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Freed Baptists hope attention will now focus on Haiti's needs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (ABP) -- Eight Southern Baptist mission volunteers freed after three weeks in a Haitian jail said they hope their release will allow attention to focus once again on tremendous need remaining from the Jan. 12 earthquake that prompted them to go to Haiti in the first place.

Caleb Stegall, an attorney representing four of a total of 10 Baptist volunteers arrested Jan. 29 while trying to bus 33 Haitian children out of the country without proper documentation, read a statement on their behalf Feb. 18 at Kansas City International Airport.

"We are deeply thankful to God for our safe return home," the statement said. "Our faith has sustained us through this ordeal, as have the many thousands of prayers that have been offered on our behalf.

Baptists released
Attorney Caleb Stegall speaks on behalf of the eight Baptist volunteers who were released by Haitian authorities Feb. 17, during a brief news conference Feb. 18 at the airport in Kansas City, Mo. Two volunteers continue to be detained in Haiti. (BP Photo)
"We are profoundly grateful to all those who have prayed for our safe return and to the many who we may never meet in person who worked tirelessly for our return. We are especially thankful to our wives and to our mother who have borne this all with steadfastness and grace."

Port-au-Prince Judge Bernard Saint-Vil released eight of the 10 Baptists without bail after parents of children the group had taken testified they voluntarily gave their children to the missionaries in hopes they would find a better life.

The judge ordered the remaining two -- team leader Laura Silsby, 47, and her nanny Charisa Coulter, 24 -- to remain in Haiti for more questioning on child-kidnapping charges. Unlike the other eight, who volunteered on short notice to aid earthquake victims, Silsby and Coulter had been to Haiti before to try to set up an orphanage in the Dominican Republic that would take in poor children and place some of them for adoption in Christian homes in the United States.

"For those whose cases have not yet been resolved and who remain in Haiti, we will continue to pray for their safe return," the released Baptists said in their statement.

A crowd at the Amarillo Civic Center greeted the lone Texan among the group mostly from two Southern Baptist churches in Idaho with cheers and applause at a welcome-home rally Feb. 18.

"I want to thank a lot of people," Jim Allen, 47, said with about 20 family members behind him. "I'm thankful to be home and I'm glad to be back."

"I want to thank the tremendous amount of people that were involved in it," Allen said. "I don't even know who all they are yet."

Allen, a welder and construction worker and member of Amarillo's Paramount Baptist Church , went along to Haiti with his cousin Paul Thompson, pastor of Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho, with hopes of using his skills to provide shelter for people who lost their homes.

Allen's wife, Lisa, described him as "a quiet Christian who loves God but doesn't wear his faith on his sleeve" on a website dedicated to his legal defense. "Perhaps most of all he likes to help other people," she said. "That's the way he lets the love of Christ shine through him."
 
"I want to thank my God for protecting me," Jim Allen said at the rally. "The reason I went was for the relief effort and to help those people they still need your help and I hope that that can continue."

Clint Henry, pastor at Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, sponsoring church of the "Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission " team led by Silsby, a church member who incorporated the non-profit New Life Children's Refuge last November, said relatives and friends were excited by the release of eight detainees but voiced concern for the two still remaining in Haiti.

"We will continue to pray for and work toward their release, believing that will come soon as well" Henry said. "The families' deepest gratitude goes to countless people around the world who offered their support encouragement and prayers during this very difficult time."
       
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