Kind of Red

April 28, 2010

Suffer the Little Children

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Painted One @ 11:01 pm

But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.

-Luke 18:16

On Wednesday February 17, 2010, investigative judge Bernard Sainvil ordered the release of eight of the ten members of a U.S. missionary envoy who had been charged with child kidnapping and criminal association. Haitian officials caught the group attempting to transport thirty-three Haitian children out of the country without the government’s consent, and subsequently pressed charges. The group of Americans, consisting primarily of members from a Baptist congregation in Idaho, consistently maintained they merely sought to “rescue” the Haitian children they alleged were orphaned by the devastating earthquake that rocked the island nation on Tuesday January 12, 2010.  It is suggested that the group made more than one attempt to gather the children and transport them out of the country, and were warned not to do so prior to their arrest.   Nevertheless, Judge Sainvil ordered the release of eight of the missionaries, and chose to further detain two because they were in Haiti before the earthquakeA ninth member of the group was released Monday March 8, 2010. It was announced earlier this week that the Haitian government dropped the kidnapping charges against the missionaries, though such news might have been overlooked due to reports of Senate hearings into the mortgage practices of Goldman Sachs.  Questions yet remain as to what will happen to the children.

Most of the children the missionaries assembled hailed from the earthquake-ravaged village Callebas.  Some of Callebas’ villagers told members of the Associated Press that the missionaries promised to educate the children, and allow relatives to visit.  This served as the primary incentive for some of the “orphaned” children’s parents and relatives to send the children away with the missionaries.  The group of American missionaries said it intended to take the thirty-three Haitian children to an unspecified orphanage in the Dominican Republic.  In an exclusive jail cell interview with CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker, Laura Silsby, the leader of the group and founder of the New Life’s Children Refuge, said:

We have not in any way trafficked or kidnapped children.  We came here out of love in our hearts for these children and have done our best to help them.  Once we were asked at the border to provide an additional piece of paperwork for the Haitian government, we willingly complied.

She further stated, “God wanted us to come here to help children.”

Despite the decision to drop the kidnapping charges against the group, the whole episode shed light on a complex dilemma: the routine abandonment of children in Haiti and the subsequent child trafficking it facilitates.  Prior to the January 12th earthquake, the Haiti was known for its orphans.  Roshan Khadivi of Unicef has estimated that 2,000 children a year are trafficked out of Haiti.  Further reports have estimated that one in ten children under the age of five die due to complications related to preventable plagues such as malnutrition.  Consequently, destitute parents in Haiti routinely ask visitors from richer nations to transport their children back to the richer nation, with the hopes that the child will fare better within the confines of the more prosperous nation that sent its visitors.  The earthquake has merely compounded matters, and now humanitarian agencies have received floods of offers from families in the US and elsewhere to offer Haitian children “a better life.” Additionally, other organizations have tried to transport children out of the country.  In such situations, “children with no documentation get whisked away, and their families don’t know what has happened to them.”

Criticism of the Americans’ actions abound.  I even joined the chorus of critics occasionally suggesting the paternalistic nature of the ill-fated “rescue.”  On its face, it would appear the group kidnapped thirty-three children in the most dire straits. They maintain that their motives were pure, and any impropriety can be attributed to their naivete.  Regardless of such naivete, their actions were problematic.  Yet, I wrestle with the simple thought that these missionaries did something.  They watched in horror with the rest of the world as the harrowing images flashed across television screens, and chose to act. Millions of Americans responded to the tragedy heroically, and those without means to travel to Haiti gave donations at record rates to assist with repairing the devastation.  These missionaries acted as well, and thrust themselves into the thick of the fray.

As troublesome as their actions proved to be, the missionaries did what they believed best.  Notwithstanding, the missionaries’ actions gave light to an implied sense of superiority and offers a vivid reminder of times when foreign “do-gooders” descended upon the island nation (and other ravaged areas) in pursuit of questionable aims.  Nevertheless, if they are to be believed, these ten missionaries ventured across the Caribbean to assist those in need while many of us stayed home with our eyes affixed to our television screens.  It yet remains true that the children, along with thousands of others, still desperately need assistance, assistance these missionaries stated the went to provide.

Many of us experience difficulty grappling with the great weight of our internal convictions as they are juxtaposed against the compelling urge to put our faith towards some type of discernable external action. Furthermore, this life can thrust heartbreaking situations upon us that present difficult quandaries, as these missionaries’ plight has proven.   At times there are no convenient answers.  President Obama suggested this in his best-selling book, The Audacity of Hope, where he argued, “the best we can do is act in accordance with those things that are possible for all of us to know, understanding that a part of what we know to be true—as individuals or communities of faith—will be true for us alone.” In it, he referenced Abraham, the father of monotheism, as “a model of fidelity to God, and his great faith is rewarded through future generations.”  Yet he further stated:

“And yet it is fair to say that if any of us saw a 21st century Abraham raising the knife on the roof of his apartment building, we would call the police; we would wrestle him down; even if we saw him lower the knife at the last minute, we would expect the Department of Children and Family Services to take Isaac away and charge Abraham with child abuse.”

As imprudent as the missionaries seem in hindsight, their actions at the very least demonstrated the measure of their faith.   They accepted the charge listed in the epistle of James to prove the purity of their religion, even if their pure religion yielded tainted results in the eyes of their critics.  There dilemma has no simple solutions, and leaves lingering questions about whether justice was served.  Nevertheless, now that we know Haiti will no longer pursue kidnapping charges against the group, we must now wonder, who will suffer the little children, and how will they choose to do it?

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