'God's Holy Law never recognises a gay marriage': Mennonite community defend helping former lesbian kidnap her daughter and flee country

The Mennonite community who helped a former lesbian flee to Nicaragua with her ex-lover's child have defended their actions, saying that they were helping the daughter from being 'handed over to an active lesbian and a whole-hearted activist'.

Lisa Miller was in a committed relationship with another woman up until 2003. They even had a nine-year-old daughter together.

But she broke up with her partner Janet Jenkins, renounced homosexuality and became an evangelical Christian before disappearing in 2009 with their daughter.

Now, what started as a custody battle over Isabella Miller-Jenkins has turned into a global manhunt, with indications that Mennonite pastors and other faith-based supporters may have helped hide the two in Nicaragua and are now coming to the aid of one who the FBI says helped Miller.

Eager to keep the girl away from Jenkins and what they consider a dangerous and immoral lifestyle, they liken their roles to that of underground helpers aiding runaway slaves.

Pablo Yoder, a Mennonite pastor in Nicaragua, said about their actions: 'God's Holy Law never recognizes a gay marriage. Thus, the Nicaraguan Brotherhood felt it right and good to help Lisa not only free herself from the so called civil marriage and lesbian lifestyle, but especially to protect her nine-year-old daughter from being abducted and handed over to an active lesbian and a whole-hearted activist.'

As the gay marriage movement gains momentum in the U.S. with impending legal recognition of the relationships in New York state, the case is a reminder of the obstacles and opposition that same-sex couples and their families can face.

The saga began in 2000, when Miller and Jenkins were joined in a civil union in Vermont. Two years later, Miller gave birth to the girl, conceived through artificial insemination.

The couple split in 2003, with Miller renouncing her homosexuality and becoming a Baptist, then a Mennonite.

Miller was originally granted custody of the girl, but her defiance of visitation schedules led courts in Vermont and Virginia to rule in favour of Jenkins, culminating in a judge's 2009 decision to award custody to Jenkins.

After Miller and the girl failed to show for a court-ordered custody swap on January 1, 2010, a federal arrest warrant was issued for her , and her daughter's name was added to the missing by the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.

But two months before the judge had even awarded custody, Milelr and the girl had already flown to Central America and took up residence for an unknown amount of time in Nicaragua before vanishing again.

In April, the FBI arrested Nicaraguan missionary Timothy David 'Timo' Miller and charged him with abetting an international kidnapping by helping arrange travel and lodging for the two. He is awaiting trial.

According to the FBI, Timo Miller arranged to fly the fugitive and her daughter from Canada to Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua.

He'd never met her until they arrived at the airport, according to Loyal Martin, a friend of Timo Miller's.

He has pleaded not guilty and is free on $25,000 bail, awaiting trial. His attorney, federal public defender Steven Barth, won't discuss the case.

Mr Martin said: 'Tim believes there is a higher law than the laws of any country that all people, including himself, are accountable to.'

Mr Yoder is mentioned in the FBI's affidavit as he had had an email exchange with Miller to plan Isabella's birthday.

Members of the church made a pact not to reveal any details to protect Timothy David Miller.

Mr Yoder said: 'We want to remain silent because we do not know whether it would cause him problems. The moment may arrive when we are going to want to talk, when we deem it necessary to tell Nicaragua the true story.'

Nicaraguan police haven't questioned Yoder and other members of his church, he said in an interview last month.

'They know we are not involved in this matter,' said Mr Yoder, who likens the help given to Lisa Miller to aid given by Mennonites and Quakers to the aid abolitionists gave runaway slaves.

The lawyer for Miller's ex-partner, Janet Jenkins, told the FBI she got a call in June 2010 from someone who told her that Lisa Miller and the girl had stayed in a beach house in coastal San Juan del Sur, about 68 miles south of Managua.

The house is owned by Philip Zodhiates, the father of Liberty University law school administrative assistant Victoria Hyden, according to the FBI. Ms Jenkins' attorney, Sarah Star, told the FBI that the caller said Zodhiates had asked his daughter to put out a request for supplies for Lisa Miller.

Law school dean Mathew Staver - who leads Liberty Counsel - has said Zodhiates isn't affiliated with either.

He said: 'From our perspective, she just dropped off the face of the Earth. We haven't heard from her or from anyone who said they've heard from her.'

A security guard at the hotel Royal Chateau in San Juan del Sur, Juan Garcia, said last month he remembered seeing Miller and her daughter along the waterfront.

International law would not require the return of the child if she were found in Nicaragua, since it's not a treaty partner with the U.S. under the Hague Conventions, according to Robert Spector, an international family law expert.

Ms Jenkins said in a statement: 'It is hard to understand how anyone could consider a childhood on the run better and more stable than one surrounded by family, with two parents and two sets of grandparents who can provide love and support.'