TOPEKA, Kan. — American missionaries who faced allegations of child trafficking in Haiti but were freed from jail described their trip to the earthquake-ravaged country as a simple humanitarian effort that left them even more concerned about the Haitian people. "It seemed like everyone in the group (was) legitimately really concerned about the children and helping them, to the point that it was almost amazing to me that they were so concerned about helping them,” missionary Jim Allen of Amarillo, Texas, told Oprah Winfrey on Friday’s episode of her talk show. Allen was among eight American missionaries freed Wednesday after three weeks in custody in Haiti. Two were left behind. Four of the eight are now in Kansas. Three are home in Idaho, while Allen is back in Texas. The group denies the child trafficking accusations, arguing the trip was a do-it-youself "rescue mission” for young victims of the massive Jan. 12 earthquake. "We’re four guys — well, we’re a group of 10 people — that are convinced that it’s better to get up off the couch and go and help people than just sit on a couch and do nothing,” missionary Paul Thompson said during a segment taped from Topeka and aired Friday on NBC’s "Today” show. Thompson is from Twin Falls, Idaho.
Group slept on concreteAllen, who appeared with his wife, Lisa, on "The Oprah Winfrey Show,” described conditions at the jail, saying the missionaries slept on a concrete floor and received one hot meal a day. Still, he said, the group was treated well. He said when it rained, water would drip through little holes in the ceiling. "What I was thinking of at the time is that there are millions, it seemed like, people on the street that were getting poured on,” Allen told Winfrey. "They were sleeping on the ground.” Thompson said he doesn’t want their detention to take the focus away from Haiti and its recovery. "The need is incredible,” he said. After flying Thursday from Miami to Kansas City, Mo., Thompson traveled to Topeka, the hometown of one of the other missionaries, youth pastor Drew Culberth. In a portion of the "Today” segment posted online by KSHB-TV, the NBC affiliate in Kansas City, Culberth described his reunion with his wife and children as "amazing.” "Very indescribable, the emotions that took place when I first saw them and got to hold them again,” he said.
Charges still possibleThe 10 missionaries were charged with kidnapping for trying to take 33 Haitian children to the Dominican Republic on Jan. 29 without Haitian adoption certificates. Allen told Winfrey the missionaries planned to take the children to a temporary orphanage in the Dominican Republic. The missionary group’s leader originally said the children were orphans or had been abandoned. But The Associated Press determined that at least 20 were handed over willingly by their parents. That helped persuade a Haitian judge to free the eight without bail, releasing them with the understanding that they will return to Haiti if requested. They could still face charges. The judge said he did not release the other two missionaries because they planned even before the quake to open an orphanage in Haiti.
What’s new?Judge questions jailed missionaries PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A Haitian judge has quizzed two U.S. Baptist missionaries jailed on child kidnapping charges about their visits to orphanages prior to last month’s quake. Laura Silsby and Charisa Coulter were not allowed to leave Haiti when the judge on Wednesday released eight other Americans with whom they were arrested Jan. 29 trying to take 33 children out of the country. Judge Bernard Saint-Vil told reporters Friday that he is investigating what the two Meridian, Idaho, women did during a December visit. He said he would visit orphanages where they may have sought children. U.S. Embassy officials attended the closed-door hearing but didn’t speak to reporters. The women are due back in court on Tuesday.