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The horrific destruction and human suffering in Haiti exert an almost irresistible pull on U.S. Christian missionaries eager to help. But as the jailing last week of 10 missionaries from a small Baptist church in Idaho illustrates, best intentions don’t always translate into good deeds in the chaotic aftermath of the monster earthquake.

Many mission groups provide essential services for Haitians — indeed some have evolved into key service providers, working alongside nonprofit groups and the U.N. to fill gaps that the Haitian government can’t fill.

But other missions, even when well-meaning, risk running afoul of Haiti’s culture and laws.

“There’s an issue that is coming up a lot right now,” said Laurent Dubois, a professor of history and romance studies at Duke University and an expert on Haiti. “It’s the difference between wanting to help and being able to do good. Most don’t speak any Creole, or have the cultural knowledge. … (As a result) they are going to be very surprised by what they see in Haiti.”

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