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Baptists Held in Haiti for Alleged Child Trafficking

| by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON -- A 10-member Baptist team being detained in Haiti remained in custody as of mid-afternoon Feb. 2.

There were no reports whether the Baptist volunteers appeared before a Haitian judge Feb. 1 as had been expected over accusations of unlawfully attempting to transport 33 children from the earthquake-ravaged country into neighboring Dominican Republic.

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The leader of the volunteer team, Laura Silsby from Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, was quoted in video reports posted on CNN and The New York Times websites Feb. 1 as describing their Christian motives in traveling to Haiti to aid orphans after the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Silsby told a CNN reporter, "We believe that we have been charged very falsely with trafficking, which of course that is the furthest possible extreme, because, I mean, our hearts here -– we literally all gave up, you know, everything we had, I mean, income, used of our own funds to come here and help these children and by no means are any part of that horrendous practice." The reporter said authorities had permitted the team to be interviewed.

Of the 33 children the team was seeking to aid, Silsby said, "They really didn't have any paperwork. This is, again, probably a misunderstanding on my part, but I did not really understand that that would really need to be required."

Told by the CNN reporter that at least 10 of the children had a mother or father and a telephone number, Silsby said, "I can tell you our heart and our intent was to help only those children that needed us most, that they had lost either both mother and father, or had lost one of their parents and the other parent had abandoned them."

Regarding the team's encounter with a Haitian pastor who directed them to the children, Silsby said, "We felt like it was a very God-appointed meeting."

In the video posted at The Times website, Silsby said, "The entire team deeply fell in love with these children. They are very, very precious kids that have lost their homes and their families and are so, so deeply in need of, most of all, God's love and His compassion and a very nurturing setting."

A video with comments by Silsby also was posted at the website of KTVB in Boise, Idaho, on Jan. 31.

"We have been told by a number of people, officials, that it was OK for the pastor to sign that he was entrusting them into our care," Silsby said, "and the Dominican Republic had already approved that we would be able to care for those children in the Dominican Republic."

In addition to Silsby, four other members of Central Valley Baptist Church were being detained: Charisa Coulter, Carla Thompson and Nicole and Corinna Lankford. The team also included three members from Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho, pastor Paul Thompson, his son Silas and church member Steve McMullen. Media in Topeka, Kan., have reported that one of the detainees is Drew Culbert, a firefighter who also is an assistant youth pastor at Bethel Baptist Church. The 10th detainee is Jim Allen, a businessman from Amarillo, Texas, according to media reports there.

Coulter, in a video posted by the Associated Press, was briefly interviewed while on a stretcher. A diabetic, Coulter was described by the AP reporter as having suffered from severe dehydration or the flu.

Coulter told the reporter, "I'm really praying that we'll be able to take these kids out and we'll be able to provide a safe and loving home for these kids who have nothing and that all charges will be dropped and that they will see our hearts."

Thompson was briefly quoted in the CNN report as saying, "God is the one who called us to come here and we just really believe this was His purpose."

At Central Valley Baptist Church's website, the following announcement from Jan. 29 continued to be displayed Feb. 2: "A ten member church team traveled to Haiti to help rescue children from one or more orphanages that had been devastated in the earthquake on January 12. The children were being taken to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic where they could be cared for and have their medical and emotional needs attended to. Our team was falsely arrested today and we are doing everything we can from this end to clear up the misunderstanding that has occurred in Port au Prince."