22 Nov 2010

Thousands of evangelical missionaries invade Haiti to 'save souls' and claim credit for good works

TIME - February 11, 2010

The Missionary Baby-Lift Case: The View from Haiti's Streets

By Jessica Desvarieux / Port-au-Prince

The case of the 10 American missionaries charged with child kidnapping and criminal association in Haiti contains the perfect ingredients for a media meal ticket: drama, intrigue and Westerners at the mercy of a foreign judicial system.

But in the backdrop of the media circus outside the Port-au-Prince courthouse, where these Americans have been ushered to and fro for the past week, there are tents. These tents belong to women like 56-year-old Marie-Claude Jean, who lives on the cement driveway of the courthouse in hopes of getting some aid. She has observed the grandiose statements of lawyers and judges every day and says that, from what she can tell, the Americans should be freed based on good intentions. "When you take a child out of Haiti, they have more opportunities," says Jean. "It's not bad that they didn't have papers. It was a catastrophe, and we were dealing with difficult circumstances."

The Haitian judicial system seems to be in agreement. On Thursday, the Haitian judge investigating the case said the Americans should be released from jail but must remain in the country pending a final verdict. The 10 Baptist missionaries from Idaho were arrested on Jan. 29 after trying to take 33 Haitian children across the border to the Dominican Republic without legal documentation. The American women have denied

But for the group of Haitian women huddled outside the courthouse, it's the Haitian government that's on trial. Their speech becomes more emphatic as they assert that the government is treating the foreigners better than Haitian citizens, specifically when police officers cover the Americans' faces with jackets to shield them from the prying camera lenses. "If it was a Haitian, they would hit him over the head, not protect him," says Andrea Brezeau, 48.
Tension over this preferential treatment erupted even among Haitian journalists. As Haitian police officers transferred the missionaries from a police vehicle to a jail cell, one Haitian female journalist threw stones at the Americans screaming, "They should be showing their faces. They don't have a right to cover their faces."

That kind of local journalistic reaction is uncommon. Georges Michel, a senior political journalist for Radio Metropole, says that despite the frustrations of covering the trial, the majority of Haitian journalists have not paid close attention to this story because there are much larger issues in Haiti. "We have other concerns, like finding water, finding food, living on a day-to-day basis, finding some money to survive, looking for our dead friends and dead relatives. Everyone has immediate concerns," says Michel.

Still, one important question in the case remains: What will happen to the 33 children, who are currently residing in an orphanage outside the capital? Laurentius Lelly, 27, gave his two daughters, ages 4 and 6, to the American missionaries and says he last saw them at the S.O.S. orphanage last week. "When we visited they were in class, and that made me very happy," says Lelly, adding that he chose to send his daughters with the missionaries so they could have more opportunities. "If there was still a possibility for them to go abroad legally, with the government and the Ministry of Social Affairs knowing, I wouldn't have a problem."

Lelly and other parents from the mountain village of Callebas met with a judge earlier this week and answered questions about the circumstances behind the transfer. Lelly says there was no money exchanged and he gave his children willfully. He adds that if he had the means to take care of the children, he'd certainly fight for their custody. But he says he has yet to hear from the Haitian government about his children's future.

As they listen to children clapping hands while playing a game, the women at the courthouse say they can sympathize with Lelly's decision. Ginette B. Louis, 38, is a mother herself and says that many parents feel there is no future in their own country. "Why is it that these foreigners are taking our children, but the state is not?" asks Louis. "I can't judge the parents. The country doesn't offer anything."

This article was found at: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1963899,00.html


New York Times - February 15, 2010

Missionaries Go to Haiti, Followed by Scrutiny


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Their holy books vary widely and so does their disaster apparel. Devotees of Supreme Master Ching Hai, a Vietnamese spiritual leader, wore fluorescent yellow vests on their way into quake-damaged Haiti. Mormons wore their trademark white shirts and ties. And an array of others — Scientologists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Jews and Muslims — each printed T-shirts of a different hue declaring which faith had inspired them to help save Haiti.

Moved by awful images of the Jan. 12 earthquake, a broad band of religious groups has swept down here in recent weeks. But rather than fostering a universal spirit of interfaith cooperation, the hasty assemblage of religious organizations has sometimes created tensions among them.

Theology aside, what seems to divide the missionaries most is how long they have been working here. Some of the missions have operated here for decades, converting generations of Haitians and helping to develop the country, and that has made for some skepticism of the newcomers’ motives and methods.

Dale Winslette, 51, a volunteer with Give Me Shelter Ministries in Shalimar, Fla., which has been providing food and medical and dental care in Haiti for the past four years, said there were many missionaries who were mostly interested in returning to their churches with grand stories of good works.

“These people are so zealous to get out there and say, ‘Look what I did; look at these kids I saved,’ ” he said.

In Carrefour, a bustling suburb of Port-au-Prince, the capital, the Church of the Seventh-day Adventists, which has worked in Haiti since 1904, runs a hospital, a wastewater purification plant, a bakery, a radio station and a bookbinder. Even before the earthquake, the church was considered to have far more of a presence in Haiti than the government.

But other religious workers are operating in a far more bare-bones manner, with whatever they managed to carry in their luggage.

“You had missionary doctors parachuting in here doing amputations rather than setting or treating wounds because they knew their charter jet was leaving in two days and they would not be able to oversee follow-up,” said Dr. Scott Nelson, an American orthopedic surgeon and Adventist missionary, as he lifted a moaning man onto a soiled stretcher.

“The community trusts us, but when other groups make shortsighted decisions it undermines everyone’s credibility,” he added.

Dr. Nelson and other veteran missionaries faulted the new arrivals for frequently acting on their own instead of collaborating with more established missionary groups that plan on staying in Haiti for the long haul. It is tension, some experts say, that can arise from the differing reasons that missions have for being here.

“The new or short-term groups see themselves as being there to save souls first and lives second,” said Jonathan J. Bonk, director of the Overseas Ministries Study Center in New Haven. “The older, less conservative missions often see it the other way around.”

But the new arrivals say they have a legitimate role to play as well. “Right now, with the situation being a disaster, we mostly focus on food and water and supporting the doctors; that’s our mission,” said Pat Harney, a spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology, which has several hundred health professionals and volunteer ministers in Haiti.

Some of them arrived on John Travolta’s Boeing 707, which he flew down loaded with tons of relief supplies, and when not doing relief work they sang classic rock songs at a crowded bar full of aid workers inside the United Nations compound. At the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince, where Scientologists in bright yellow T-shirts have assisted as volunteers, some have carried out what they call touch therapy, in which they say they realign patients’ nervous systems by touching them through their clothes.

The hospital director, Dr. Alix Lassegne, said he told the group’s doctors to stick to traditional medicine and other volunteers to stay away from trying to convert anyone.

“We had fractures, serious wounds, and there was no time for unconventional things,” Dr. Lassegne said. “I told them, as director of the hospital, in no way would I permit other activities.”

Missionaries have long filled a vacuum left by an impoverished and historically unstable government.

While government officials have condemned the 10 Americans, most of them Baptists, who were arrested trying to take 33 Haitian children across the border without proper documentation, they have praised religious groups in general for their work.

“Missionaries have always participated in the process of alleviating pain in this country,” said Patrick Delatour, a top government official.

Christian missionaries run more than 2,000 primary schools in Haiti attended by about 600,000 students, roughly a third of the country’s school-age population, according to the Haitian Education Ministry.

In the case of the Adventists in Carrefour, more than 2,000 children attend a cluster of Adventist schools — primary through university level — that sit on a sprawling campus of palm trees and tidy white buildings perched on a hilltop.

“Even before the earthquake, this was a city of its own,” said Michel Toutian, a resident, 36, as he entered a huge tent city set up by the Adventists. “And the Adventists are the mayor, police, everything.”

Todd Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of World Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, said there were about 1,700 missionaries permanently based in Haiti. The number of missionaries making short-term visits is more difficult to estimate, but some organizations say it is as high as 10,000.

“The outpouring of compassion is heartwarming,” said Sarah Wilson, spokeswoman for Christian Aid, a British organization that receives much of its financing from church members and has a longstanding operation in Haiti. But she added: “People shouldn’t come down here for an experience. They should stay home and write a check.”

Damien Cave contributed reporting.

This article was found at:



Child snatchers for God: 10 American Baptists arrested for trying to smuggle children out of Haiti

U.S. Baptists charged with kidnapping Haitian children had lied to parents and officials about their intentions

Arrest of Baptist kidnappers in Haiti reveals evangelical movement using international adoption for religious conversion of children

Baptist kidnappers stopped by police officer during previous attempt to take Haitian kids, tried again days later

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