For some reason, those Baptist ‘missionaries’ recently arrested on the Haiti/DR border have been haunting me.

I don’t mean that they are haunting me in some ‘disembodied spirit’ kind of way. I mean that the whole situation reminds me that, as my grandmother used to say, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

When I began hearing about this story I immediately thought, oh oh, bad idea. Then, I felt ashamed. I felt shame because in my view it is yet one more instance where North Americans think they know best for the developing world and sweep down to ‘rescue’ others. A colleague from Maine reminded everyone that no one needed to be rescued, only provided relief. There is a big difference between rescue and relief.

What was particularly disturbing to me was the fact that it was apparent enough to the press that some of these children were not orphans. Ben Quinn of the Guardian recently wrote:

The Baptists said they had planned to take abandoned children orphaned in the earthquake and raise them at a new orphanage in the Dominican Republic. But according to locals, none of the children taken from Calebasse were orphans nor even particularly desperate. Few houses in the village have suffered any damage in the quake.

A couple of days ago the ‘missionaries’ were charged with kidnapping, 33 counts. One of missionaries, Laura Silsby, told reporters as she entered the court: “We expect God’s will be done. And we will be released.”

I am haunted by old images of missionaries ‘saving’ the locals.  I remember someone who served as a missionary in SE Asia telling me about tractors sent there to ‘help’ farmers being mired in the muck of a rice paddy, or useless because of the lack of gasoline, so ignorant were we of people’s real needs.

These missionaries apparently told parents they were taking the children away to a “good life,”  as if these foreign white folk knew best.  Laura Silsby’s comment bothers me the most. The comment also implies a misplaced certainty that Silsby’s group were bearers of “God’s will” in the world.  I am troubled by the fact she seems to believe she and her group is above the law in Haiti, but I am horrified that she seems to believe she is certain that God’s will is inexorably tied to her goals in Haiti.

I pray that good Christian folk will learn through this that relief efforts are best done by experienced organizations like World Vision, Oxfam, and my own favorite Church World Service. I am not saying we always get right actions wedded to right intent. I am saying that they are less likely to get mixed-up psycho/religious issues tangled up mission.  I also pray that the Haitian people do not believe that all Christians want to rescue them.

Another good read on this issue is here. Thanks @revsongbird.

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