Plan says runaway teen convert and family should talk

Associated Press/December 1, 2009

Columbus - A runaway Christian convert and her Muslim family must listen to each other's views about religion if they are to reunite, a possibility that appears in jeopardy since the girl continues to refuse any contact with her parents or siblings, a caseworker says.

A case-management plan filed yesterday said Rifqa Bary and her parents should hear what each has to say about Islam and Christianity as a step toward a possible reunification. But the plan, written by a government caseworker, also said "severe differences" exist between the 17-year-old girl and her parents over what led Rifqa to run away to Florida over the summer.

The girl has said she feared her father would harm or kill her for leaving Islam. Her father has denied the claim.

"Parents concern is that Rifqa has a false perception of their religious beliefs and that her understanding creates a barrier to reunification," wrote Margaret Shirk, a Franklin County Children Services Board caseworker. "Rifqa's concern is that her parents do not understand her practice of Christianity."

Bary's parents, Mohamed and Aysha Bary, agree with their daughter being in foster care for the moment, but are concerned about her and would like a family relationship with her again, according to the plan.

Shirk's plan says Rifqa Bary has made it clear she wants no contact with her parents or her brothers. The girl talked to her brothers on the phone while she was in Florida but since then decided she wants no contact with them either, the plan said.

"Rifqa has been insistent about not having any contact with her parents and now with her siblings for what she has expressed for healing purposes," the plan said. "Rifqa continues to express fear about returning home."

The plan also calls for finding other relatives or nonrelatives that Rifqa could be placed with if reunification with her parents isn't a possibility. The goal is to bring them together by Aug. 10, when the girl turns 18, after which she would be on her own and could leave foster care.

The girl's family is originally from Sri Lanka and emigrated in 2000 to seek medical help for Rifqa, who had lost sight in her right eye when she fell and struck a toy airplane at home.

Rifqa disappeared July 19 and apparently stayed with friends of a minister she knew in Columbus for two days, according to court documents.

The minister, Brian Williams, drove Rifqa to the Columbus bus station, where she took a bus to Florida and was met by "Christian associates" she met on Facebook, according to an Oct. 15 complaint filed by her father seeking her return from Florida.

Police used phone and computer records to track the girl to the Rev. Blake Lorenz, pastor of Orlando, Fla.-based Global Revolution Church. Authorities said the teen had met him through an online Facebook prayer group.

A Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation found no credible threats to the girl.

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