Friday, February 5, 2010

"Orphans" in Haiti

The news reports today about a group of 10 missionaries who were arrested trying to take a group of Haitian orphans to the Dominican Republic. According to their attorney,
...the group's leader, Laura Silsby, knew she couldn't remove the youngsters without proper paperwork, but he characterized the other nine missionaries as unknowingly being caught up in actions they didn't understand.
The news report also points out that many of the children were not orphans, but were promised better lives by the "missionaries".

It gets more confusing. Religion Dispatches reports,
By disregarding even the most basic history of slavery, missions, or colonial activity in Haiti, their missionary impulse failed them miserably. With all of the missions already on the ground in Haiti, what made them think they could just take children out of the country? ....

If the New Life Group had really wanted to help these children, they could have done it right there on the spot, rather than going to the remote community of Calebasse and taking children into the Dominican Republic. Better yet, send money and stay home; let professionals handle the situation. It wasn’t as though Haiti was bereft of missions groups.

Moreover, the leader of New Life Children’s rescue, Laura Silsby, has had serious legal problems in the past, most recently losing the house she bought for the ministry to foreclosure at the end of 2009. The fact that neither of the churches involved with the missions group vetted her thoroughly before leading a missions trip will open them to lawsuits, above and beyond the legal fees and costs incurred from the current incarceration. Silby’s motives are also suspect in part because she seemed to realize what she was doing, stating in an interview on Monday that the group did not intend to offer the children for adoption. “We intended to raise those children and be with them their entire lives, if necessary,” she said. It also seems that a plan was in place for an orphanage long before the earthquake occurred.

...The real crux of the issue is this: these ten do-gooders walked into the trap many well-meaning white evangelical Christians fall into: those poor brown/black/yellow/red people need My help. Jesus wants Me to help them. To much of white American Evangelical Christianity, the We often means Me. It’s what God Called Me to do. It’s what God would want Me to do. The problem with the Me mentality of much of conservative Evangelical Christianity is that they often can’t see the We—the people of Haiti—who love their kids so much they’re willing to let some white people who claim to be “Christians” take them away to what they promise will be “a better life.”

The focus on Me takes away from the real ways that people in disasters can be helped without the insertion of well-meaning, clueless interlopers into their story. The New Life group is now finding out what living in an impoverished and earthquake-ravaged country is like. Perhaps now they will begin to understand what it means to live alongside the poor, as opposed to swooping into a disaster for a quick “feel-good Christian moment” designed to make them feel better about themselves.
At what point does altruism become a sort of cultural hegemony? I feel sorry for these "missionaries", whom I 'm sure thought they were doing the right thing. And it's very regrettable that they have probably made it more difficult for real missionaries to work effectively. But I feel sorriest for the Haitian parents who thought that handing their children over to a group of Americans was their only option. No one should ever feel THAT.

Update See this Wall Street Journal article for the facts of the case.


Malcolm+ said...

I feel sorry for nine of them. I don't feel much sympathy at all for their leader who clearly believed that the laws of Haiti didn't apply to her because she was a superior, white godbotherer.

David |Dah • veed| said...

The white anglophile press is actually being nice to her. The 3rd world press is more suspect of her motives, Suggesting self-enrichment by putting the kids up for "adoption" to the highest bidder!

Little black kids from poor countries would jump at being housekeepers for wealthy folks, right?

JCF said...

I don't think so much as "housekeepers", Dahveed.

I DO think that white Evs in Idaho thought about dressing up little black girls in pink satin, as "Living Dolls". Ah, So Cute!


[It's for the same reason it's said "Don't send blankets, (etc) SEND MONEY!" Let the professionals, the lifers, the trained people do rescue, relief and development work. Other well-meaning people: SEND MONEY, and stay the f@ck out of the way!]

Erp said...

Most were probably well-meaning but in the Lady Bountiful (or Lady Catherine de Bourgh) way of reasonably well-off Americans; we will give you poor black voodoo worshiping (or Catholic) Haitians what you need (which is to raise your kids as good evangelical Christians), but, we won't work with or listen to you. I do feel sorry for the one or two who are very young adults and who haven't had the chance to learn better and who went along with a parent.

Elizabeth said...

I, too, wonder about the motives of the leader. I wonder if she wanted the money-making possibilities of having an orphanage that she could then have fundraisers for. It seems to be part of the Religious Right leadership: to fleece good people who are lacking in critical thinking skills. I also felt for the parents of these children. That is where the help was needed. These people love their children; just make it possible for them to care for their children until they get going again financially.

calugg said...

To be most uncharitable, I don't feel "sorry" for these Evangelicals who went into a foreign country and got caught stealing children.

I do feel bad for the Haitian government that has to spend any of its precious resources to feed, house, and eventually try these jokers.

If they want to help poor folks, they only need to look where they live...where they might have a chance to make more meaningful and lasting changes.

Erp said...

To put faces on the missionaries

Central Valley Baptist Church, Meridian
Laura Silsby - 40 - leader
Charisa Coulter - 24 - assistant - live-in nanny of the above, diabetic
Corinna Lankford - 42
Nicole Lankford - 18 (daughter of Nicole, home-schooled)
Carla Thompson - 53 (mother of two, not related to the other Thompsons)

Eastside Baptist Church, Twin Falls, Idaho
Paul Thompson - 43, paster
Silas Thompson - 19 (son of Paul Thompson)
Steve McMullin - 56

Jim Allen - 47 Amarillo, Texas (cousin of Paul Thompson)
Drew Culberth - 34, Topeka, Kansas (brother-in-law of Paul Thompson)

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

8th Commmandment, but I have said that before, haven't I? Do not steal thy Neighbour for gain...

Anonymous said...

I've been on the fence about the issue, but I've finally made up my mind that they were just a bunch of regular-joe types who really had the best of intentions instead of child trafficking. They got so caught up in "we can really make a difference!" that they failed to do any research on laws. After all, Chuck Norris in MIA 2 (or was it 3?) crossed a border with a bunch of kids and a pastor in tow as he left vietnam, and nobody questioned HIM!

Anyways, movies and motives aside, the main reason I DON'T think they're child trafikkers is because they DIDN'T have any paperwork. Yes, that's right. Folks who do child trafikking are INTIMATELY familiar with the law, and would have trumped up some false paperwork fore-seeing the border crossing being a possible sticking point.

Since these folks didn't have paperwork, I think they were just "good idea, bad execution" types who should have just stayed home and helped the homeless.

Anyways, I'm actually surprised to find more people siding against them on the internet than with them.