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12-day detention in Mideast soothed by God’s peace, purpose

WAXAHACHIE, Texas (BP)–During 12 days of being detained in the United Arab Emirates for distributing Bibles, Marie Bush was given no promise for how quickly a higher court would hear the charge for engaging in illegal activity.

Even so: “God had a purpose through this entire situation,” Bush told Baptist Press in her first interview after being deported March 2 to return home to Waxahachie, Texas.

“He was in total control…. God will reveal His purpose and nothing was by accident. Everything is in God’s hands,” she said confidently from her home March 3 after being reunited with her husband.

The 55-year-old Texan was detained Feb. 19 in Dubai where police observed her distributing Bibles at a large, international market. Quick to realize that various other members of the mission trip with Tom Cox World Ministries might never know what had happened to her, Bush rushed around the corner to get the attention of 72-year-old Vivian Gilmer of Myrtle Beach, S.C., another Southern Baptist who was a part of the group.

Although the oil-rich nation on the coast of the Persian Gulf prohibits the distribution of religious tracts, Bush and other members of the team had been told that Bibles could be passed out as gifts from Americans.

Bush was interacting with shoppers in the international market’s Czech pavilion when one of five policemen who had been following her shouted, “You come!” She turned around and looked at the man, questioning whether he meant her. Then she realized that the two policemen, along with three shrouded female officers with only their eyes exposed, had been following for some time.

“‘What do you not understand about the word come?’” Bush recalled the officer asking in clear English. Her immediate response was to place her hands over her heart and utter, “Oh, my mercy.”

“It flashed through my mind that I was fixing to disappear and that was what I was worried about. No one would know where I went,” Bush recalled thinking. “I ran around the corner and they came with me and my first thought was I needed to tell Vivian.” Looking back on the episode, she realized her action implicated another member of her party.

Bush described to Baptist Press a series of “God things” that ordered their steps from the initial work in medical missions among rural villages of India to the layover in Dubai.

“I told Vivian I think I’m being taken to jail and I apologized that I got her in trouble. But that was a God thing,” she said, explaining how unlikely it was to have another member of her party just 20 steps away in the enormous marketplace. “Vivian could have been anywhere in the pavilion,” Bush said. “It was very evident they would not let me run for long.”

First taken to a makeshift station at the market, Bush and Gilmore were transported to a downtown station where they faced repeated questioning about their activity. “The team was supposed to meet at 7 p.m. and so when we didn’t come they were afraid something had happened,” Bush said of the group of mission volunteers. She later learned that a prayer vigil had begun, spreading worldwide to other Christians via the Internet.

Questioned why they were allegedly violating the law, Bush began explaining the purpose of the mission trip, relating how they had worked in Hindu regions throughout India earlier in the week before their stop in Dubai.

“They saw that we had 19 Bibles between us,” after seeing them on a table at the police station, Bush said.

“We had gone to a church the night before [in Dubai], since their service was on a Friday,” Bush said, and they were able to give the police a copy of the church bulletin with the pastor’s phone number on it. “Our calling him,” Bush said, “was a total God thing.”

Bush then found herself describing the work they had done in India and their brief time in the United Arab Emirates, using words that she said only God could have supplied. “I started to tell him we’d been on a medical mission trip to India for 10 days, going each day to a different tribal village. I went into how they were Hindu in India and had thousands of gods.”

Bush recalled saying, “When we were over there we were able to tell people in India about our one true God and we know over here in Dubai we cannot do that … because that is against the law. But we didn’t feel like we were breaking the law because we were just handing out gifts, our holy Bible,” she continued. “When people would ask us, we would tell them this is our holy Bible. Some would accept it and some refused,” Bush told the officer.

The circumstance caused Bush to realize with certainty, “God does give you His Word and I just feel like He was there with Vivian and me and did give us the strength.” From the time they were picked up around 6 p.m. until they were released to the local pastor at 1:30 a.m., the Dubai police were kind and gracious, Bush said, and God gave them a sense of peace throughout the ordeal.

After the police took the passports of the two detainees and allowed them to leave in the care of the pastor, they returned to the hotel to find several members of the mission team praying in their room.

The other members of the group left as planned at 4:30 a.m. and the two women attempted to rest until morning but were awakened an hour early by a bellman who insisted he load up their luggage so they could leave the hotel. They spent several hours waiting at the police station to hear whether they could leave the country and were told their case had been bumped up to a higher court. “They said we’d hear in two to three days what day our court date was,” Bush said.

In the meantime, the two women gained encouragement by being able to talk with their families by phone while staying at the pastor’s home. “I called my husband as soon as we were able from the pastor’s house. It was 4 a.m. in the morning [in Texas].” Bush asked that he call their church, First Baptist of Waxahachie, in order to start them praying. “[We] needed major prayer warriors. God just showed me we don’t only belong to God’s family and church…. It was not just in the United States, but God showed us the whole world — Christians from all over — were praying for us,” she said, grateful for the power of the Internet communications.

Bush’s husband also delivered to their three grown children the news of their mother’s detention, further spreading the call to prayer. On March 2, the women’s passports were returned and they were released to begin the trip home.

Excited to return to Waxahachie, Bush said, “I am so humbled by all the prayers that have lifted me up. I just want to thank everyone because God does answer prayer. I totally felt His grace. God orchestrated two wonderful mission trips, one to India and one to Dubai. He allowed those on the trip to see a third-world country and literally the richest country in the world,” she added, referring to India and UAE.

“More important was not just seeing these two countries, but how God is in control in all situations. He revealed to me so many wonderful Scriptures, showing me His promise of love and comfort and that He is always there for us in every situation.”

While she isn’t allowed to return to United Arab Emirates, Bush is willing to go wherever God leads in the future. A longtime missions education teacher in several Southern Baptist churches, Bush first learned of God’s activity around the world through a Sunbeams class and later in Girls in Action and Acteens, all Southern Baptist programs. “My love for missions is why I feel called to go on these trips,” she said. She often utilizes a clown ministry as a way to reach children with the Gospel.

The GAs at her home church wrote notes of encouragement and created a banner that still hangs outside her house in Waxahachie. “The children are just a big love of mine. I was so touched when one of the ladies from church told me how worried they were.” She was quick to add that those children will remember the outcome of their prayer support and now she has one more story to tell them of God’s grace and provision.

From the time that her own children were very young, Bush taught them to learn Psalm 56:3 whenever they were afraid. “What time I’m afraid, I will trust in thee,” she quoted.

“He holds us in the palm of His hand, directs our lives, knows how many stars are in the heavens, how many hairs we have on our heads,” Bush said. “He knows everything about what we will be doing in the future and directs our every footstep. Nothing is by accident. God was in total control.”

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter