NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -- On October 3rd, Rhonda Nerren said goodbye to her husband Bryan, as she has done more than a dozen times in their marriage for what was supposed to be another two-week mission trip.
Eleven weeks later, she wonders when she will see him again, as he is stranded in India, his passport and finances seized.
“I left a piece of my heart - of course it’s in India. You know, a huge hole,” Rhonda Nerren said.
When the Shelbyville pastor, who leads the non-profit Asian Children’s Education Fellowship, left for Nepal, it was somewhat of a routine.
Nerren has traveled seventeen times to Nepal, which borders India, and his wife said he often brought cash to help pay for the salaries of Sunday school teachers and educators without any problem.
Nerren’s attorney, CeCe Heil, said when he landed in New Delhi, he was questioned by customs about the $40,000 he’d brought to pay for a two week conference and the salaries of thirteen ministers.
Heil said Nerren was asked if it was a Christian ministry, and he acknowledged it was, and was allowed to fly on to Bagdogra.
But when he landed there, Heil said customs agents in Bagdogra were waiting to charge him with violating the Foreign Exchange Management Act, accusing him of not having the proper paperwork and not paying a fee.
Heil said Nerren was never told he needed paperwork at the New Delhi customs, and wasn’t told that India required a fee be paid for any amount of cash beyond $5,000 brought into the country.
Nerren then spent six days in jail, and remains stranded in India, as the court system has refused to return his passport and the money.
The religious organization Open Doors cites India as the tenth most dangerous place for Christian persecution in the world, although they do not source their data for this claim.
“Many people would say this feels like religious persecution, and it feels that way,” Rhonda Nerren said.
Heil said in two separate and frustrating setbacks, a new judge was appointed who refused to release his passport until she had a full report from prosecutors, and then a prosecutor failed to show up at the next hearing.
Heil said a hearing Friday with customs could reveal that New Delhi customs agents made the mistake in clearing the pastor to fly to Bagdogra.
But even if customs admits the mistake, Heil said the judge has to release his passport.
Back in Shelbyville, Rhonda Nerren said her husband’s absence is missed the most in the care he helps provide for their daughter, Laura, who has cerebral palsey.
Laura, who is non-communicative, has soft significant weight in her father’s absence.
“She’s a daddy’s girl,” Rhonda Nerren said.
Heil said Nerren’s legal team met with members of Tennessee’s delegation in Congress and is imploring the state department for help.
A state department official told News4 Investigates that they are aware of Nerren’s arrest and their officials in India are working closely on this case, but would not provide any specifics.
Ashton Davis, spokesman for Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, wrote in an email, “Senator Alexander’s staff have been working with other Senate and House offices since learning of Pastor Nerren’s arrest. We have been in regular communication with both the State Department and the Indian Embassy in Washington to advocate for Pastor Nerren’s release on humanitarian grounds.”
Elizabeth Gregory, spokeswoman for Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, wrote in an email, “Senator Blackburn continues to be engaged through appropriate channels. We cannot comment further at this time.”