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Baptist Convicted, Released from Haiti Jail

One of the missionaries accused of child kidnapping speaks with Baptist Press about what took place.

Baptist volunteer Laura Silsby has been released by Haitian authorities after a court conviction May 17.

According to the Associated Press, Silsby was convicted May 17 of arranging to transport 33 children out of Haiti in late January, following the Jan. 12 earthquake that ravaged the Caribbean country. Silsby was leading a group of 10 Baptist volunteers who were detained by authorities for allegedly failing to obtain the needed documentation to transport the children to an orphanage that was being started in the Dominican Republic.

Silsby, who had completed 15 full weeks in prison, was released for the time she had served, AP reported, and was free to leave the country.

Eight others in the group were freed in mid-February and the ninth was released in early March.

'Radically different' story about Baptists in Haiti emerges

By Michael Foust, Baptist Press

Paul Thompson reads the media accounts describing the journey of him and nine other jailed Baptist volunteers in Haiti who are all now free, and scratches his head. He was there. What he reads is not what he experienced.

Thompson, pastor of Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho, was one of those 10 Baptist volunteers who went to Haiti in late January with the goal of taking orphans out of the earthquake-ravaged country and into an orphanage being started in the Dominican Republican. That trip took a disastrous turn Jan. 30 when the 10 were shocked to learn they were being charged with child kidnapping, with allegations swirling that the group had plans to sell the kids into slavery, or worse, to harvest and sell their organs.

Such rumors were false, but it took more than 100 days to finally resolve the matter. Eight of them were freed in February, a ninth one released in March, and the final one – Laura Silsby – was let go May 17, more than 100 days after the ordeal began.

The story Thompson tells is far different from what has been described repeatedly in most media accounts.

"It's radically different," Thompson said.

For instance:

– The 10 Americans did not, as has been alleged in some accounts, go through the streets of Port-au-Prince passing out flyers and going door-to-door looking for children, Thompson said. Instead, the 33 children they were trying to take across the border in a medium-sized bus came from two orphanages, and orphanage workers told them that none of the children had parents.

– The group was told multiple times before they got to the border that their documentation and paperwork – the source of the controversy – was sufficient, Thompson said. A Haitian child services official said as much, as did a Haitian policeman and an orphanage director who has extensive experience transferring orphans from Haiti to the Dominican Republic.

– The 10 Baptists were arrested in Port-au-Prince, and not at the border. They thought they would go free until UNICEF – a United Nations agency – got involved and pressed charges, Thompson says.

– They were arrested on Jan. 30, and not Jan. 29 as has been reported repeatedly.

Thompson said that ever since he was released from jail Feb. 17 – after spending 19 days in jail – he's wanted the group's side of the story told but feared going public would endanger members of the group that were still in prison. Everyone, though, is now free.

Their only goals, Thompson says, were to spread the Gospel and to help children. That latter goal seemed to be on track until that disastrous afternoon of Jan. 30 when they were arrested and their lives were forever changed. Until that afternoon, Thompson says, they saw no "red flags," nothing to make them think, "Wait a minute, something's not feeling good."

The rest of this story can be found at Baptist Press.

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