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Profile: New Life Children's Refuge

Front row left to right: Carla Thompson, Laura Silsby, Nicole Lankford; back row left to right: Steve McMullen, Jim Allen, Silas Thompson, Paul Thompson, Drew Culberth in Haiti on 30 Jan
The group said they planned to build an orphanage in the Dominican Republic

Haitian police are holding 10 Americans - working for the New Life Children's Refuge charity - on suspicion of trying to illegally take 33 children abroad. Here is a profile of the Idaho-based group.

New Life Children's Refuge (NLCR) is the brainchild of Laura Silsby, 40, and Charisa Coulter, 23, who are both members of the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho.

The charity, which Ms Silsby incorporated in Idaho in November last year, says it is "dedicated to rescuing, loving and caring for orphaned, abandoned and impoverished Haitian and Dominican children, demonstrating God's love and helping each child find healing, hope, joy and new life in Christ".

HAITI ORPHAN RESCUE MISSION
Laura Silsby, 40, of Boise, Idaho; owns Personal Shopper Inc, an online shopping assistance company
Charisa Coulter, 23, of Kuna, Idaho
Corinna Lankford and Nicole Lankford, 18, of Middleton, Idaho
Carla Thompson, 53, of Meridian, Idaho; missions co-ordinator at the Central Valley Baptist Church
Silas Thompson, 19, of Twin Falls, Idaho
Paul Thompson, 43, of Twin Falls, Idaho
Drew Culberth, 34, of Topeka, Kansas; a part-time youth pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, who was given time off to go on the trip because of his firefighting experience and emergency medical training
Steve McMullen, 56, of Twin Falls, Idaho
Jim Allen, 47, of Amarillo, Texas

Before the earthquake devastated Haiti, NLCR had planned to buy land and build an orphanage, school and church in Magante on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic.

But after the disaster, the mission's aim became to "rescue Haitian orphans abandoned on the streets, makeshift hospitals or from collapsed orphanages in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, and bring them to New Life Children's Refuge in Cabarete, Dominican Republic", the charity stated in an online document.

A group of 10 churchgoers - five from the Central Valley Baptist Church and at least three from the East Side Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho - headed out to Haiti.

The two churches are part of the Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest Protestant denomination which has extensive humanitarian programmes around the world.

According to its planning document, the NLCR group was planning to take the children to a rented hotel at a beach resort in the Dominican Republic.

"Given the urgent needs from this earthquake, God has laid upon our hearts the need to go now versus waiting until the permanent facility is built. He has provided an interim solution in nearby Cabarete, where we will be leasing a 45-room hotel and converting it into an orphanage until the building is complete," the document states.

After their court appearance in Haiti on 4 February, the group's lawyer, Edwin Coq, said his clients were "naive" but not malicious in their actions.

He said he would do everything he could to get nine of them free, but was not so sure about Ms Silsby.

"They had no idea what was going on, and they did not know that they needed official papers to cross the border. But Silsby did," he said, according to Associated Press.

'Concerns for children'

Even before the earthquake, NLCR's Haiti Orphan Rescue Mission was attracting local support in the United States.

Pastor Clint Henry, of Central Valley Baptist Church, said church members had given several thousand dollars to the mission.

"It is something we've been talking about doing for a long time, so it wasn't specific to this earthquake," Mr Henry said.

Meanwhile, relatives of those held have said that allegations of child-trafficking could not be further from the truth.

"It's really a fairly small group of friends and people who have the same kinds of commitments, and same kind of concerns for children," said Mel Coulter, Charisa Coulter's father.

Sean Lankford of Meridian, Idaho, whose wife and daughter are among those held, told the Associated Press: "The plan was never to go adopt all these kids. The plan was to create this orphanage where kids could live."

Business wrangles

Ms Silsby's business activities in Boise, Idaho, have come under scrutiny since her arrest.

US media reported that Ms Silsby also faces court cases in Boise, Idaho, relating to unpaid wages and legal bills.

Former employees from her shopping website business filed 14 claims for unpaid wages in the past two years.

Some have been resolved, but Ms Silsby is due on court in mid-February for one case, and another is set to begin in March, the Idaho Statesman newspaper reported.



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