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Pastor, wife returning home, await reunion with children but are ‘respecting their space’

SAN JOSE, Calif. (BP)–A Baptist pastor confirmed he and his wife would fly home after spending days in California attempting to reunite with their children kidnapped 20 years ago.

“We’ve done just about everything humanly possible here,” Mark Baskin said in a Feb. 10 telephone interview with The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. “We’ve been to as many media outlets as our bodies can endure. I think now it’s going to be a waiting game. The kids are kind of spooked and haven’t resurfaced yet.”

Baskin, bivocational pastor of Normantown Baptist Church in Vidalia, Ga., and his wife Debbie were in San Jose, Calif., hoping to contact their children, Christi and Bobby who had been raised by their maternal grandparents after disappearing with them in 1989.

Baskin was a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., at the time, living there with Debbie and their youngest son. Their two older children initially were living with Debbie’s parents in Tennessee. An increasingly contentious relationship came to a head when Debbie’s parents accused the Baskins of child abuse, which gave the grandparents temporary custody.

A year-long investigation cleared the Baskins. However, the night before a subsequent custody hearing, Debbie’s parents and the children vanished.

Marvin Maple, 73, has been charged with kidnapping the children, raised as Jennifer and Jonathan Bunting, and will have a preliminary hearing March 17 in Tennessee. Maple’s wife Sandra died in 2007.

Both college graduates, Jennifer, 28, is a nurse. Jonathan, 27, is married with a family. Baskin said he and his wife will continue to pray for contact with their children.

“We love them and have never stopped loving them,” Baskin said. “We don’t blame them for what transpired and want to establish a relationship with them.

“They’re laying low right now. The media attention has been a help but also a problem,” Baskin continued. “On one hand it might jar some reality into them but on the other hand it could make them want to pull back a little. They’re still kind of in shock.

“We’re respecting their space. They have responsibilities and jobs. We’re just trying to provide an avenue whereby they can contact us and talk.”

Baskin acknowledged the emotional toll from the news that their children have been located.

“It’s been hard. As you can imagine, all of it has been difficult to endure, but we’ve felt every single prayer. When God’s people pray, he listens and answers. I really feel that in the last 20 years there has been an unbroken chain of prayer about this. When we couldn’t pray, there were those who prayed for us.”

In the days after the kidnapping, Baskin said churches across the country and around the world contacted him to say that his family was on their prayer lists.

“We are so thankful for that,” he said.

In a Feb. 3 e-mail, Debbie Baskin told family and friends that the previous evening her husband had been contacted by Lt. Bill Sharp of the Rutherford County (Tenn.) Sheriff’s Office cold case unit.

“He told Mark that he felt like they had found my father in [California],” she wrote. “He was sending me a poorly scanned photo of him to identify. I immediately knew it was my dad.”

After her husband came home and a flurry of phone calls, a 12:30 a.m. call notified the couple that current photos of their children had been acquired. The scanned photos were the first the Baskins had seen of their daughter and oldest son in 20 years.

Shortly thereafter, another phone call alerted them to Maple’s arrest.

Debbie Baskin praised the effort of Sharp in cracking the case.

“It was this God-sent man and his partner (Det. Sgt. Dan Goodwin) who have done the impossible. I will forever be grateful.”

Mark Baskin said mediators also were trying to assist in establishing a meeting with their children, with no success so far.

“We’d like to ask everyone to be praying for the kids to come and know the truth,” he told The Index. “I’d also like to lift up the Maple family. They still believe a lot of things that are absolutely not true. I pray they come to know the truth as well. There are a lot of victims in this, and a lot of hurt.”

In the meantime, the Baskins will wait.

“Debbie [a schoolteacher] will probably take the rest of the week off from work,” said Baskin, band director at Montgomery County High School in Mt. Vernon, Ga. “I’ve got to get back to school and work with my students because we have some competitions coming up. Obviously, this has taken me away from the school for some time.

“I don’t want the kids to suffer.”
Scott Barkley is production editor of The Christian Index (www.christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.