- (Photo: AP Images / Andres Leighton)
Five of the ten U.S. missionaries who were detained for taking children out of Haiti were questioned by a judge Tuesday.
The Baptists had traveled to the earthquake ravaged country to rescue orphans and bring them to the Dominican Republic but now find themselves in a Haitian jail, accused of child trafficking.
Judge Ezaie Pierre-Louis questioned five women missionaries for several hours and is scheduled to interview the men on Wednesday.
"After the hearing tomorrow, I will make a report to the prosecutor, then he will decide what he does next," the Haitian judge said, according to BBC News.
Members at Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, say the incident is a misunderstanding.
Plans for building an orphanage in the Dominican Republic for Haitian children were in place before the earthquake struck the Caribbean island on Jan. 12. The disaster that left hundreds of thousands dead and millions homeless prompted Laura Silsby, 40, and Charisa Coulter, 24, to move quickly on their plan, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. They estimated that the number of Haitian orphans increased by 300 percent as a result of the earthquake.
They received the support of their church and partnered with missionaries from another church in Twin Falls, Idaho. The team named their yet-to-be-built orphanage "New Life Children's Refuge" and planned to drive a bus of 100 orphans from Port-au-Prince to the neighboring country.
New Life Children's Refuge would help children "find healing, hope, joy and new life in Christ," as the mission statement reads, and provide education and vocational skills as well as "opportunities for adoption into a loving Christian family."
Rather than wait for a permanent facility to be built, the team felt "God ... laid upon our hearts the need to go now." They leased a 45-room hotel at Cabarete, Dominican Republic, to serve as a temporary orphanage.
But the mission went awry when they were stopped at the border Friday night with 33 children. The team did not have any formal paperwork to take the children.
Also, some of the children turned out not to be orphans. Haitian parents had entrusted their children to the missionaries with the hope that their son or daughter would have a better life and with the understanding that they would be able to visit their children.
Silsby has denied allegations of trafficking and said their only intent was to help those that lost their parents or were abandoned.
"We believe we have been charged very falsely with trafficking," she said, according to BBC News. "We all gave up everything we had... to come here to help these children and by no means are any part of that horrendous practice."
The missionary team's churches, including Central Valley Baptist Church and Bethel Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., have defended the team and have been praying for their safe return.