SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Russian state-funded media Ruptly posted video to Youtube of the two volunteers being arrested on March 1st. The volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were arrested for allegedly teaching English without a license.
The footage shows what looks like a small group meeting and then police approaching the volunteers. Police apparently search the apartment of the volunteers and find Book of Mormons and other proselyting items and then take the two into custody.
Church volunteers have a very different job in Russia as compared to the rest of the world. In 2016, the Russian government banned all proselyting as a counter-terrorism measure. Whitney Merrill was serving as a missionary at the time and made the transition to volunteer.
Merrill explained that the goal was the same, but the volunteers had to be very careful not to be perceived as proselyting. She said that volunteers couldn’t teach English or even have pamphlets and Book of Mormons in their apartments to avoid being misunderstood.
In the video footage, it’s clear the detained volunteers had church materials in their apartment.
Elder Kole Brodowski, 20, and Elder David Gaag, 19, are on a plane headed home Wednesday night. Brodowski’s father posted on Facebook saying that his son will be ending his mission because Kole is almost at his two-year mark. He also thanked the mission presidents there for their support during the three-week detention.
Elder David Gaag will receive another assignment in the U.S.
As for the future of volunteers in Russia, the church said, “The church is closely monitoring conditions in Russia for all volunteers and will continue to fully comply with Russian law.”