Chinese “Mayflower” Church Still Waits
New reports suggest a Chinese “Mayflower” church is soon to face a critical moment before a democracy’s high court. Will those Christian asylum-seekers be welcomed or sent packing?
Members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, a house church planted with the help of a U.S.-based denomination, fled their homeland in 2019 after years of surveillance and harassment by Chinese government authorities. Posing as tourists, 60 individuals — including dozens of children — successfully reached South Korea’s Jeju Island, and they have been there ever since.
The church and its pastor, Pan Yongguang, came under fire in China for refusing to be absorbed into the state-approved Three-Self Patriotic Movement church and for speaking up against an intensifying crackdown on Christians. Their school was also shut down, raising alarms for the church members.
Pastor Pan recently Radio Free Asia (RFA), “Our church would educate our children about our religious beliefs, and the police would come along and force them to enroll in school so they could be brainwashed.”
“They didn’t want us to teach our children the Bible,” he added.
So despite language and health care concerns, the families left Shenzen — one of China’s special economic zone cities just north of Hong Kong — and made their way to Jeju. They soon became known as a “Mayflower” church due to their similarities to the Pilgrim community fleeing religious persecution in the 1600’s.
That history is, of course, a powerful part of our nation’s origin story. In it we see the importance of our first freedom — religious liberty — in the American experiment from its very foundations.
Sadly, this newer “Mayflower” group has not yet been received in the free world. Their asylum applications have been rejected by South Korea, and their time on Jeju may soon be up. While authorities are allowing the refugees to stay on the island during legal proceedings, RFA’s report on January 25 suggests the nation’s high court may be ready to take the case and their lawyer believes the chance that they will be rejected again is “quite high.
Observers think South Korea is wary of angering their powerful communist neighbor. And China clearly appears to be very much interested in this group, harassing their friends and family still in China and even trying to intimidate the refugees themselves through its diplomatic staff on Jeju.
Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, told RFA that only a fraction of a percent of such appeals from Chinese citizens have ever been granted by authorities in Seoul.
“South Korea is effectively being held hostage by the CCP,” Fu said
If Pastor Pan and his church are denied asylum, they will have a short window in which to leave Korea. The question may then turn to the United States. Fu indicated in an earlier that several large American churches want to help these “Mayflower” Christians, and he has on U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to “do everything in his power to make sure these vulnerable religious minorities are not sent back into harm’s way.”
So far the U.S. has made no announcement.
As eyes around the globe soon focus on China for the the Winter Olympic Games, will they see the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities there? Will they embrace the cause of the “Mayflower” church?
How will you pray for the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church and believers throughout China?
Aaron Mercer is a Contributing Writer with two decades of experience in Washington, D.C.’s public policy arena.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
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