TYLER, Texas (BP) – Sixty-three Chinese Christians landed safely in Texas on Good Friday (April 7) after fleeing persecution in their homeland and receiving a less than warm welcome in South Korea and Thailand.
The members of Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church – nicknamed the “Mayflower Church” for their commitment to religious freedom – were arrested in Thailand March 30 and were told their expired visas would not be renewed unless they reported to the Chinese Embassy.
The group, which had been seeking refugee status from the United Nations, has been granted humanitarian parole status by U.S. authorities, human rights organization China Aid reported.
“It is the most joyful homecoming to welcome the Mayflower Church to Texas,” said China Aid president Bob Fu. “None of this would have been possible without the help of partners, members of Congress, and U.S. government staff who worked countless hours in order to bring the Mayflower Church to safety. Now they can live out their faith fully without fear of persecution!”
The U.S. State Department, Department of Homeland Security and various U.N. agencies as well as the Thai government all played a role in security the refugees’ transfer to the U.S., China Aid reported.
Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) has worked closely with advocacy groups for the past several years on behalf of Shenzhen Church as its members remained in legal limbo.
“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,” Smith said in a statement. “Had they been forcibly repatriated to China, they would have been jailed and severely persecuted.”
Early last month, Smith met with Thai officials to ask for assurances that the group not be sent back to China under any circumstances.
“After years of fleeing persecution suffered at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party, these men and women of great faith can finally enjoy religious freedom in America,” Smith said.
“In the future, Thai government officials must be more vigilant when it comes to malign CCP activities within their country and work to hold accountable any police officers or officials who colluded with Chinese Communist agents in an attempt to deprive church members of their rights under international refugee law.”
U.S. Representative Nathaniel Moran (R-Texas) represents Tyler, Texas, the region where Mayflower members will settle.
“Every individual should be free to practice their faith safely and without fear of persecution,” Moran said in a statement. “The immediate action taken by U.S. officials signals that as a nation, we are still committed to standing for the persecuted, and as a member of Congress, I am committed to fighting on behalf of religious freedom for all.”
China Aid CEO Chad Bullard said the rescue is a “successful example of nonpartisan, international cooperation” and thanked a host of organizations, agencies and elected officials, including Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, former Congressman Frank Wolf, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Alliance Defending Freedom, 21Wilberforce and many others.
The Baptist Standard reported in February that some Baptist churches in East Texas have pledged to help the refugees.