By Timothy Egan
“Kidnapping for Jesus” is what many, including outraged Idahoans, have called it in reader response to newspaper stories about the missionaries. Silsby says it’s all a misunderstanding, and her intentions were good.
At the least, the curious case of Laura Silsby raises questions about cultural imperialism: what makes a scofflaw from nearly all-white Idaho with no experience in adoption or rescue services think she has a right to bring religion and relief to a country with its own cultural, racial and spiritual heritage?
Imagine if a voodoo minister from Haiti had shown up in Boise after an earthquake, looking for children in poor neighborhoods and offering “opportunities for adoption” back to Haiti. He could say, as those who followed Silsby explained on a Web site, that “the unsaved world needs to hear” from the saved.
Still, the damage by zealous amateurs has been done to legitimate adoption services, and to relief agencies with long and noble histories of helping the desperate, the poor, the unloved. Blame it on the missionary impulse, a lingering personality disorder of Western culture.
Most Native American tribes have three basic stories: a creation myth, a trail of tears out of the homeland and indignities suffered at the hands of Christian missionaries.
Some of the worst damage was done, the tribes will tell you, long after the Indian wars were over, when missionaries moved in. They broke up families, shipping children off to boarding schools where they were shorn of their language, their hair and their culture. They banned tribal customs like the potlatch—where Indians compete to give away gifts—and spirit rituals that had been passed on for centuries.
Edward Curtis, the photographer of American Indians, was so happy to find native people in the far north of Alaska whose lives had not been overturned by outside do-gooders that he wrote, “should any misguided missionary start for this island I trust the sea will do its duty.”
Below: "Laura Silsby has been held in a Haitian prison since January after she and others attempted to remove children from the country for adoption."