China’s Mayflower Church Wants to Come to America: ‘This…… | News and reports

Pastor Pan Yongguang and almost all 61 members of his Chinese house church have arrived in Thailand. The congregation left the southeastern city of Shenzhen for South Korea between 2019 and 2020, trying unsuccessfully for months to obtain refugee status.

Last month, the group left Jeju Island for Bangkok, hoping to appeal to the UN refugee office. Their search for a home continues as they hope to make another move in the near future, this time to the United States.

It is research that has been expensive.

Devotees of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church (SHRC) left their professional jobs, their home in Shenzhen and their elderly parents just before the pandemic began. Pan assumed responsibility not only for the spiritual care of his devotees, but also for the logistics of daily life – including work, housing, medical care, security, and travel – in foreign lands. He has also been rebuffed by some Chinese churches who believe he should stay and face persecution rather than flee.

But he believes he is following God’s call to lead his church to greater freedom, like the pilgrims aboard the Mayflower“For the spiritual blessing of the flock, I invested more and paid a higher price,” Pan said. “No one flees like that with children and women from one county to another. It’s not fleeing. It’s leaving Egypt.

After quietly leaving the South Korean island of Jeju in late August, Pan announced the latest whereabouts of his congregation to the world through a the wall street journal (WSJ) article In Monday. On the same day, worshipers applied for refugee status at the UN refugee office in Bangkok. Their hope of resettling in the United States has the backing of US officials, including former Representative Frank Wolf, head of the US Commission on Religious Freedom.

In the meantime, the group faces dangers in Thailand. Not only do many party members need tourist visa extensions or risk being in the country illegally, but they say they are being watched by Chinese agents and fear being deported to the mainland. A family is still stuck in Jeju because the Chinese consulate won’t give their newborn daughter a passport, rendering her stateless. This stress pushes the members of the “Mayflower Church” to the brink.

“I often pray and ask God for more grace and strength,” Pan said. “The past two years have been hard to bear. They were the most difficult moments of my pastoral ministry.

leave the homeland

Nie Yunfeng started attending SHRC in 2012 and taught for several years at the Christian school established by the church. She remembers law enforcement pressuring the landlord to evict the school and church, forcing them to move constantly. The police would break into worship services or classes, telling them to break up their meetings.

Pressure grew after the implementation of revised religious regulations in 2018, with church leaders facing increased surveillance and questioning. The police insisted that Pan close the school, dissolve the church, and stop all contact with churches in the West (the SHRC is linked to the Presbyterian Church in America).

So when Pan concluded that the only option was to leave China, Nie was convinced, especially as she considered her children’s future. In the fall of 2019, she and her two children arrived in South Korea, where Pan and her initially uncertain husband had been looking for a place to go for church.

“In China, we are unable to see the real news,” she said of her husband’s reversal. “When my husband investigated things in Korea, he was able to see the truth and [leaving] has become more urgent.

About 60 devotees, half of whom were children, joined them on Jeju Island, a tourist destination off the southern tip of the Korean peninsula.

Once in Jeju, they were surprised to find the Korean government typically reject almost all asylum applications from Chinese nationals. Without legal status, many worshipers of the old middle class held menial jobs, including washing dishes and harvesting vegetables.

Pan said many people were exhausted from labor-intensive work that paid meager wages. Jeju’s winters were cold and snowy, unlike scorching Shenzhen where winter lows are temperate. Some received calls from people claiming to work at the Chinese consulate asking them to pick up packages, which they feared was a trap. Back in China, the police harassed the church members who had stayed behind and interrogated the family members of those who had left.

Nie said she doesn’t regret leaving China, but things got tougher when her stepfather was diagnosed with liver cancer. Her husband, who is the family’s only son, wanted to be there to care for his father, but they realized that if they returned, they would face repercussions and never have the chance to leave again.

Despite the challenges, the church was able to worship together freely each Sunday, first in a rented space, then in a Korean church that allowed them to use their building, and finally in a hotel dining room. Nie said she could finally worship in peace, no longer fearful if they were attacked or jumped at the sound of a knock on the door.

She is grateful that her children were able to safely attend church school – in China many of these schools have been closed and parents have been forced to send their children to public schools. Nie gave birth to a baby in Jeju in 2020 and is now 34 weeks pregnant with their fourth child.

Travel to Thailand

Last February, the SHRC lost the final appeal of his original asylum claim. In order to avoid deportation, the entire congregation filed a new asylum application, which cost $1,000 per person.

After Korean and American officials informed church members were unlikely to receive refugee status in Korea, Texas-based persecution advocacy group ChinaAid suggested a possible route: bringing the entire group to Thailand, where they could appeal to the UN refugee office. Unlike Korea, Thailand is not a party to UN refugee treaties, and so the agency – rather than the government – ​​can directly process and determine refugee cases.

So in August the group moved to another new place where they didn’t speak the language or understand the culture. With Nie’s due date fast approaching, she and her family first arrived in Thailand to receive medical treatment due to complications from her pregnancy.

Once in Thailand, the church faced heightened dangers they had not encountered in Jeju: people they believed to be Chinese agents followed the group, taking photos and videos wherever they went. were going, according to Pan and other sources. When they filed their applications at the UN refugee office on Monday, Pan noticed a car parked across the street with a man inside filming them. Later, two strangers sat nearby and filmed them as they Associated Press reporters interviewed Pan and the church members.

“After arriving in Thailand, I really felt the danger,” Pan said. “Even though in Korea I knew Thailand would be more dangerous, in the last few days I saw that it was much more dangerous than I imagined.”

Church members fear that the Chinese government will take them back and repatriate them to China, where they would likely face severe punishment, an unfounded injustice. to fear.

They are also concerned about the family who cannot leave Jeju. After a WSJ reporter contacted the Chinese consulate in Korea to inquire about its refusal to grant the baby a passport, an officer called the family to warn them that they were injuring national security, according to Bob Fu from ChinaAid. The officer then urged them to write a confession admitting that they had been wrong to leave China and that the church had forced them to go to Jeju. In exchange, the consulate would give them the baby’s passport, Fu said.

Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, Fu and US officials are advocating for the Biden administration to relocate the group to the United States. Texas churches have already agreed to sponsor the congregation after their arrival, providing housing, living expenses and settlement assistance. house church activists and Christians (including one family of the Early Rain Covenant Church.)

In response to CT’s investigation, the US State Department said it does not comment on individual cases, but is committed to helping victims of religious persecution around the world.

Pan said his rapidly thinning hair is a sign of the stress he’s been under leading the church in the desert in recent years. Sometimes, he says, he felt so weak that he didn’t think he could handle the responsibility. He was walking with his wife, talking and praying for her problems.

Reading and meditating on the Psalms also brought comfort to Pan, he said. The church generally sings psalms every Sunday and at the beginning of every school day, so that the lamentations and adoration of David and the psalmists are well brought to their lips. As the church members all lived in the same building in Jeju, he heard different families singing the psalms through the walls, a beautiful sound of praise.

When the faithful come to see him with homesickness and the desire to find their family in China, Pan reminds them of their true homeland: “On earth, Christians are travellers. We can keep moving forward, but Thailand is not my destination; neither does the United States. We walk to our heavenly home.

Jerry B. Hatch