BOISE, Idaho (BP)–The Idaho Baptist woman who spent more than 100 days in a Haiti jail this year says God taught her to embrace life’s trials as an opportunity to know Him better, and she says God used her prison experience to save guards and other prisoners.
Laura Silsby, who was arrested in January along with nine other Baptist volunteers for allegedly not having proper documentation to take orphans out of Haiti, says although her time in jail was “in some ways a valley experience,” she was able to share her faith with more than 150 prisoners and guards and see many of them accept Christ.
Silsby was released from prison May 17, weeks after the majority of her teammates were released. For more than two months, she was the lone American in the Port-au-Prince jail.
Silsby made the comments during an interview on the InterMountain Christian News Hour, which broadcasts weekdays on 790 AM in Boise, Idaho.
“There were definitely things about it that were so incredibly challenging,” Silsby, a member of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, said during the Sept. 24 interview. “But God also transformed that valley into a mountaintop experience for me, because He showed me it was also an invitation to know Him more intimately and to immerse myself into His Word and to cling to His promises…. We can say like David did in Psalm 63 that His love is better than life and our lips will glorify Him. I can truly say that He was so faithful in that regard to show me that the joy of knowing Him far surpasses all earthly joys.”
Silsby said she is grateful for the Christians who prayed for her during that time — a time in which she says she grew in her faith and learned lessons she wants to share with those back home.
“I believe God wants us to embrace the trials that He allows in our lives as divine opportunities to know Him more intimately and boldly share our faith with those around us,” she said. “And [He wants us to] see His power and His glory…. Even when things don’t go as we expect them to, God is still sovereignly in control. As I faced court processes there that were far less than what you would anticipate in the United States … [it helped] just recognizing that God is sovereign ruler over nations and powers and that we can rest in the Lord, knowing that they only have the power to do what He sovereignly grants.”
Quoting Isaiah 46:10 and 2 Chronicles 20:6 — two verses that emphasize God’s sovereignty — Silsby said, “It’s very reassuring to know that nothing can happen in our lives unless it is filtered first through His loving sovereign hands.”
Silsby said she believes God allowed her to be placed in the prison not only to grow her spiritually but also so she could witness to others. She said God transformed the lives of:
— a prisoner named Ralph, an angry man who made it known early that he didn’t like Silsby. She soon learned his mother was a voodoo priestess and began praying for him. “One morning,” Silsby recounted, “he asked me if the demons that were tormenting the man on their side of the jail were also bothering me, as well. I responded that it was the Lord God Most High that I serve, and His power far exceeds all the evil. It was an opportunity for him to realize that God’s power was greater.” She gave him a Bible, which he studied for several weeks before accepting Christ. “He actually became my interpreter.” When Ralph was released — he said he had been put there on false charges — he told Silsby he was glad he had been put in prison so they could meet.
— a 16-year-old teenager who, at age 10, had witnessed the murder of his entire family. An uncle supposedly had committed the crime but had accused the boy, who was convicted and sentenced to a 15-year term. The teen was depressed and wanted to kill himself. Ralph and Laura began praying for him. “God transformed that boy’s life,” Silsby said. “I can’t begin to express the joy that I felt. This young boy, prior to that, wouldn’t even accept food or water and had no desire to live. The enemy was tormenting him. [And now he was] at the front of all the men, at the [jail] bars, singing God’s praises and reading his new Bible.”
— a woman named Shelly, who was a mother of three and cried “uncontrollably for days” after she was put in jail, believing there was no hope. “One morning I looked up and I realized she was trying to commit suicide in the corner of the cell,” Silsby said. “God helped me to stop her from doing that, but more importantly, He had brought her to a point where she was so hungry for Him and for true hope and God’s love in her life. In the hours that followed, she turned her life over to Christ…. As she left [the jail] with her Bible in hand, there was peace on her face, and we sang together and prayed together before she left.”
Silsby and the new believers held Sunday morning worship services together. On one Sunday, 12 people accepted Christ.
“There was such a passion to know Him,” she said. “They would request for us to hold services at least twice a day for them to ask questions and learn more of God and study God’s Word and sing praises together.”
Local Christians supplied Silsby with the Bibles that were so critical in witnessing to others.
“As [the prisoners] left the prison … their single most treasured possession was that Bible that they had received,” she said. “In America, sometimes we take for granted the precious Word of God that we have and the power of the Word of God in our lives. It was wonderful to see how much they valued that.”
Silsby, too, learned to value God’s Word more.
“I just can’t tell you how much that meant to me,” Silsby said. “The power of God’s Word is such a privilege — for us to be able to read His Word and talk to Him continually throughout the day about everything that we face.”
She also learned the importance of displaying joy for unbelievers.
“There is almost nothing more that is as contagious as joy. When people see joy and people see our desire to praise Him, it draws people to the Lord.”
God provided for her spiritual needs but also her physical needs in prison, Silsby said. In Haiti’s judicial system, prisoners must rely on family members and friends for food. But despite being thousands of miles from home, she never went without food and water. Local believers, and even strangers, brought her what she needed. What she didn’t eat, she gave away — a practice that surprised the guards.
“When I first got there and I wanted to share the food that I had, they were cautioning me, ‘You can’t do that, you don’t know how long you’re going to be here.’ They were very reluctant to let me share my food with the man on the other side of the bars. But I shared with them that I believe with all my heart that God would provide more, and that if I were to give away what I had, He would be faithful to bring more.
“And as I gave away what I had, it was such a blessing to see the look on their face when God brought in complete strangers with more food and more water…. We do serve an awesome, awesome God that is able to provide for our every need.”
On one day near the end of her release, she had four cases of bottled water. It was given to new prisoners.
“Each time I would hand out food and water, it gave me an awesome opportunity to give that person a Bible and talk to them about the Lord,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to not only meet their physical needs but also share with them God’s hope and His love.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. Read Baptist Press’ in-depth stories about the Baptists’ experience in Haiti at http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=32953 and http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=33135. Listen to the Inter Mountain Christian News live at 4 p.m. Mountain, Monday through Friday, at www.imcnews.org.