Authorities in Thailand fined but did not immediately deport members of a persecuted Chinese church, but the Christians continue to be detained three days after their deportation hearing.
Members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church – nicknamed the “Mayflower Church” for their commitment to religious freedom – were arrested March 30 and faced deportation hearings the next day.
Fleeing persecution and harassment in their native country, the Chinese Christians first sought refuge in South Korea. When they were denied asylum there, they relocated to Thailand on tourist visas. However, when their visas expired, the Thai government refused to renew them unless members of the church reported to the Chinese Embassy.
Mayflower Church members have been seeking refugee status from the United Nations, and each has been issued “refugee-seeker” identification. As of last month, only two of the 16 families in the church had been granted a second refugee determination interview with the U.N.
The initial report from the March 31 deportation hearing appeared encouraging.
Deana Brown, founding CEO of Freedom Seekers International in Tyler, was not permitted in the hearing room in Pattaya, but she saw members of the church as they were exiting.
“When I walked up, they were all smiling and happy,” she wrote in a March 31 email. Freedom Seekers International has been enlisting East Texas congregations to sponsor resettlement of Mayflower Church members.
After the adult members of the church were fined, they initially understood they would be transported by bus back to the hotel where they had been staying, Brown said.
When the drivers of the two buses did not take a direct route to the hotel, church members feared they were being driven to the airport to be sent to China. Instead, they were taken to an immigration detention center.
Two Americans who had been assisting members of the Mayflower Church briefly were detained but had not been placed under arrest, according to an Associated Press report.
About four dozen children and women from the church – including one pregnant woman who is due to give birth in two weeks – are being held in one location. The men from the Mayflower Church – numbering 16 or 17 – are being held in a single cell with more than 30 other detained individuals in Bangkok at a detention center, Bob Fu of Midland-based ChinaAid reported in an April 1 email.
In a follow-up email to Randel Everett of the 21Wilberforce human rights organization on April 3, Fu said the detained Christians “are in good spirits,” aside from some sickness and insect bites.
“But they hold praise and worship services twice a day inside the prison like [biblical figures] Daniel, Paul and Silas,” Fu wrote.
“Our American team members and the U.S. Embassy had brought basic supplies, including Bibles, and were able to deliver to the Mayflower [Church members] in the detention cells. [The] U.S. government is watching very closely for Mayflower members. Our team and U.S. Embassy are assessing the situation moment by moment. Pray for wisdom and discernment.”