The Missionary Impulse

Please read Timothy Egan’s opinion piece in the New York Times.

From out of the ordered suburbs of Idaho to the grim chaos of Haiti came 40-year-old Laura Silsby — fleeing creditors who had foreclosed on her home and ex-employees stiffed of their wages.

To the Caribbean she went with nine other self-appointed missionaries and an audacious plan: they would “gather 100 orphans from the streets,” of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, according to an outline on the Web site of Silsby’s group, New Life Children’s Refuge.

The children would be whisked across the border into the Dominican Republic. Food, shelter, legal permits: the basics would be worked out by divine blueprint. For now, they needed funds — tax deductible!

What’s more, there would soon be “opportunities for adoption,” the group mentioned, “for loving Christian parents who would otherwise not be able to afford to adopt.”

Silsby and her live-in nanny, Charisa Coulter, are still in a Haitian jail, where they have denied charges of child kidnapping. A judge there has agreed to release the two this week, but the case shows once again how easy it is to manipulate people in the name of an all-loving God.

“Kidnapping for Jesus” is what many, including outraged Idahoans, have called it in reader response to newspaper stories about the missionaries. Silsby says it’s all a misunderstanding, and her intentions were good.

At the least, the curious case of Laura Silsby raises questions about cultural imperialism: what makes a scofflaw from nearly all-white Idaho with no experience in adoption or rescue services think she has a right to bring religion and relief to a country with its own cultural, racial and spiritual heritage?

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