MIDLAND, Texas (BP) – A persecuted church from China now worships in the facilities of First Baptist Church in Midland.
Pastor Pan Yongguang and members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church – nicknamed the “Mayflower Church” for their pursuit of religious freedom – relocated to the Permian Basin about a month ago.
On Feb. 4, they met the first time for worship and fellowship in the youth center at First Baptist Church. The Midland congregation is making its facilities available to the Mayflower Church three times a week.
“It’s a real blessing for us,” Pastor Darin Wood of First Baptist Church said. “Our church has a heart for missions. … This is a further reflection of that.”
The Mayflower Church fled persecution and harassment in China more than three years ago. After being denied asylum in South Korea, they relocated to Thailand on tourist visas.
When those visas expired, the Thai government refused to renew them unless members of the Mayflower Church reported to the Chinese Embassy. After a deportation hearing, church members were fined and detained six days in Thailand.
Several Christian human rights organizations – particularly Freedom Seekers International, ChinaAid and 21Wilberforce – worked with the U.S. Department of State and other officials to secure their release and resettlement in the United States. Members of the Mayflower Church arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Good Friday last year.
With the help of Tyler-based Freedom Seekers International, the Mayflower Church initially resettled in East Texas and began English-as-a-Second-Language classes.
Permian Basin churches work together to help
In early fall 2023, Bob Fu – founder of Midland-based China Aid – was traveling with Pastor Pan as his translator. He learned some Christians in the Midland-Odessa area were willing to make available a 300-acre ranch where many families from the Mayflower Church could live. An Odessa church agreed to secure housing for the remaining church members.
After the Mayflower Church relocated to the Permian Basin soon after Christmas, Fu and Pastor Pan began seeking a facility where members of the relocated church could worship. So, they contacted leaders at First Baptist in Midland.
“Our youth worship center was not being used on Sundays,” Wood said. He showed the available space to Pastor Pan and others from the Mayflower Church.
“When they saw it, they broke down and cried. They said they had never had a building to worship in before,” he recalled. “They had always been a house church.”
After working through logistical details, including the desire of the Chinese church to meet together for extended hours several times a week, First Baptist voted to extend an invitation to the Mayflower Church.
The Mayflower Church’s Sunday worship services “ran most of the day” on Feb. 4, and members shared a meal together, he said.
On Wednesdays, when the First Baptist youth use the center, the Mayflower Church will gather in the Midland congregation’s chapel. Then on Friday evenings, they will return to the youth center for another worship service.
“We’re not the only church helping,” Wood said. Midland Bible Church, Mission Messiah in Odessa, Mid-Cities Church in Odessa and other congregations have helped provide housing, transportation and food for Mayflower Church families.
“There are a lot of children to feed, and the churches here have come together to provide assistance,” Wood said.
Members of First Baptist are “humbled” and “inspired” by the courage the Mayflower Church members demonstrated in leaving their homeland to escape religious persecution and practice their faith freely, he noted.
Long-term, after members of the Mayflower Church receive work permits, fully settle in the area and become self-sustaining, Christians in the area will help the Chinese church find a permanent place where they can worship, he added.
For now, members of First Baptist and members of the Mayflower Church acknowledge differences in culture, language and denomination, but they also recognize what unites them. Wood points to the heavenly vision recorded in Revelation 4 and 5.
“You don’t see denominational barriers there,” he said.
This story originally appeared in the Baptist Standard.