Almost 60 members of the so called Mayflower Church who fled persecution in China arrived in the United States on Good Friday, intending to resettle permanently after being granted political asylum just as they appeared destined to be deported back to China.
In November 2019, the Christians, including 32 children, from Pastor Youngguang Pan’s Shenzhen Holy Reformed house church fled to Jeju Island in South Korea after encountering threats and interrogations from Chinese police.
After being denied asylum in South Korea, they traveled to Thailand last year in the hope of obtaining refugee status.
Just days ago they were arrested and taken to an airport detention centre by Thai immigration authorities for overstaying their tourist visas.
Fears that they were on the brink of being sent back to China sparked a diplomatic scramble to prevent that from happening,
US officials coordinated their Departments of State and Homeland Security, various UN agencies, the Thai government and Christian charities to successfully negotiate the group’s release.
CBN News reports US-based human rights advocate ChinaAid and Freedom Seekers International which rescues, resettles and sustains those who are persecuted for their faith, played key roles in the rescue operation.
“This is a successful example of non-partisan, international cooperation,” ChinaAid CEO Chad Bullard said.
“We are thankful to all parties including various US government agencies, particularly the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Office led by Ambassador Rashad Hussain, the US Embassy in Bangkok, USCIRF and a number of congressional offices including Chairman Mike McCaul and Chairman Chris Smith,” he added.
“It is a very Good Friday indeed, and a perfect Easter gift to see these persecuted Chinese Christians arrive and be allowed to practice their faith freely in the United States. Had they been forcibly repatriated to China, they would have been jailed and severely persecuted,” Congressman Smith explained.
One Mayflower family is still in Thailand awaiting the birth of their third child in late April. They are planning on joining the other families next month.
Reverend Dr. Timothy Conkling, a missionary with China Ministries International who assisted ChinaAid to coordinate the first five months of the Mayflower group’s relocation to Thailand noted that: “Regardless of who is ultimately responsible for leading the Thai Immigration police to arrest and detain the Mayflower Church, I can say that under the providential hand of God, their arrest turned into release and freedom. Their arrest caused an emergency and expedited their asylum to the US.”
On their arrival in Texas Pastor Youngguang Pan’s said, “We didn’t stay in the desert for 40 years like the Israelites. We only stayed for 4 years. We are filled with joy in coming out of Egypt.”
He then led his congregation to sing Psalm 114,celebrating in a song of praise the Israelites’ escape from Egypt.
The Christian Post reports it’s the first known instance of a Chinese church fleeing persecution en masse.
It explains that the church’s name, Mayflower, comes from the English ship that carried passengers — some of whom were Protestant separatists seeking religious freedom from the Church of England — who traveled to the British colonies in the 17th century.
Pastor Pan said the decision to flee China was influenced by a lunch he had with Pastor Wang Yi of Chengdu’s Early Rain Covenant Church in 2018.
Pastor Wang who is now serving a nine-year jail sentence urged Pastor Pan to prepare himself to go to prison as well.
Pastor Pan and his congregation decided to flee before that happened.