by Travis Mateer
Yesterday I went to a church service at the River of Life church in East Missoula because a homeless man I am trying to help told me he attends this church and sometimes gets assistance from their food bank. I had hoped to find someone who could help this homeless man undrestand his tenure under the bridge is coming to an end, but the article I read this morning from NBC Montana, that MDT closed the gates this weekend, means I’m probably too late to make his transition away from where he’s lived for the last 3 years as smooth as possible.
Instead of getting insight into local dynamics, I listened to Pastor Jason reference a conference his church’s faith leaders attended this past week in Phoenix, Arizona. And this morning, after doing some online research, I’m going to share some things I’ve learned about the national organization River of Life is getting involved with.
The Dream Center in Los Angeles is the faith organization that put on the Dream Conference in Arizona this past week. That second link goes to a list of the speakers this conference featured, like Charlie Kirk from Turning Point USA, the conservative organization infamous for its professor watchlist. Those in Missoula may recall the controversy when professional white-shamer, Tobin Miller Shearer, gleefully played the victim card when his name appeared on that list six years ago.
The featured speaker I found MUCH more interesting than Charlie Kirk is the Jesus-loving body builder who has shared stages with AMAZING leaders like Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, George Bush Sr. and Rudy Giuliani. WOW!
Why would anyone trust a man who thinks it’s cool to promote sharing a stage with Bill Clinton in 2022, especially anyone who identifies as a Christian? I ask that question because when I think about Christianity + the Clintons I immediately think about the New Life Children’s Refuge Case. Here is a quick summary from wikipedia:
The New Life Children’s Refuge case was an incident of alleged kidnapping and the ensuing legal cases which occurred in the aftermath of the January 12th 2010 Haiti earthquake. On January 29, 2010, a group of ten American Baptist missionaries from Idaho attempted to cross the Haiti-Dominican Republic border with 33 Haitian children. The group, known as the New Life Children’s Refuge, did not have proper authorization for transporting the children and were arrested on kidnapping charges. The missionaries denied any wrongdoing and claimed that they were rescuing orphans and leading them to a Dominican hotel which was being transformed into an orphanage. Nine of the ten missionaries were later released but NLCR founder Laura Silsby remained incarcerated in Haiti. By the time she went to trial on May 13 the charges had been reduced to “arranging irregular travel” and the prosecution sought a 6-month prison term. On May 17, she was found guilty and sentenced to the time served in jail prior to the trial.
The Hillary Clinton connection to this case is pretty interesting. Also interesting is what Laura Silsby got into AFTER this bizarre arrest on kidnapping charges.
Laura Silsby founded the New Life Children’s Refuge and led the expedition in Haiti. Though she was freed after serving her sentence in Haiti, she also faced legal problems in Idaho. In early March 2010, her attorney in these cases filed a motion to withdraw as her counsel. Another lawyer who represented Silsby in a child custody case also withdrew as her attorney.
Silsby faced civil lawsuits for fraud, wrongful termination and unpaid wages mostly related to Personal Shopper, an Internet company that she founded in 1999 with James Hammons. Silsby and Hammons worked together at Hewlett-Packard. Silsby became part of MYSTATE USA an emergency notification company headed by Claudia Bitner in 2011. MYSTATE USA changed its name to Alertsense. Alertsense has since started another company called Konexus because of bad press when its software was used to launch the only known live Nuclear Alert in Hawaii in 2018. Silsby married and now goes by the name Laura Gayler or Laura Silsby Gayler. Silsby Gayler has worked for Alertsense for the last 8 years and still works there under Von Hansen and Blake Hansen.
With my curiosity fully piqued, I decided to see if there are any links between local Missoula churches and the LifeGuard Group, which I wrote about last week. What I found is a nice op-ed from 2018 by Lowell Hochhalter, titled The Power of Community. In this op-ed Hochhalter–who at the time had recently been hired to provide chaplain services for Missoula’s Sheriff’s Department–recounted a story about informing a family their beloved family member had died in a car accident. From the link:
It was on this day that I truly learned the power of community! I called three churches that had helped in situations like this before: River of Life in East Missoula, Cornerstone Church in Lolo, and Elevate Church in Missoula. I told them of the circumstances and they immediately jumped into action. Within an hour, I was able to put $1,000 cash into the hands of this family to help them pay for food and other expenses that they would incur during the next few days. Taco John’s on Broadway told me to tell the family that they could eat for free as long as they needed. Another chruch, Sportsman’s Church, located in the Bitterroot, heard of what happened and offered their help as well.
I find this little op-ed to be quite interesting for a couple of reasons. First, the church that Keith Craft leads in Frisco, Texas, is ALSO called Elevate Church. Is that a coincidence? Second, the cash Hochhalter was able to quickly raise, while I’m sure deeply appreciated by the grieving family, makes me wonder why Lowell’s paid staff member at LifeGuard Group, Joe Danzer, didn’t have basic resources, like business cards.
I’m also still curious why Joe Danzer, the SEARCH COORDINATOR for LifeGuard Group, seemingly lied to me about his participation in the search for Rebekah Barsotti.
Last week I called the Sheriff’s Department, explaining that I wanted to speak with Lowell Hochhalter about any documentation that might prove Joe Danzer was being honest with me. I was told by the woman I spoke to that she would send Hochhalter an email with my contact info and my inquiry, since there is apparently no direct line that he can be reached at. So far, I haven’t heard anything back.
It’s a little ironic I’m writing this post on Superbowl Sunday, a day advocates for survivors of trafficking have long associated with increases in human trafficking. To bolster this claim, here’s an LA Times op-ed pushing back on the claim by LAPD Chief Moore that this connection is a myth:
To the editor: Your editorial states that human sex trafficking is not increased by big sporting events and the link with the Super Bowl is a “myth” and a lie.
Space won’t allow me to articulate the academic studies that validate the exceptional spike in prostitution advertisements, or rescue organizations and survivors’ accounts that vehemently disagree with your callous remarks. Additionally, law enforcement officers with their own experiences dealing with sex trafficking crimes understand a much different reality from your editorial dismissal.
Just last weekend, 14 individuals were arrested for sex trafficking-related offenses at a single hotel associated with Super Bowl activities, with a number of those arrested traveling from other regions of the country. Isolated? Not at all. Just as the region has seen a flood of counterfeit merchandise and other illicit opportunists related to the Super Bowl, sex trafficking similarly follows.
If the organizations I’m interested in are on the up and up, then they have nothing to worry about from a little investigative scrutiny. What I hope to find is that these organizations are genuinely invested in stopping vulnerable populations from being exploited and preyed upon by predators.
Thanks for reading.