Weatherford Democrat

February 7, 2010

Baptists concerned Haiti arrests may hurt image

Greg Webb
Weatherford Democrat

WEATHERFORD — NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Officials at the Southern Baptist Convention are concerned the arrest of 10 Baptists in Haiti could make it harder to find volunteers for its missionary and disaster relief work.

The Christians, most of them Southern Baptists, weren't acting under the auspices of the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention, when they were arrested Jan. 29 while trying to take 33 children out of Haiti.

Even so, Vice President of Convention Relations Roger Oldham said, "Clearly there is a concern that, because of the acts of this one team, our tremendous history of relief over the years would be tainted in some people's minds."

The Southern Baptists' Disaster Relief ministry is the third-largest relief organization in North America, according to the convention. Oldham said Friday that more than 90,000 trained disaster relief volunteers are ready to assist Haiti with earthquake recovery as soon as they are invited in by the Haitian government.

The 10 Baptists from Idaho, Kansas and Texas were charged Thursday with kidnapping and remain jailed pending trial. Their attorney, Edwin Coq, has said the group's leader, Laura Silsby, knew she couldn't take the children into the Dominican Republic without proper paperwork, but he has characterized the other nine volunteers as "naive."

A statement from the detainees' family members released late Thursday said, "We are absolutely convinced that those who were recruited to join this mission traveled to Haiti to help, not hurt, these children."

The Baptist group had said they were rescuing abandoned children and orphans, but at least two-thirds of the children involved in the case have parents. However, several of the parents told The Associated Press they gave their children up willingly because the group promised the children a better life.

Oldham said individual Southern Baptists are working to minister to the jailed volunteers and advocate for them, but he declined to say whether the convention itself was helping the group in any way.

According to the group's Web site, Southern Baptist Convention leaders, including President Johnny Hunt and Executive Committee President Morris Chapman, have urged Southern Baptists to pray for the group.