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Newswires buzzed recently with reports that a group of ten Americans from an Idaho-based Christian charity were arrested trying to transport 33 Haitian children into the Dominican Republic contrary to the rules of Haiti's government. Although details are still emerging, the story thus far suggests a potent mingling of good intentions with ill-advised plans. Fellow Christians embarrassed by the incident should have the grace to withhold the abuse many observers are now piling on the group, but we can still take a strong lesson on the need to match zeal with knowledge in every effort to "care for orphans in their distress."

According to their website, the group's goal was to "rescue Haitian orphans abandoned on the streets … and bring them to New Life Children's Refuge in Cabarete, Dominican Republic." This "Refuge" is at present a 45-room hotel the ministry leased to house the children as an interim measure. Ultimately, they planned to construct an orphanage that would provide long-term care, and also the potential of adoption for children that could not be reunited with relatives.

These rickety plans, along with the decision to remove the children from Haiti without approval, were a recipe for trouble. Adding further to the impression of sloppy do-goodism, it now appears that some of the children had living parents and were not in need of rescue at all.

Appropriately, many relief organizations have voiced strong concern over the incident. Meanwhile, others in the foreign aid world—which often tends to be dismissive of volunteer efforts and highly critical of international adoption—have sought to make the situation a cause célèbre. Private blogs and even some nonprofit websites now venture beyond ...

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