Mayflower Church Finally Lands on U.S. Soil: ‘We Are All Sojourners’
It was a day that Pastor Pan Yongguang believed might never come. Draped in an American flag, after a harrowing escape from Thailand, the Chinese refugees known as the Mayflower Church finally stepped foot on American soil Friday, a journey thousands of miles — and more than three years — in the making.
For ChinaAid’s Bob Fu, who’s worked tirelessly for the Christians’ asylum in the U.S., the past few weeks have been a “roller coaster” of emotion. More than five dozen of Pan’s congregation were days away from resettling in the U.S. when 30 Thai immigration officers raided the hotel where the church members had been hiding and arrested them for overstaying their tourist visas. In an instant, their dream of resettling in America seemed lost.
“After arriving in Thailand, I truly felt danger,” Pan had told reporters after a long stint in South Korea. “Even though in Korea I knew Thailand would he more dangerous, these past few days I’ve seen that it’s much more dangerous than I imagined.” Monitored by what they believed to be Chinese operatives, the Mayflower Church knew that they could be captured and sent back to China at any moment.
But even at one of their bleakest moments since leaving China in 2019, God showed up. “It’s really a true miracle, a Good Friday miracle” Fu, who also serves as a senior fellow for International Religious Freedom for Family Research Council, told “Washington Watch” guest host Jody Hice. “After three and a half years of sailing through from China to South Korea, then Thailand,” their prospects of arriving safely in the U.S. seemed dim at best. “Barely a week ago,” Fu pointed out, “they were still locked up in two separate immigration detention centers in Bangkok and [were] about to be expelled back to the Chinese Communist Party’s prison, facing tremendous torture, suffering, and imprisonment. And God really showed He is a merciful, faithful God.”
Named after the ship of pilgrims who also fled religious persecution to America, the group’s decision was not an easy one. Almost all left good jobs in China, their homes, and aging parents right before the start of the global pandemic. “Nobody flees like this with kids and women from one county to another,” Pan insisted to critics who accused them of running away. “This isn’t fleeing. This is leaving Egypt.”
Fu said it took “multiple government” officials and “many NGOs, including the Family Research Council” to help the exhausted church members touch down in Texas Friday night. “Members of Congress, such as Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) … Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and many others … spoke consistently and loudly, and finally, a miracle happened.”
The group of 60 (half of which are children) went from thinking they were going to be handed back over to communist China to landing in Dallas, Texas to a cheering crowd that included President Biden’s Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Rashad Hussain. Fu credited “a lot of prayers … around the globe pouring in.” It’s also, he insists, “nothing but a great example of the collaboration and [bipartisan]” effort from the U.N. High Commissioner's Office on Human Rights in Geneva, the Biden administration (which stepped in when the danger of deportation was imminent), members of Congress, and organizations like Freedom Seekers International, who will help care for the congregation in Texas.
Rep. Smith, who’s been an outspoken advocate for the persecuted in China, agreed when the plane had landed, “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.”
Already, Fu says, the church members have been settled in a community with 2,000 acres of land, where they’ll live while their refugee status is processed. “They will be given work permit[s] to really pursue a life,” he said.
For others, who’ve followed the group’s story, Friday’s news was finally cause for celebration. “I had the honor to visit the Mayflower church while they were in Thailand at the end of last year,” FRC’s Arielle Del Turco told The Washington Stand. “I was struck by the profound depth of their faith and their willingness to follow God’s calling for their community and family even when it was dangerous. The fear of being kidnapped by Chinese agents or repatriated by the Thai government weighed heavily upon them. I’m relieved that they can now rest easier in the United States, a country that respects their religious freedom.”
As she explains, “It’s a huge deal that the United States accepted as refugees an entire house church that fled the Chinese government’s oppression and harassment. This is wildly embarrassing for the Chinese Communist Party which still tries to pretend there is no persecution in China. But it’s also deeply encouraging for other religious believers in China. It lets them know that the United States government knows how dangerous it is to be a Chinese Christian and will speak up on their behalf.”
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.