Amarillo man held in Haiti back home

AMARILLO?Southern Baptist layman Jim Allen was welcomed home a free man Thursday afternoon at the Amarillo Civic Center during a community celebration of his release from prison in Haiti. His freedom, and that of seven others on a short-term humanitarian venture, came almost three weeks to the day after the group was arrested in Haiti on charges of kidnapping and criminal association.

Allen was scheduled to appear Friday on Oprah Winfrey’s daily television show to recount his captivity.

“My faith means everything to me, and I knew this moment would come when the truth would set me free,” Allen said in a statement just after being freed from prison. In a press release issued by Texas-based Liberty Legal Institute, the non-profit organization providing Allen’s legal defense, he added, “I thank Judge Bernard Saint-Vil for listening to my story, and I thank the Haitian people for keeping me safe and seeing that justice was served. I also thank the many people around the world who prayed for me.”

Allen also thanked Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) for speaking out on his behalf, for his Haitian attorney Louis Gary Lissade, and stateside attorneys.

Eight of the 10 Americans who traveled to Haiti on the mission following the deadly January earthquake in Haiti were released from prison on Wednesday after a week of speculation that some or all of the charges would be dropped. Two members of the team remained in Haitian custody pending further investigation. Those released were flown to Miami.

Pastor Gil Lain of Paramount Baptist Church, Allen’s home congregation in Amarillo, Texas, said he met word of Allen’s release with guarded optimism. Once he received word from Liberty Legal attorney Hiram Sasser that Allen was out of the Haitian prison and being taken to a secure location, Lain said he was “elated, excited and thankful.”

Lance Herrington, an associate pastor at Paramount, said the reaction was similar in the Wednesday evening prayer meeting. There were several prayers of thanksgiving for Allen’s release and that of seven others. He said they also prayed for the two women still imprisoned. The church has devoted time during its Sunday and Wednesday services to pray for the situation in Haiti.

Despite assurances of God’s providence, questions about the ordeal have risen during the three trying weeks, Herrington admitted. Why would people with good intentions be made to endure such an experience? What happened to the children they were trying to help?

Herrington said not all questions dealt with human suffering. Some, he said, wondered what God was going to do in the midst of the despair or whether or not they were able to witness to the gospel while held.

“What was God going to do through them? God’s going to take this and use it for his glory,” Herrington said. He said he anticipated hearing such stories.

To expedite Allen’s return to Amarillo, Lain said the church made arrangements with a local company to have a private jet bring him to Amarillo.

Before he left for Haiti, Lain said the congregation prayed for Allen, who was a last-minute addition to the humanitarian effort. He got word of the trip from his cousin Paul Thompson, pastor of East Side Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho and a member of the ministry team. Within 48 hours Allen had all the necessary shots and documentation and joined the group just before they flew out of Miami. Others in the group included members of Central Baptist Church, Meridian, Idaho, Bethel Baptist, Topeka, Kan., and East Side Baptist Church. According to news reports, Laura Silsby and Charisa Courter, both of Meridian, Idaho, remained in custody.

The group, under the leadership of Silsby, planned to transport children left orphaned by the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake to a facility in the Dominican Republic. An old hotel was going to be refurbished and used as an orphanage and Allen was willing to lend his construction and welding skills to the task. Lain and Allen’s wife, Lisa, were adamant in their defense of Allen following the arrest of the 10 Americans Jan. 29. The pastor said Allen would never intentionally involve himself in illegal act

TEXAN Correspondent
Bonnie Pritchett
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