had planned on taking the children to an orphanage Silsby was establishing across the border. The eight volunteers were released after Haitian parents told Judge Bernard Saint-Vil they had freely given their children to the American group. They were released without bond after promising to come back to Haiti if further questions arise, the Associated Press reported.

At Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, associate pastor John Martinez said the news of the detainees’ release was a “big relief.” Martinez has been preaching in absence of pastor Paul Thompson, who was part of the group. Thompson’s son Silas was a member of the group as was church member Steve McMullen.

“We were just so thrilled,” Martinez told Baptist Press. “This is what we’ve been praying for and going before the throne of God for day after day. Our church has been on its knees.”

God used the incident to unify the church and to “grow us and teach us and mature us,” Martinez said. He said the past few weeks could best be described as a “roller coaster” in light of various news outlets that inaccurately reported the detainees would be released.

“Our church is proud of our pastor and of Steve and of Silas,” Martinez said. “We’re proud of why they went. We’re proud of how they behaved while they were there. They certainly had a very visible witness.”

The group went to Haiti hoping to impact perhaps hundreds of people for Christ, Martinez said, but “God chose to have them impact millions.”

As of Thursday the Thompsons and Steve McMullen were still in Kansas, the Associated Press reported. Thompson’s brother-in-law is Drew Culberth, an assistant youth pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., who was part of the group.

Allen — who is Paul Thompson’s cousin — was scheduled to be welcomed home Thursday afternoon at the Amarillo Civic Center during a community celebration. In his statement Allen also thanked Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R.-Texas, for speaking out on his behalf, and for Haitian attorney Louis Gary Lissade and his stateside attorneys.

Johnny Hunt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, expressed gratitude for the detainees’ release.

“We are thankful for the release of these eight Baptist volunteers. We are concerned for the health and release of the remaining two volunteers. From the beginning, our hope and prayer for them all has been that their motives would be vindicated and their freedom secured. We continue to pray to that end,” said Hunt, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Woodstock.

Allen was a last-minute addition to the humanitarian effort and got word of the trip from Thompson. Within 48 hours Allen had all the necessary shots and documentation and joined the group just before they flew out of Miami. The group, under the leadership of Silsby, planned to transport the children to a facility in the Dominican Republic. An old hotel was going to be refurbished and used as an orphanage and Allen was willing to lend his construction and welding skills to the task.

Despite Allen’s ordeal, members of Paramount Baptist Church 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.

The other freed members are Carla Thompson and Nicole and Corinna Lankford of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho.
With reporting by Bonnie Pritchett, a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

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  • Michael Foust