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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Fighting the Travel Ban: Carol’s story

Being a mouthpiece for justice is tough. It often requires us to step outside our comfort zones and speak truth to power – perhaps to an authority figure who’s far from keen to hear our challenge. But God is a God of justice. And he works through us, his people, to bring it about on our everyday frontlines – whether in small disputes or major wrongs.

Carol Melrose’s remarkable story is testament to this truth – and to how God works through ordinary Christians to do the seemingly impossible. Here, she tells what happened in her own words.

‘In 2009 I was a successful businesswoman, having owned my own public relations firm in Bahrain for 15 years.

‘I won a major PR campaign contract with the Bahraini Government. We started the campaign with gusto – but then, four months in, the client stopped paying us. The global financial crisis had caused their government funding to dry up. I had put everything into the campaign, and it was our only source of income (something I now see was a mistake on my part).

‘This in turn meant I was unable to deal with unpaid bills from suppliers. Our company owed 17,000 Bahraini dinars (BD), and was owed BD43,000 by the client. Because I had unpaid invoices, the supplier requested a travel ban be placed on me, worried I might leave the country without paying. As a result, my business had to be closed and I had to dismiss all 15 staff.

‘I decided to get another job to pay back what I owed. However, I was fairly shocked when I discovered I couldn’t get a work permit due to my travel ban!

‘So, I was stuck in the country, unable to work, unable to pay my rent and bills, and unable to pay for a lawyer to take my case against the client who had not paid my company’s fees. It felt like a ridiculous catch 22. Where would I live? How could I survive?

‘I was fortunate to have some really good friends with a spare room who allowed me to stay with them. Unable to leave the country, my heart was heavy, and I turned to my faith. One day in church, we sang the hymn “The Servant King”. I hadn’t realised I was all tensed up, but when I sang the words in the second verse – “there in the garden of tears, my heavy weight you chose to bear” – suddenly I felt the weight being taken off me. I stood tall, knowing that God was with me.’

That reassurance helped Carol realise not only that she could have confidence in God’s presence with her – but also that she had a chance to make a difference on this challenging frontline.

‘During my time stuck in Bahrain, I created a social media page to help others in the same situation – and found more than 4,000 people trapped by travel bans. I contacted the chief executives of all the major banks to insist that they help people in debt, rather than make things worse for them. And I worked with the British ambassador and various government ministers to help find ways to get these people home. Our church family also helped those who were trapped by providing them with food, blankets, and clothes, and helping out as much as we could with bills and school fees.

‘With my knowledge of public relations, I decided to start a PR campaign on human rights injustices in Bahrain. I had articles published in the major newspapers in Bahrain and in Britain, and I contacted the United Nations to ask why they were renewing contracts with Bahrain when they had human rights transgressions.

‘Eventually, I had an article published in the New York Times. It was noticed by the King of Bahrain’s son, who was visiting New York at the time. The King’s office called and offered to help – and I managed to get out in 2012 after being held for three and a half years. Before accepting the terms of my release (the government paid the money I owed to my suppliers, but I could not claim the money I was owed by my client), I insisted they change the rules so that people with travel bans could get work permits, and that a travel ban could not be put on anyone who owed less than £50,000.

‘God gave me a new opportunity in Bahrain to start my own company. Since then, my work on human rights has made a difference. During my time there I’ve helped more than 400 people get out of travel bans, and three more people get out of the country at the same time as myself.

‘Thanks be to God.’

Submit Your One About

Each of us will have moments or stories like these, but we easily forget or don’t see them. Yet they can be such a source of encouragement to us, and to others.

Why not take some time to tell us your own story of God at work in your everyday? We’d love to hear it – and, with your permission, share it to help others see how God might be working through them!

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