Photo courtesy Nicole Lankford
TWIN FALLS, Idaho (BP)--Nineteen days in a Haiti prison is a long time, especially when there's no bed, no drinkable water, no usable toilet, no lights, and -- in the aftermath of a massive earthquake -- a judicial system in tatters.
For 10 Baptists arrested Jan. 30 for allegedly not having proper documentation to take orphans out of the country, it was their reality. Eight of them were released on the 19th day; another after 37 days; and the 10th after 100-plus days.
Photo courtesy Nicole Lankford
They're not, though, hoping the world will feel sorry for them. Instead, they're wanting to spread the word about how God cared for them, provided food and water when they had none, and taught them spiritual lessons they'll never forget.
Baptist Press spoke with the two youngest members on the trip, Nicole Lankford, 18, and Silas Thompson, 19, about their time in the Port-au-Prince jail. The two were in separate cells -- the five men in one cell, the five women in another -- but in the same facility.
"Honestly, it doesn't matter to me if the whole world knows that we slept on a concrete floor or not," Lankford, a member of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, told Baptist Press. "That was very minimal in the grand scheme of things. God gave us a story -- we have a million stories of His faithfulness and what He did, and how He sustained us and what He taught us and the lessons we're still learning. Those things are what we want people to hear and those are the reasons we talk about the trip."
In May, Baptist Press published an account of the events that led to the group's arrest, detailing how some government officials told them they had the proper paperwork to transport the 33 orphans into the Dominican Republican, where the children would be housed in an orphanage that was being started. They were arrested, of course, for not having the right papers.
The events of the day of their arrest -- Jan. 30 -- were so chaotic that neither Lankford nor Thompson realized they were being arrested until minutes before they were put behind bars. Until that moment, they had been sitting for hours in the offices and hallways of the sweltering jail facility, doing their best to take care of the children while waiting for the police to finish interviewing Laura Silsby, the group's leader. The Baptists say everything was OK until representatives of UNICEF -- a United Nations agency -- got involved.
"There had not been any talk of arrest or anything, even detainment had not been brought up," said Thompson, a member of Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Lankford, whose mother was part of the group, had been caring for a baby girl who was less than a year old and had a fever. She had been giving the baby girl formula and even water, when a Haiti policeman told the 10 Baptists to follow him to another room. Still, Lankford did not realize what was happening.
"Somebody told me that I had to give the baby to one of the Haitian guards, and I handed the baby to someone," Lankford said. "I remember thinking that Laura was acting strange because she was hugging all the kids when we were walking past them. She was saying to them, 'It will be OK, it will be OK.' Obviously, she knew what I didn't -- that something was very wrong, that she had heard that we were being accused of child trafficking."
After walking down a long hallway and into a room, the men in the group were told to take their belts off and everyone was told to remove their shoelaces.... Read More