In letter, Baptists ask Obama to aid 10 held by Haiti

NASHVILLE, Tenn.  An appeal to President Obama has been made by three Southern Baptist Convention leaders in behalf of the 10 Baptist volunteers currently being held in Haiti on kidnapping and criminal association charges.

The Feb. 5 letter asks the president “that you do everything within the authority of your office to secure a safe return home for these brothers and sisters in Christ as soon as possible.”

The Baptist leaders affirmed “the diplomatic negotiations currently under way between your Administration and the Haitian government to resolve this matter…to bring about a solution that respects the rule of law, honors international agreements, and ensures the best possible care and full legal representation for these Baptist mission volunteers.”

The letter was sent to President Obama by the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, Morris H. Chapman; the SBC’s president, Johnny Hunt; and the SBC’s immediate past president, Frank Page, who is a member of the president’s Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

“We have closely monitored news reports that these Baptist mission volunteers have been arrested, detained, and charged by the Haitian government on allegations of child kidnapping,” the Baptist leaders wrote to the president. “It is our understanding that these mission volunteers were attempting to transport 33 Haitian children into the Dominican Republic for humanitarian purposes. We do not know all of the facts of this case, but we are concerned that the continued detainment and possible conviction of these Baptist mission volunteers will distract the world’s attention and undermine the relief efforts so desperately needed by the Haitian people….

“It is possible that the Baptist mission volunteers currently detained in Haiti have acted with the noblest of intentions in a desperate situation to meet an immediate need. We pray that is the case.”

Sharing the love of Jesus “is never more apparent than during times of crisis, and that is why Southern Baptists have committed to work alongside other humanitarian organizations to meet the needs of millions of people living in Haiti,” the Baptist leaders noted.

“We cannot speak authoritatively about the motives and actions of this particular group of mission volunteers,” the leaders wrote to the president. “What we can assure you of, however, is that many Southern Baptists are currently in Haiti — and elsewhere around the world — for the sole purpose of doing whatever is necessary to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed.”

Setting forth specific requests to President Obama concerning the 10 Baptist volunteers being detained in Haiti, the three SBC leaders wrote: “The trauma of this entire ordeal is surely affecting the emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being of the detained mission volunteers. We ask, therefore, that you use all means necessary to secure for these mission volunteers the medical treatment and spiritual counsel that they need while imprisoned, and that you arrange for a representative from their churches or from the Southern Baptist Convention, or both, to visit them in Haiti as soon as possible. Upon their release, we also ask that those representatives be allowed to accompany them home to provide pastoral care and spiritual encouragement.”

The Baptist leaders expressed to the president “our sincere appreciation and prayerful support of your efforts to direct the compassionate resources of the American people to help Haiti recover from the recent earthquake. Our hearts are deeply burdened for the people of Haiti, and our hands are ready to work with you to begin the healing process for our neighbors, who are among the poorest of the Western Hemisphere.” They committed to pray for the president “as you seek to lead an international effort in this hour of tragic loss and cataclysmic destruction.”
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Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.

The full text of the letter to President Obama from the Southern Baptist leaders follows:

Barack Obama
The President
The White House

Dear Mr. President:

As you know, the consuming passion of Southern Baptists is to reach the world with the message of hope that comes from Jesus Christ, our Lord. Faithful obedience to Jesus Christ is what compels Southern Baptists to give sacrificially and go courageously into the whole world proclaiming the good news of the Lord’s death and resurrection. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Gulf Coast region, Southern Baptists were there distributing food and water, rebuilding homes and providing shelter. When a tsunami wiped out whole Asian cities and villages, killing tens of thousands of people in 2004, Southern Baptists raised more than $2.7 million within the first two weeks to help with relief efforts.

Southern Baptists love Jesus. And because we love Jesus, we love every person He has created. That love is never more apparent than during times of crisis, and that is why Southern Baptists have committed to work alongside other humanitarian organizations to meet the needs of millions of people living in Haiti.

We write to you, Mr. President, to express our sincere appreciation and prayerful support of your efforts to direct the compassionate resources of the American people to help Haiti recover from the recent earthquake. Our hearts are deeply burdened for the people of Haiti, and our hands are ready to work with you to begin the healing process for our neighbors, who are among the poorest of the Western Hemisphere. This work, however, has suffered a setback due to the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the efforts of ten Baptist mission volunteers — the majority of whom apparently attend cooperating Southern Baptist churches — to help Haitian children.

We have closely monitored news reports that these Baptist mission volunteers have been arrested, detained, and charged by the Haitian government on allegations of child kidnapping. It is our understanding that these mission volunteers were attempting to transport 33 Haitian children into the Dominican Republic for humanitarian purposes. We do not know all of the facts of this case, but we are concerned that the continued detainment and possible conviction of these Baptist mission volunteers will distract the world’s attention and undermine the relief efforts so desperately needed by the Haitian people.

It is not our intent to interfere in the diplomatic negotiations currently under way between your Administration and the Haitian government to resolve this matter. We have full confidence that you and your diplomatic negotiators are working diligently to bring about a solution that respects the rule of law, honors international agreements, and ensures the best possible care and full legal representation for these Baptist mission volunteers. We cannot speak authoritatively about the motives and actions of this particular group of mission volunteers. What we can assure you of, however, is that many Southern Baptists are currently in Haiti ? and elsewhere around the world ? for the sole purpose of doing whatever is necessary to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed. It is possible that the Baptist mission volunteers currently detained in Haiti have acted with the noblest of intentions in a desperate situation to meet an immediate need. We pray that is the case.

Knowing as you do that Southern Baptists are fully committed to this relief effort ? both directly through personal assistance and indirectly through financial contributions ? we trust that you understand our concerns. We ask, therefore, that you do everything within the authority of your office to secure a safe return home for these brothers and sisters in Ch

Online Editor
Aaron Earls
Lifeway
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