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Moulton Baptist missions team refused entrance to Wales, sent back homecomment (0)

August 4, 2011

By Leigh Pritchett

A group from Moulton Baptist Church en route to do missions work in Wales was detained July 21 by U.K. officials and subsequently sent back to the United States.

The team of 14 — comprised of high school seniors, college students and adults — left the United States on July 20 for a 10-day missions trip to Llantwit Fardre Community Church in Wales, said Mark Wakefield, associate pastor of the Muscle Shoals Baptist Association church.

Llantwit Fardre Community is a Salvation Army church with which a team from Moulton Baptist had ministered during a missions trip the previous year, Wakefield said.

Patrick Horner, minister to students at Moulton Baptist and leader of the Wales-bound missions team, said the trip was planned through the organization Global Youth Ministry.

In flight from the United States to Heathrow Airport in London, group members had to complete “landing cards,” on which they had to state the purpose of their visit to the United Kingdom, Horner said.

Team members wrote that their purpose was “to do volunteer youth work for a Salvation Army church,” Horner explained.

When the team arrived at Heathrow Airport around 10:15 a.m. July 21 and proceeded through the U. K. Border Agency checkpoint, an official determined that group members must have additional paperwork in order to continue on to Wales.

The official insisted that the group must have a letter of invitation and explanation from the church where it was going, Horner stated.

Such paperwork had not been required previously, Horner told The Alabama Baptist.

Because of the official’s decision, “we were detained for over 12 hours,” Horner continued.

During that time, team members were fingerprinted and photographed and their passports taken, Horner said.

Also team members had to surrender credit cards and currency, which was counted in their presence, Horner said. Later they did get these items back.

With a credit card and some British pounds left from the previous Wales missions trip, phone calls were made to entities and individuals who might possibly be able to help the group continue on its missions trip, Horner said.

In the United States, Moulton Baptist church staff and church members received word of the problem and began making phone calls as well to people whom they thought could help. Wakefield said there was also a special prayer time that afternoon at Moulton Baptist.

The office of U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, was one of the many entities made aware of the situation.

Brooks’ office contacted the British Embassy in Washington and the U.S. Embassy in London. Brooks’ office asked that all courtesies possible be extended in looking at the situation and in allowing the group to enter Wales, said Johnny Turner, who attended Moulton Baptist for a number of years and is field representative for Brooks in Decatur.

Nonetheless all the various attempts to assist met with roadblocks, Wakefield said.

At 10:30 p.m. July 21, the team was allowed to leave Heathrow Airport because of minors in the group. Horner explained that minors could not be detained overnight.

After the group was settled at a hotel, Horner met with team members and asked what they would like to do with their time in London. Resoundingly the response was that they wanted to do what they could to reach people for Jesus Christ.

So, with the oversight of the adults in the group, team members left Gideon International “Life” books in restrooms, in phone booths, on park benches, in subway stations — anywhere that they thought someone might see a copy and take it, Horner said.

Meanwhile Horner had received by e-mail a letter of invitation and explanation from Llantwit Fardre Community Church. He and a Welsh friend took a copy of the letter to Heathrow Airport to give it to border authorities. Still the response was that the letter was not sufficient, Horner stated.

It seemed that each time a requirement was met by the group, another requirement was added, Horner observed in recounting what happened.

Salvation Army International also agreed to provide the necessary letter to secure the group’s passage, Horner said. However, when the Salvation Army was questioned as to whether background checks had been performed on members of the Moulton team, the organization’s representative truthfully replied that they had not been done.

When the missions team arrived July 22 at Heathrow Airport to board a plane back to the United States, a Salvation Army major was waiting, Horner said. The major informed Horner that nothing more could be done to try to get team members into Wales.

The group returned to the United States — via Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport — the evening of July 22 and arrived at Moulton Baptist in the very early morning hours of July 23.

“We lost a little bit of money, and we lost 12 hours of our life (sitting in the detainment area). But it is nothing compared to what Jesus did for me,” Horner said of the experience.

Through this experience, group members maybe have a glimpse of what people without Jesus Christ will face when they stand before God, Horner said.

This has made team members even more burdened for people who do not know Jesus Christ as Savior, Horner continued.

“We were just denied access to a country. We were not denied access to heaven,” he said.

Already some positive things have been seen through the situation.

One is that, because the Moulton group was not able to help at the Wales church, other believers “have risen to the occasion” by taking over the outreach efforts it was going to do, Horner said. “That is worth it.”

Also he said the demeanor of the students and adults while they were in detainment made a favorable impression upon many of the border agency officials who came in contact with the group.

“I’m extremely proud of our students,” Horner said.

They all handled themselves in an exemplary manner, he stated.

In addition, he noted that group members are keeping the experience in perspective.

“We’re not mad; we’re not bitter; we’re not upset,” Horner said.

Instead Horner said team members understand that God will work through this event to bring about His purpose and plan.

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