January 31, 2023

Sixty-four Christians currently in Thailand face deportation to China — from which they fled to avoid persecution — unless US officials allow them to relocate with the help of local churches in east Texas settle down.

Human rights organization 21Wilberforce is urging Texas Baptists and others to persuade Congress to intervene on behalf of Chinese Christians.

Members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church – also known as the “Mayflower Church” for its commitment to religious freedom – left China in 2019 after repeated threats and interrogations by Chinese police.

First, Pastor Pan Yongguang and members of the church moved to the South Korean island of Jeju on tourist visas, but were denied asylum.

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission reports that the Republic of Korea accepted 0.4 percent of refugee claims in 2020 and only 0.1 percent in 2021.

“From 2017 to 2021, a total of 5,225 Chinese nationals applied for asylum in Korea. Only three were recognized as refugees,” says a commission report.

Members of the Mayflower Church later moved to Bangkok, Thailand, where they applied for United Nations refugee status on September 5.

Recently, the Thai government refused to renew church members’ tourist visas. They now face a forced return to China, where they fear severe persecution and possible imprisonment.

In the past three years, members of the church have been stalked, harassed and threatened by Chinese agents, and family members who remain in China have been interrogated and intimidated, the Associated Press reported.

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Religious persecution in China is worse today than it has been in decades, former Chinese dissident and longtime international human rights defender Bob Fu of ChinaAid told Randel Everett of 21Wilberforce during an event at Dallas Baptist University. (DBU photo)

Midland-based ChinaAid has been instrumental in advocating for the Mayflower Church and working with Freedom Seekers International to attract sponsors for the relocation of church members.

A group of churches in Tyler have made financial and material commitments to sponsor the resettlement of asylum seekers in the United States, but resettlement requires state approval.

21Wilberforce is leading efforts to mobilize Texas Christians to contact Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth and senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Michael McCaul, D-Houston and senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

An online letter urges Granger and McCall to work to allow members of the Mayflower Church to relocate to the United States. It emboldens her to call on President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to work toward relocating Mayflower Church members, including the possible granting of parole on humanitarian grounds.

“The consistently documented harassment, threats of repatriation to China, and promotion of local communities indicate that resettlement in Texas is the best option to provide sanctuary to church members,” the letter reads.

The letter’s signatories include Elijah Brown, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance; Katie Frugé, director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission; Mark Heavener, director of Baptist intercultural ministries in Texas; and Stephen Reeves, executive director of Fellowship Southwest.

Click here for more information and to sign the online letter.

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