More than three months ago, 10 Baptist mission workers from Idaho made major headlines when they tried to take 33 children from earthquake-devastated Haiti.
The latest twist in the strange, confusing case came this week:
BOISE, Idaho — The leader of an American group detained while trying to take 33 children out of Haiti after the January earthquake returned Tuesday to Idaho, deferring questions about her conviction for arranging illegal travel.
Laura Silsby was freed Monday after she was convicted by a judge for arranging illegal travel and sentenced to time already served in jail. She was welcomed at the Boise airport by a cheering crowd that included her sister, mother and members of her Idaho church.
Silsby cried while hugging family members, raised her hands in the air as her pastor led the group in prayer, and sang a hymn with members of her church congregation.
“It feels incredible,” Silsby said. “I just give praise to my God and I thank him for bringing me home.”
Before I get into the meat of this post, let me say that I appreciate the description in the third paragraph of that Associated Press story. It helps paint the scene of Silsby’s homecoming. I do wish, however, that the writer — or his editors — had gone all the way and named the hymn. Or am I the only reader who wondered what hymn they sang to welcome this woman home after 100-plus days behind bars?
The Idaho Statesman included this interesting religious nugget in its story:
The three visited Silsby twice a day at the Port-Au-Prince jail, where Silsby was held in a roughly 12-by-12-foot cell that had one cot and an ever-changing number of inmates.
Some left the cell with newfound faith, Mel Coulter said.
“She witnessed to at least 10 people who became Christians,” he said. “What began as a children’s ministry became a jail ministry.”
But the point of this post really isn’t to analyze the homecoming coverage. Rather, this is my question: Is this story — which made such big headlines in the beginning — the victim of media attention-deficit disorder? It seems to me that there are still nagging questions about the Idaho mission workers and the Haiti government’s prosecution that need to be explored. Unfortunately, media interest seems to have waned.
A later version of the AP homecoming story focused on Silsby’s personal problems — including a failed business with disgruntled employees and a custody fight with her ex-husband. While those are legitimate questions, the story does not make clear the extent, if any, to which her time behind bars exacerbated those issues.
However, it seems that the storyline concerning what happened in Haiti has been paved in concrete by the media when, in fact, questions remain that still need to be investigated — questions that might be easier to pursue with the last mission worker out of custody.
Baptist Press raised a number of those questions this week in what it labeled an “exclusive” report on the 10 Baptists from Idaho. The Southern Baptist news service interviewed mission worker Paul Thompson, who gave a “radically different” account from most media reports of what transpired in the earthquake-ravaged nation. His specific claims:
– 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.
The 4,000-word account by Baptist Press goes into great detail conveying Thompson’s side of the story. Certainly, his side is just one piece of the puzzle, but delving into his claims could help shine further light on this situation. AP, among others, went to the trouble to investigate this case — or at least certain aspects of it — in the early stages.
But while the original story plot — sinister missionaries attempt to kidnap Haitian children — made for sensational coverage, the actual circumstances may be more complicated.
Will anyone in the media attempt to figure out what really happened?