Kidnapping or Caring? Missionaries in Haiti Tried to Take Children to U.S. After Earthquake

Arrest of 10 Americans shows conflict between religious mission and Haitian law.

ByABC News
February 3, 2010, 12:45 PM

Feb. 3, 2010— -- Ten Americans remained in a Haitian jail today, waiting for a judge to decide if they will face kidnapping charges. The ten are devout missionaries, and they were trying to take 33 children out of the earthquake-ravaged country without documentation. They say they did it in the name of Jesus Christ.

"We came here with the intention of being able to offer and share God's love and hope with these children that have just gone through so much," said one of the missionaries, Laura Silsby of the Idaho-based New Life Children's Refuge.

But maybe love isn't enough, and maybe faith can lead to exploitation.

In the earthquake's aftermath, Haiti has been overwhelmed by people wanting to help, many of them Christian missionaries. Their arrival has sparked a sharp debate about the potential conflicts between the call of faith and the need for respect across cultures.

Cultural 'Arrogance'

Max Beauvoir is a leader of Haiti's voodoo priests, in a nation where voodoo is widely practiced and deeply ingrained in the culture. He had harsh words for some of the missionaries.

"They are very arrogant," Beauvoir said. "I have seen those missionaries coming here, supposedly sent by Jesus to save us. From what? I don't know. That is what they say, and I believe that is wrong. We don't need that kind of savior."

But the missionaries come to save anyway. They intend to save the children not just from poverty or neglect, but from Haiti itself -- get the children out of the country and into Christian homes in the United States.

Relatives of some of the arrested missionaries stand by their loved ones.