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Imprisoned in Haiti
February 10, 2010
Last spring I received an email from a reader of this site who asked if I would be able to send an inscribed copy of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment to a young man who was just graduating high school. This would serve as a small graduation gift. I was glad to do so and sent the book to Silas Thompson. You may know that name now as Silas is currently in a Haitian prison, arrested and charged with child abduction and criminal association. He is there with his father Paul and eight other Americans. You have undoubtedly heard of the story through the media.
The details have been a little bit difficult to piece together and reading Christian publications provides a slightly different story than reading stories in the mainstream media outlets. What we do know is that shortly after the earthquake, a team of Americans headed to Haiti to attempt to take a busload of orphaned children into neighboring Dominican Republic. They were stopped at the border and arrested under suspicion of attempting to traffic those children. Beyond that, there seems to be a lot of confusion. Googling “haiti missionaries” and “Laura Silsby” turns up a wealth of stories from varied perspectives. But do read at least several stories since you’ll see that many of the details are disputed.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to interview Renee Thompson, wife to Paul and mother to Silas. I asked her what she knows and how her son and husband are faring in their Haitian prison.
Can you tell how your husband and son found themselves in Haiti so soon after the earthquake?
Paul has always had a heart for people who are hurting, and when the earthquake hit Haiti, he knew he wanted to go and help somehow. A sister church called our church to let us know about a mission trip that was being organized by one of their members. They said they needed some help, and asked if anyone from our church wanted to go. The purpose of the mission trip was to rescue orphans who were at a Haitian orphanage that had been destroyed by the earthquake and take them to a hotel in the Dominican Republic. The hotel, which was being leased by the mission’s organizer and was in need of repairs, would house the orphans while a permanent facility was being built. The mission volunteers would help to repair the hotel and take care of the orphans who were brought there. Paul decided to go, as did our youngest son, Silas, who had earlier talked about wanting to help in Haiti.
Tell me about the circumstances surrounding their arrest?
I wish I had details to tell you. We could only communicate through a cell phone and coverage in Haiti was sketchy at best, so we didn’t get to talk much. The last time I talked with him, the mission volunteers were at the border with the children, ready to cross into the Dominican Republic, when they learned that they were missing one bit of paperwork. The group leader was going to go back to Port-au-Prince early the next morning to get that paperwork completed, then once she returned, they’d cross the border into the DR. That was the last time I talked with Paul. The next morning, I got a call that they had been arrested.
Laura Silsby is generally being blamed for this situation, some suggesting she was well-intentioned but ignorant, others suggesting she was knowingly doing something illegal. What is your understanding of her role?
Actually, I’ve never met Laura, and I’ve only talked to her once on the phone. In the same way that it breaks my heart to hear people judging my husband and my son without knowing the truth, I just won’t judge Laura and what she has or hasn’t done because I don’t know what the truth is. And at this point, I am not willing to expend any energy or emotion on placing blame or being angry. I need a clear head so that I can help my guys, so that’s where my focus has to be.
It seems that this situation has been sensationalized, at least a little bit, through the mainstream media. Is that the case?
By nature, people are drawn to stories, especially when they’re unpredictable and have many different angles. While I would prefer to live our lives outside of the spotlight, I understand the public’s desire to know what’s going on, whether out of curiosity or concern. I do look forward to moving on without all of the attention.
How is the U.S. government involved at this point? Are they able to give you any hope or assurance?
A representative from the State Department keeps us updated on the situation as much as possible. When news reports were saying the men and women were put into separate prisons, the representative quickly looked into it and let the families know that the reports were untrue. I was so thankful they did that for us. We’re also in contact with our Idaho delegation—Senators Risch and Crapo and Representative Mike Simpson.
Are your husband and son (and the others) safe where they are now? Are you able to stay in touch with them at all?
We know through the situation updates from the State Department and our Idaho delegation that they are safe, they have food and water, and that they are together. And we can see on news reports that they still look okay. In fact, today I saw that Paul was wearing a different shirt!
We are able to get messages to Paul and Silas through the State Department, as well. All of the families have a designated email address where we can send notes to our loved ones. The State Department relays those notes to the embassy in Haiti, and the embassy representatives take the notes to the prison when they go for their visits. We can not receive notes back from them, but at least we’re able to encourage them and let them know we love them.
What is the latest on their situation?
It’s hard to know because so many things happen in the background that we don’t even know about. What we do know is that they are safe, they’re together, and there are a lot of people working hard to get them released.
What is God teaching you through all of this?
He’s teaching me to extol him at all times. Psalm 34 was the first place I landed after hearing Paul and Silas were arrested. These pages in my Bible are wrinkled from being wet with my tears. The first verse says, “I will extol the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips.” The chapter goes on to talk about the Lord delivering his own, yet I always come back to the fact that I need to extol the Lord at all times, no matter my circumstances. Three days after the guys were detained, I heard a man on a show talking about taking God’s name in vain. He said that if you complain to God about a situation he’s taking you through, you are taking his name in vain because God is taking you through the current experience to mold you to be more like Him. My desire right now is to allow God to make me more like Him. In the last eleven days, I have faltered, struggled in fear, and cried out in frustration, yet I come back to my need to extol the Lord at all times.
Are there very specific things we can pray for on their behalf?
Please pray for endurance, courage, safety, and health for all of them. We’re hearing reports that some of them have required medical attention, and one young lady is diabetic. And please pray scripture.