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Baptist volunteers released from custody in UAE after distributing Christian materials


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Two Southern Baptist volunteers have been released from custody after being detained in the United Arab Emirates for distributing Christian materials.

Vivian Gilmer of Myrtle Beach S.C., and Marie Bush of Waxahachie, Texas, were nearing the end of a four-week mission trip with Tom Cox World Ministries when they were charged with illegal activity Feb. 19. The women were held in a Dubai police station for several hours and detained in the country until March 2.

“Tom Cox World Ministries was notified on [March 2] that Gilmer and Bush would be home by the weekend and today we praise the Lord that they are home with their families,” the Arkansas-based ministry said in a statement.

Gilmer, a 72-year-old grandmother and member of First Baptist Church in Myrtle Beach, said she had distributed Christian materials as gifts to shopkeepers and fellow shoppers in Dubai.

“As we shopped, we made friends with shopkeepers and other shoppers, [and] we simply offered them a gift, which most accepted,” Gilmer said in a statement. “Later we were approached and questioned as to our activity. We were detained until the officials reviewed the situation and eventually cleared us to leave.”

Gilmer expressed thankfulness to everyone who prayed for her during her detention. She also commended the United Arab Emirates’ government for its fairness and respect.

“I am so glad to be home and want to thank all my friends and relatives for their concerns and prayers during our delay,” she said. “I am very appreciative that we were treated fairly and with respect by the government of [the United Arab] Emirates.”

Gilmer and Bush, along with 11 of their fellow travelers, had completed a mission trip to India and decided to spend a week of vacation in Dubai, according to the statement from the Cox ministry. During an evening of shopping at the Dubai Shopping Festival, the women gave Bibles and CDs to people with whom they had interacted during the week.

Distributing Bibles “in itself, was not illegal,” said Kay Cox, one of the organizers of the trip. But authorities thought the distribution of CDs “violated their law of not distributing Bibles with other materials.”

“That certainly wasn’t the intent,” Cox added.

Gilmer and Bush were released from police custody after several hours, but their passports were confiscated and they were instructed not to leave the country.

Based upon the counsel of officials at the U.S. embassy in Dubai, the rest of the group returned to the United States immediately. Gilmer and Bush stayed with a local pastor during the 12 days they were detained.

During their detention the women “were free to do anything in the country they wanted,” Cox told Baptist Press in an interview.

Gilmer’s pastor in South Carolina told Baptist Press that the women were well taken care of during their stay in Dubai. He also noted that they had opportunities to enjoy Christian fellowship during their detention.

The Lord took care of her [Gilmer],” said Bruce Crawford, pastor of First Baptist Church in Myrtle Beach. “She was safe the entire time, and we rejoice in that. I’m looking forward to hearing how God used her. Part of the reason why, perhaps, there was a delay is because God wanted to use her in a special way while she was in the country a little bit longer.”

Church members will be encouraged to hear of Gilmer’s release because many of them prayed for her, the pastor said.

“When they hear … they’re going to be real excited and encouraged,” Crawford said. “When God answers prayer, it always encourages His people.”

Despite their experience in the United Arab Emirates, both Gilmer and Bush intend to participate in future foreign missions projects, according to the statement by Tom Cox World Ministries.

“Kay Cox talked with both of them this morning and they are in excellent spirits,” the statement said. “And both of them say this experience won’t keep them from participating in future mission trips.”
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