Clearing one missionary's name

It's time for a flashback to an earlier stage in the story of the Idaho Baptists and the Haitian orphans. You may recall that, while tracing the trail of Laura Silsby and her short-term mission team from Idaho, the New York Times heard people discussing this name -- Philippe Murphy. Here is the key Times reference:

Several parents denied accusations that they had been given money for their children, or that they wanted their children to be put up for adoption.

They trusted the Americans, they said, because they arrived with the recommendation of a Baptist minister, Philippe Murphy, who runs an orphanage in the area. A woman who answered the door at Mr. Murphy's house said he had gone to Miami. But she also said that he did not know anything about the Americans.

Thus, I asked the following questions here at GetReligion based on that report:

Who is Pastor Philippe Murphy? Is he the leader of the orphanage -- surely Protestant -- that the Idaho Baptists worked with to find these children? Why has this Haitian pastor gone to Miami? One more question: Are the Baptists from Idaho major funders of his orphanage?

Logical questions, but they were based on an error or a misunderstanding. I am happy to report -- and I hope the Times team noticed this too -- that reporter Cary McMullen of The Ledger in Lakeland, Fla., has found this missionary and added some crucial information.

This is a perfect of example of what can happen when reporters are working in very complex and traumatized environments, especially if they are working through a translator. To cut to the chase: A reporter from the Times heard Haitian parents talking about Phillipe Murphy, a local pastor who runs an orphanage. They trusted Silsby and her team because of his endorsement, but someone at his house said he had gone to Miami.

Not quite. McMullen's report shows that there is a man named Phillip Murphy, but that the Times reporter misunderstood what the parents were saying or the parents were not very clear about what they were saying. Then again, there may have been language issues involving the translation from Creole to English.

Thus, here is some crucial material from the top of this new report on Murphy and his work in Haiti:

A Lake Wales man, a former missionary to Haiti, has found himself embroiled in the controversy over the arrest of 10 Americans in Haiti accused of trying to take children out of the country illegally. But Phillip Murphy says he has no connection to the group and that the arrested Americans may have caused heartache for parents of the Haitian children.

"It's an unfortunate and horrible situation. I feel guilty, because I think if I were there I might have been able to prevent it," he said.

Murphy, associate director of the HEART Institute, a missionary training facility at Warner University, was briefly mentioned in a story in Wednesday's New York Times about the detained Americans. He was incorrectly identified as "a Baptist minister, Philippe Murphy, who runs an orphanage in the area" of Fermathe, Haiti. ... But Murphy said he is neither Baptist nor a minister, and the orphanage he and his wife founded in 1986, House of Blessings, is in the village of Callebasse.

So what happened? Murphy founded the orphanage, lived there for years, has a continuing role in ts work and visits frequently. Drawing on material from the missionary and from the Associated Press, McMullen works through the layers of the misunderstanding -- which is based, in part, in the fact that Silsby and the Southern Baptists from Idaho were working with a Haitian translator, Isaac Adrien, who grew up in the House of Blessings.

Adrien took Silsby's group to House of Blessings, which houses about 20 children, but the director, Joana Jean Marie Desir, turned them away, Murphy said. ... Adrien conveyed the offer of Silsby's group to gathered villagers, acting as a translator, and because of that connection, the villagers assumed they could trust the Americans, despite a warning from Desir not to, Murphy said. ...

"We lived there so long and people knew us, and when they saw Isaac with them, they assumed we were part of that (group)," he said.

The story ends with another anecdote that shows how confused things are right now -- in Haiti and in the United States -- even for veteran missions workers who know the rules and are doing everything they can to follow them. The current director of the orphanage asked Murphy if he could take her three children back to the United States after the earthquake, so that they could continue going to school during the crisis.

Although the children had valid passports and visas, Murphy and the children were stopped by the Department of Homeland Security upon their arrival in Florida, and the children were temporarily detained. Department officials said a letter of entrance had not been properly notarized.

Keith Rupp, communications director for U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam (R, Bartow), said Putnam's aides helped put Murphy in touch with the proper authorities, and the children were released four days later.

You really need to read the whole report and, like I said, the Times copy desk needs to add some kind of clarification to its earlier story.

Photo: From a House of Blessings weblog item in 2005. Phillip Murphy is shown in the back row, just to the left of center (look for the trunk of the palm tree).

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