Those Baptist Missionaries

NickOfTime

The press is full of reports about Baptist missionaries who have been arrested in Haiti. They are accused of—and, as of yesterday, formally charged with—attempting to abduct children illegally into the neighboring Dominican Republic, ostensibly with the purpose of eventually selling the children into adoption. The missionaries have been moved from lodging in a public building and sent to jail. Jail in Haiti. Jail in a Haiti that has been decimated by earthquakes.

I admit that my first reaction when I heard the story was, “Oh, no! Another black mark against Fundamentalists.” As it turns out, however, these missionaries were not from any Fundamentalist group. They were from Southern Baptist churches (albeit mainly from northern Southern Baptist churches). Still, they wear the names Baptist and missionary, and as far as most people are concerned, that has implications enough for the rest of us who are Baptists concerned with missions.

Naturally, the American press is playing up the story, focusing mainly on the two words Baptist and missionaries. To read the reports in the daily papers one would imagine the worst. Baptist missionaries have been arrested. Baptist missionaries were abducting children. Baptist missionaries have been charged and jailed. The natural assumption is that Baptist missionaries must be guilty.

The American public has reacted predictably. The press has offered its usual lurid report and the bulk of Americans assume that they have the facts and have been told the truth. The words child abduction stir up images of Amber Alerts and faces on milk cartons. Americans are all about images. If you can evoke the right images, you can get them to do anything.

So now we hear something like an outcry from the American public. In many cases, Christians have joined the outcry. Professional relief organizations (which are as jealous of each other as teenage girls at a prom and as territorial as a dog at a fire hydrant) are also piling on.

The specific reaction against the missionaries also serves as an occasion for the enemies of Christ. Christians tend to be so encapsulated within the bubble of their own subculture that they do not realize the vehemence with which many people hate their faith, or, in some cases, any faith at all. Within the United States are people who, with the slightest provocation, would completely obliterate Christianity or even religion if they could. These people are the ones who tend to react most shrilly to headlines such as Baptist Missionaries Arrested for Abducting Children.

Are there lessons to be learned from this episode? Oh, yes. Let me mention a few.

First and most importantly, it communicates a valuable lesson about the press. The lesson is very simple. Don’t trust what you read.

There is no such thing as a brute fact. Facts by themselves are meaningless. A fact has no value until it has been set in the right context and interpreted. A fact without a context is worthless, and a fact in the wrong context is misleading and destructive. It is possible to lie with the facts, and journalists are past masters of the art. Never, ever think that the press is just reporting what happened. They do not report so that you can decide. Those who report have already decided, and what they communicate to you is their decision.

Reports are starting to come out of Haiti that have not shown up in the mainstream press. Some of these reports indicate that the missionaries had followed legal channels for expatriating the children, but that they had been turned back at the border for lack of some bit of paperwork. It was after returning to the capital to complete the paperwork that the missionaries were arrested. Other reports indicate that the Baptists were not planning to sell these children into adoption, but to build an orphanage for them in the Dominican Republic.

Of course, these reports may be no more reliable than the ones that come through AP or Reuters. What they do demonstrate, however, is that context may completely alter the interpretation of the event. Only a foolish person trusts journalists to provide all the facts and to present them in the right context. If all that we had to rely upon was the reporting of the Washington Post or USA Today, we should even be skeptical of the existence of Baptist missionaries.

The second lesson is almost as important. When you go to Haiti, or for that matter to any foreign country, you’re not in Kansas anymore. The laws are different. The culture is different. The ethos is different. Life is lived by a different set of rules.

For example, in virtually any non-Western country (and even in some of the Western ones) bribery is a way of life. Even legitimate functions are often performed only in return for a “tip.” It is possible to get into serious legal trouble simply for neglecting to bribe the proper officials. Very often, these officials will leave some bit of paperwork or communication uncompleted until the bribe is paid. You may think that you are following all the laws and regulations until you suddenly discover that your completed procedures have mysteriously vanished or been forgotten. It is at least possible that these Baptist missionaries may have simply failed to grease a sufficient number of palms.

Once, when traveling in a third-world country, my host and I witnessed a serious accident in which a man was run over by a car. My host ordered our driver to speed up and get us out of the area. I asked, “Aren’t we going to help?” My host replied, “You’re an American. If we stop, this will be your fault.”

Americans have no business rambling around countries about which we are ignorant. If we don’t know the laws, and if we don’t understand the ethos, we are simply asking for trouble. We may be relatively safe as long as we are under the protection of a national or someone who knows the ways of the place, but if we set out to do our own thing we can expect calamity.

In spite of the press reports, these Baptists aren’t really missionaries. To all indications, they are just ordinary church members who saw a problem and who wanted to help. They plunged into a foreign nation whose culture they did not know and whose ways they did not understand. It was only to be expected that they would find trouble.

Here’s an application for real missionaries. You need two things. First, you really must learn the language and culture of the people to whom you plan to minister. Second, you really need a good mission agency behind you. A good agency is worth more than its weight in gold if it can keep you out of trouble or get you out of trouble. If you want to be a missionary, you need to look for an agency that has experience dealing with that sort of thing. The people who are under arrest in Haiti appear not to have had any agency advising them.

One final lesson. Even a genuine crisis should not invoke the crisis mentality. The crisis mentality says, “We have a crisis—do something! Do anything!” As the Haiti situation demonstrates, however, misdirected compassion can be highly destructive. Even well-intentioned people simply make matters worse unless they are doing the right thing.

This is a lesson that applies to many areas of life. One thinks, for instance, of the putative crisis over health care in America. Or the economic crisis. Or global warming. Or whatever else the crisis du jour may be. Here as everywhere, hasty and naïve solutions may actually compound the problem exponentially. It is never right just to do something. We have a responsibility to act so that our “solutions” will not multiply evil, grief, and pain in the world.

The ancients drew a distinction between compassion and pity. Compassion was thoughtful, carefully directed, regulated, and ordinate. Pity was heedless and reckless; it was inordinate. Compassion was thought to be an affection, a demonstration of the splangchna. Pity was considered a vice, a passion or appetite, stemming from the koilia. Crises call for compassion, but they are compounded by pity.

We have yet to learn the truth about the Baptist “missionaries” who have been arrested in Haiti. Perhaps we never shall. Until we do, however, we do not know what to think about this situation. We cannot judge it, but we can learn lessons from it.

Anthem for the Cathedral of Exeter

Joseph Hall (1574-1656)

Lord, what am I? A worm, dust, vapour, nothing!
What is my life? A dream, a daily dying!
What is my flesh? My soul’s uneasy clothing!
What is my time? A minute ever flying:
My time, my flesh, my life, and I,
What are we, Lord, but vanity?

Where am I, Lord? Down in a vale of death.
What is my trade? Sin, my dear God offending;
My sport sin, too; my stay a puff of breath.
What end of sin? Hell’s horror never ending:
My way, my trade, sport, stay, and place,
Help to make up my doleful case.

Lord, what art Thou? Pure life, power, beauty, bliss:
Where dwell’st Thou? Up above in perfect light:
What is Thy time? Eternity it is:
What state? Attendance of each glorious sprite:
Thyself, Thy place, Thy days, Thy state
Pass all the thoughts of powers create.

How shall I reach Thee, Lord? Oh, soar above,
Ambitious soul! But which way should I fly?
Thou, Lord, art way and end. What wings have I?
Aspiring thoughts of faith, of hope, of love:
Oh, let these wings, that way alone
Present me to Thy blissful throne.


This essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

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There are 20 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I appreciate KB's observations here.

I wonder about this, though...

Quote:
There is no such thing as a brute fact.
Is the assertion that there is no such thing as a brute fact a brute fact?
Quote:
...Facts by themselves are meaningless. A fact has no value until it has been set in the right context and interpreted.
It's not quite on topic, given what the essay is about, but just felt compelled to say that I do not believe this.

I certainly agree that the press is not a source of "brute facts," though!

Jim's picture

Firstly a broad brush criticism of "the press" and the gullibility of the populace! (Italics for emphasis)

Quote:
The press is full of reports about Baptist missionaries who have been arrested in Haiti.

Quote:
The American public has reacted predictably. The press has offered its usual lurid report and the bulk of Americans assume that they have the facts and have been told the truth. .... you can get them to do anything

Quote:
Never, ever think that the press is just reporting what happened. They do not report so that you can decide. Those who report have already decided, and what they communicate to you is their decision.

Secondly a factual error:

Quote:
They are accused of—and, as of yesterday, formally charged with—attempting to abduct children illegally into the neighboring Dominican Republic, ostensibly with the purpose of eventually selling the children into adoption.

Actually they have not be formally charged!

WSJ: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405274870419710457505179145288476...

Quote:
After an initial probe, a Haitian judge last week ordered that the missionaries be formally investigated. Most international media interpreted the ruling as meaning the Americans were being formally charged.

But Mazar Fortil, the government prosecutor who handled the initial probe, said over the weekend that charges only come at the end of the second, formal investigation, which could take weeks or months. The confusion came over the translation of the French word "inculpation," which is often wrongly interpreted as "inculpate."

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I think the observations about the press and most Americans are pretty accurate, though, especially if "press" means television.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

the number of forwarded emails I get with scary warnings about this or that, I think most Americans enjoy being scared, angry, and just plain hysterical.

One thing I very much agree with, and that is too many Americans go to other countries with no idea of the culture or language, and they think their Get Out of Jail Free Card is to say "I'm an American!"

Only in the movies, people.

Anne Sokol's picture

i think his main point--about how other countries work, is a good one, though not every mission board will save you from those kinds of troubles even.

americans have a lot of philanthropic motives that don't exist in other countries. i live in one of those places Biggrin

as a writer, i will also say that the press is heavily biased; i admit that i am biased even as a news writer. Presenting facts simply as facts usually never happens. Which facts are chosen to be told, how they are expressed . . . .it's a very nuanced game.

MClark's picture

There is much truth in what Dr. Bauder's says about Americans' propensity to rush in without considering how another culture functions. I think most Americans are unaware of the arrogance of Americans. It is also true that many cultures function with bribes; it is a reality.

I appreciate Dr. Bauder's warnings/lessons to be learned.

P.S. And, yes, I agree that the press is more about creating stories than reporting stories.

Anne Sokol's picture

MClark wrote:
I think most Americans are unaware of the arrogance of Americans.
But it's not necessarily arrogance. We assume that good motives will be trusted and understood, because in our culture, a culture of trust, they often are.

my parents in africa were talking recently with an international dr who was recently in Haiti, and the man was amazed by the generosity of americans, their sacrifice and big hearts to help . . .

Jon Bell's picture

Haiti seems to be a rather unique place to learn some of these lessons although they apply worldwide. I think it is because Haiti is so close and so poor and different from anything else in the Caribbean and Central America. My grandparents were missionaries in Haiti for 30 years and my family has been involved in Haiti since 1947. It always amazes me how many churches support Haitian "missions". It was no surprise to me the outpouring of aid that came with the earthquake but I am certain that a huge proportion of this pity is going to exacerbate the real problems in Haiti. I must confess that I am shocked that Americans are so ready to give to Haiti while asking very few questions after we know how badly aid was provided in New Orleans after Katrina. Haiti is a very complex society and their relationship with America is far deeper and more nuanced than most of us are aware. So the lesson's Dr. Bauder provides are very good. If you (or your church) are going to give to Haiti find someone who has spent real time there and is connected with national pastor's of proven reliability. This is not an add so I won't provide a link but you can google for Mission for Haiti which is based in South Carolina.

Jon Bell
Bucksport, ME
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and

SDHaynie's picture

It is probable that some perked up when the essay mentioned the following..

Kevin T. Bauder wrote:

The second lesson is almost as important. When you go to Haiti, or for that matter to any foreign country, you're not in Kansas anymore. The laws are different. The culture is different. The ethos is different. Life is lived by a different set of rules.

...

For example, in virtually any non-Western country (and even in some of the Western ones) bribery is a way of life. Even legitimate functions are often performed only in return for a "tip." It is possible to get into serious legal trouble simply for neglecting to bribe the proper officials. Very often, these officials will leave some bit of paperwork or communication uncompleted until the bribe is paid. You may think that you are following all the laws and regulations until you suddenly discover that your completed procedures have mysteriously vanished or been forgotten. It is at least possible that these Baptist missionaries may have simply failed to grease a sufficient number of palms.


My missionary service was not in a country where "bribery" was common. In fact, it was downright illegal (a rarity in South America!). But we did have to learn how to use "pitutos" (people with connections) in order to get things done... a real life demonstration of "It's not what you know, but who you know."
I agree with Dr. Bauder's view on bribery, but I would take it even one step further. "Bribery" is a word which causes strong reactions. Maybe a quote from Thomas Hale from his book On Being a Missionary would help explain the step farther that I propose:
Quote:
It is well for the missionary to be somewhat relaxed about this matter or he will cause needless grief...Give "tips" and "tokens of appreciation" a wide definition...Reserve the term bribery for those cases in which extortion is clearly taking place or where you are being asked to give beyond what is customary...If in doubt, consult with mature national Christians.

Thanks for this essay. It is giving everyone a chance to see a side of missions that people rarely thought about (by anyone outside of missions work, that is).

Shawn Haynie

Teri Ploski's picture

And forwarded it on to my son who is vitally interested in missions work. He's exploring possible mission trips for this summer, first Haiti, but if that doesn't work out, wherever God can use him. The article had some very good advice for him as he begins this journey.

MClark's picture

Quote:
But it's not necessarily arrogance. We assume that good motives will be trusted and understood, because in our culture, a culture of trust, they often are.

But it really has nothing to do with whether or not one has good motives. It has everything to do with the fact that all too often Americans rush to impose their solutions on another culture, without stopping long enough to consider whether the solution is relevant to that culture's paradigms. Haiti is not the only example of this.

I was also grieved by how often I heard Americans tooting their horns about American armed forces & NGOs being on the ground in Haiti, to perform rescue operations, without acknowledging that groups from many other countries were also on the ground working hard and risking their own well-being and, in some cases, had been there before Americans had arrived.

Yes, Americans are often generous and ready to help, and I am thankful. But if we were not quite so convinced of the rightness of our ideas, I think we'd often take more time to find out what another country wanted and needed and, perhaps, to modify our initial solutions after finding out more about the framework of that culture.

Jay's picture

What is also worth noting is that in Haiti, persons are guilty until proven innocent. We in the States are not used to that or even that concept, and we assume that to our own peril when we head abroad for whatever purposes.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Jim's picture

Leadership is important.

If half of this report - http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/02/05/world/main6178794.shtml - is true, anyone following Laura Silsby was destined for a trap!

Quote:
The 40-year-old Idaho businesswoman convinced members of Idaho's Central Valley Baptist Church to follow her dream of building an orphanage in the Dominican Republic for Haitian children. But her other business and personal ventures reveal a checkered history.

Silsby has faced 14 legal complaints for unpaid wages in connection with her online shopping business, Personal Shopper. Employees won nine of those complaints and Silsby was ordered to pay $31,000 in wages plus another $4,000 in fines, according to the New York Times.

She's also had at least nine traffic citations in the last 12 years including four for failing to register or insure her car.

...

Silsby, a divorced mother of two young children, now finds herself in the middle of an international legal firestorm.

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

"I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, [and ] giving of thanks, be made for all men;" ( 2 Timothy 2:1).

As a church, we simply began to pray for the people of Haiti. As we prayed for their needs, we asked God to show us any way that we might be a help to meeting needs there according to His will. One Wednesday, we learned that Bob Boxby was going. We decided to send a small gift to help with Bob's trip to this needy land. A week or so after helping Bob in a small way, we received a request to contribute to supplying tents, sleeping bags, flip flops, and Bibles. We agreed to receive an offering for these needs. I was then asked to go to Haiti to help deliver these items and to meet with Pastor's there to discuss long-term needs. I am not a big traveller. My mission field is Albany, NY and there is enough work here to keep me busy all the time. I did not have the funds to go to Haiti and I am not a fundraiser. I did ask our church to pray about the offering and I asked them to pray about this invitation for me to go with this team to Haiti. 20 minutes after I sent out that request, I received a call from a Christian in tears expressing that they had been praying about how to use some funds for the work of the Lord and they believed that God wanted him to use those funds for me to go in this trip.

On top of this, our church then received a donation of 1500 pairs of Crocs that we were able to send down to Miami to go on the ship that will be carrying all of this stuff to Haiti.

I had not idea any of this would happen. All we had was a concern that we took to the Lord. Along the way we have seen what we believe are clear answers to prayer that have led us all to where we are at the moment. On top of all this, I was told that we have received $20,000 in offerings to help purchase more of the supplies we desire this team desires to bring to Haiti.

So, I am going to Haiti next week. I really was not planning to go there. I'm nervous about what we will face there. At the same time, I am excited at the ways we have seen God answer prayer.

The crisis mentality must be tempered by prayer. Prayer is the most important thing that will help the people of Haiti at this time. Praise is the most important way for us as believers to seek direction for God in regard to our involvement.

Hey if the Lord bring me to your mind, please pray for me. I just want to be led by the Lord and used by the Lord in this experience. I leave on 2/15 and am suppposed to be back in NYC on 2/19.

mbruffey's picture

A brute fact would be a fact that exists in relation to no other facts. Think of one.

Rob Fall's picture

Yes, Haiti's, like many Franco-phone countries, judicial system is based on the French system not the English. At the moment, the case is before an investigating magistrate. The im will decide if there is sufficient evidence for a trial and what charges will be made.

Jay C wrote:
What is also worth noting is that in Haiti, persons are guilty until proven innocent. We in the States are not used to that or even that concept, and we assume that to our own peril when we head abroad for whatever purposes.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Anne Sokol's picture

MClark wrote:
Quote:
But it's not necessarily arrogance. We assume that good motives will be trusted and understood, because in our culture, a culture of trust, they often are.

But it really has nothing to do with whether or not one has good motives. It has everything to do with the fact that all too often Americans rush to impose their solutions on another culture, without stopping long enough to consider whether the solution is relevant to that culture's paradigms. Haiti is not the only example of this.

I was also grieved by how often I heard Americans tooting their horns about American armed forces & NGOs being on the ground in Haiti, to perform rescue operations, without acknowledging that groups from many other countries were also on the ground working hard and risking their own well-being and, in some cases, had been there before Americans had arrived.

Yes, Americans are often generous and ready to help, and I am thankful. But if we were not quite so convinced of the rightness of our ideas, I think we'd often take more time to find out what another country wanted and needed and, perhaps, to modify our initial solutions after finding out more about the framework of that culture.


M, in general, i agree with you. however, i don't like us to think too much of ourselves even in our criticism of ourselves--other cultures who help other cultures make all the same mistakes. i remember wondering why americans always blamed ourselves for polluting the whole soviet world with every form of evil after communism collapsed. oh. my. word. People who asserted that had obviously never travelled to europe where nudity is seen almost everywhere publicly. the open sexuality and stuff like that. compared, americans are kittens. even hollywood, sheesh is nothing to the sensuality of europen films.

anyway, i dont wish to argue with you, but assuming we're the only good ones or the only bad ones -- neither is accurate. it's just 'yooman in some ways Wink

ps. this provicialism is mainly fostered by the media, not that i want to dump on them only, but they really dont tell us . . .well hardly anything about others, you know? it's crazy.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

mbruffey wrote:
A brute fact would be a fact that exists in relation to no other facts. Think of one.

Thanks, Mark, that helps. I suspected he meant "brute fact" in some precise sense that was not apparent to me.. otherwise he'd be making a self-negating statement. I took "brute fact" to mean "something that is true regardless of whether anyone acknowledges it as true... it stands on it's own in the sense that it is not dependent on the observer(s)." I believe there a whole lot of that kind of brute fact, unless one includes God as an "observer."
But facts that have no relationship to any other facts... no, can't think of one.

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