EDITOR'S NOTE: One year ago, on May 17, 2010, Laura Silsby was released from a Haiti jail, 15 weeks after she and nine other Southern Baptist volunteers -- most from Idaho -- were arrested for allegedly not having proper documentation to take orphans out of Haiti. She was the final one released. Following is her story, in her own words.
MERIDIAN, Idaho (BP)--On Jan. 12, 2010, a 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the Northern Hemisphere, claiming more than 300,000 lives and leaving 1.5 million Haitians homeless.
The number of orphaned children in this small island country was estimated to have tripled overnight. As I watched the desperate pleas for help and read about the many children struggling to survive in the aftermath of the earthquake, my heart was heavily burdened. As I prayed, I felt compelled by God to go to Haiti to help rescue some of these precious children.
In a matter of days, God provided a team of Christian volunteers, all the needed supplies and a former church retreat center that could be converted into an interim orphanage. Teams of volunteers from churches across the U.S. had committed to help care for the children at the orphanage on a rotating basis. Government officials in the Dominican Republic (DR) were supportive of our desire to help and told us that we had authorization to bring the children to our orphanage in the DR. They confirmed that the borders were open between the two countries, with the normal border process waived given the humanitarian crisis.
As we entered Port au Prince, we were deeply troubled by the tremendous devastation and filled with compassion for the many homeless Haitian children we saw in the streets and crowded tent communities. A Haitian pastor requested our help in bringing the children from his collapsed orphanage to safety in the DR. He told us that there was no one else to care for them. After meeting with a senior official at the DR Consulate, I was told that the documentation we had was sufficient given the humanitarian crisis and told to proceed to the border.
At the Haitian border, we were stopped and told that we needed one more document. I was asked to return to the same Haitian Social Services office that had told me earlier that day that there was no one that could help us. I willingly agreed to return the next morning. The border chief said that the rest of the team and the children could go to a nearby mission for a medical examination and deworming treatment, while they awaited my return. We then sang the children to sleep and shared Jesus with several of the border guards, and one gave his heart to the Lord.
Early the next morning, before I was scheduled to leave, the Haitian police arrived in face masks with machine guns and we were all taken to the judicial headquarters, DCPJ. After being interrogated for hours and all our facts confirmed, the chief of police announced that we should be freed to bring the children with us into the DR. Before he could release us, he needed one more approval, from Haitian Social Services. Soon after, someone came and told the children that we intended to sell them for their body parts. A camera crew came in to film as they cried in fear. An official from Social Services arrived along with a judge. I told her that I would be happy to complete whatever additional paper that I was now told was needed. She said with a very evil smile, "I know you came here to do good, but I've got you now." The judge (who we were told was also a Voodoo priestess) was then instructed to convict us. She then went outside and held a press conference, announcing to the world that we were child traffickers.
As time in the jail passed and the case was escalated to a senior judge, he acknowledged and proved our innocence but was pressured into releasing the others and holding me so the government would not have to admit any error in our false arrest. His repeated attempts to free me were gated by corrupt attorneys and officials seeking to extort funds, his job was threatened, and an assassination attempt was even made on his life. During the almost four months I was held in Haiti, I witnessed tremendous corruption and deception in the Haitian government, police and judicial system.
Through all of this, God taught me to steadfastly trust His complete sovereignty and unfailing love. As I faced corrupt officials who repeated broken promises of release, I was able to rest in the fact that the Lord God Most High has all authority over Heaven and earth. He is Sovereign over all nations and powers (2 Chronicles 20:6). They can only do what He sovereignly grants. Nothing can happen in the life of a Christian unless God allows it or directs it for His glory, our good and the good of His Kingdom. "In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). Sovereign Lord, our times are in Your hands. (Psalms 31:14-15). Just as in the life of Joseph, what Satan intends for evil, God can transform for the good of His Kingdom. He had an eternal purpose in allowing all that happened. Lives of many prisoners and guards were eternally changed.
God gave me the opportunity to share my faith and hand out His Word to more than 150 prisoners and guards. Each time my release was delayed, as new prisoners were brought in that desperately needed Him, God would remind me of His eternal purpose in allowing them to keep me. I am so thankful for the opportunity He gave me to share His truth, love and hope. I saw God powerfully work, transforming many lives as they wholeheartedly surrendered to Him as their Lord and Savior and hungrily sought to know Him through His Word. It became, for many, their single treasured possession, eagerly requested and valued more than food. God would fill that place with His mighty presence as we would sing His praises throughout the day and in the dark of night.
Here are a few of their stories ...
When Ralph first arrived, he was angry, demanding and would resentfully curse me. He was the son of a Voodoo priestess, and was feared by the other prisoners and guards. I began to pray for him. One morning, he asked me if the demons that were so tormenting him and the other men were bothering me, too. I responded, "no, because I serve the Lord God Most High whose power is far greater than Satan and his demons." He earnestly began to study God's Word and turned his heart over to the Lord. God radically changed his life and he became my interpreter, assisting me when I would share God's Word with the men. During one morning's service, 12 men accepted the Lord and then requested that we meet twice a day and study God's Word together through the bars and sing His praises.
God transformed the life of a young boy named Frantzy. When he was brought in, the boy had no desire to live. He would just lie on the concrete floor and did not want to eat or drink. I learned that when he was 10 years old, his entire family had been murdered by his uncle and father. He had been unjustly sentenced along with the uncle for 15 years in prison for a horrific crime he could not stop, only watch in terror. Just like in the Bible, the enemy tormented this boy with demons that tried to take his life that night, by throwing him against the bars. Ralph held him in his arms as we prayed for his freedom through the power of Jesus Christ. I cannot even begin to express the joy I felt when I saw Frantzy standing each day at the bars in front of all the men, eyes lit up with joy as he sang God's praises and read verses from his new Bible aloud with me.
Patrick was a 15-year-old boy who was enslaved as a "restavek" when he was orphaned as a child. He was imprisoned for the crime his owner had committed. After he gave his heart to Christ, his smile lit up the gloomy cell each day as he would sing God's praises with us and read his Bible. Like Frantzy, he found hope and joy in Christ despite his unfair sentence.
Shelly, a falsely accused young mother of three, was so overwhelmed with despair that she tried to take her own life when she first arrived. God transformed her despair into hope as she placed her trust in the Lord. She left the jail for court filled with peace that God would reveal truth and enable her to be freed to return home to her children. God answered our prayers.
Guernise and Wideline, two teenage sisters from Cite Soleil, the worst slum in Haiti, were brought in bleeding and injured by some corrupt police officers. One sister was pregnant and thought that her injuries would result in the loss of her baby. But God intervened, healing her and sparing the life of her child. Both of these precious girls gave their hearts to the Lord. I was so blessed by their passionate pursuit of Jesus. As they eagerly read their Bibles, they wrote these truths pronouncing their new found hope: "Jezi kapab fe tout bagay." (Jesus can do all things!) "Mwen gen yon Bon Avoka." (I have a good advocate/defender.) "Prizon pa semiye." (Prison is NOT a cemetery.)"
God faithfully provided, not only for my every need but also the needs of those with me. In Haiti's prison system, food and clean water are not provided by the government and prisoners must rely on a family member or friend to bring them food and water when they can. Many of the prisoners have no family nearby and must beg for scraps from the other prisoners or go hungry. Each time my water or food would run out, God would provide more -- many times through the generosity of complete strangers. Guards at first urged me not to share, concerned that I would have no food left for myself, but I told them that my God would provide more. They were amazed at how God would faithfully provide just enough food and water, in advance of each new influx of prisoners, so I could feed all those who would have otherwise gone hungry.
God was so faithful throughout this entire experience, sustaining me daily with His strength and peace, surrounding me with His presence, and comforting me when I ached for my children back home. Just as He did for Paul in 2 Timothy 4:17, "The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength." I am so glad that when we face hardships or difficult trials, God faithfully strengthens us with His limitless power (2 Corinthians 4:7-9,16), quiets us with His unfailing love (Zephaniah 3:17) and fills us with His all-surpassing peace and joy (Philippians 4:6-7) -- as we steadfastly trust Him one surrendered day at a time. As we daily immerse ourselves in His Word in the midst of our trials, God invites us to know Him more intimately, teaching us to trust Him more completely and strengthening our faith.
Thank you for your faithful prayers for me and my family. I am so grateful that we serve the Lord Most High who hears and answers the prayers of His people. Please continue to pray for the precious children of Haiti and that the new believers would grow in their faith and reach many others for Christ.
"So then those who suffer according to God's Will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good" 1 Peter 4:19.
Reprinted with permission from InterMountain Christian News, online at www.imcnews.org. For permission to reprint this article, call 208-703-8688 or email editor Anthony Harper at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read Baptist Press' previous stories about the Baptists in Haiti:EXCLUSIVE: 'Radically different' story emerges about Baptists detained in HaitiEXCLUSIVE: Baptists say God provided in Haiti jail