After a five-year journey to freedom, the members of a Chinese church who fled persecution from the communist regime found a place to freely worship together after a West Texas congregation opened its doors to them.
As CBN News reported, the Christian members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church and their pastor, Pan Yongguang, fled China almost five years ago, first to South Korea and then to Thailand as they sought asylum in the U.S.
We visited the congregation in Bangkok in 2022 to tell their story. The group is nicknamed “Mayflower Church” after the English ship that carried Pilgrims to North America in search of religious freedom.
On Feb. 4, church members met for the first time for worship and fellowship in the church’s youth center. The Midland congregation is making its facilities available to the Mayflower Church three times a week, the outlet reported.
Dr. Bob Fu, founder, and president of China Aid, was traveling with Pastor Pan when he found out about some Christians who had a 300-acre ranch in the Midland-Odessa area and were willing to make it available as a place the families of the Mayflower Church could live, the outlet reported. An Odessa church also stepped up to help the remaining church members find housing.
After the Mayflower congregation relocated to the area late last year, Fu and Pan began seeking a building where the church members could worship. They contacted the leaders of the First Baptist Church in Midland to see if they had anything available for them.
After Mayflower Church members receive work permits and become fully self-sustaining, the long-term plan is for Christians in the area to help the congregation find a building they can call their own, according to Baptist Standard.
As CBN News has reported, the story of the Chinese congregation known as the “Mayflower Church” is one of faith and perseverance.
They left China in 2019 because of increasing threats against the church by the communist government. In 2018, the communist regime imposed regulations that included limiting the appointed place of worship, who could serve as leader, and where Christians could legally evangelize.
Pastor Pan told CBN News in December 2022, “Government authorities came and threatened my landlord. They ordered him not to extend our lease and forced us to leave. They posted police right outside our residence and I was being followed. Police stopped us in the middle of worship and ordered us to stop meeting.”
Guangbo You, an elder of the church, said, “The police took me, Pastor Pan, and a brother in Christ whom the police beat up. Police persecution was becoming more serious and we felt the space where we could live was becoming smaller. Our only hope is that our family can live in a place where we can worship God and teach this to our children. For them to freely worship God their whole life.”
After leaving China, they fled to South Korea to escape persecution from the communist regime. They requested political asylum there but were denied. Upon their 2022 arrival in Thailand, church members told reporters that they had been stalked, harassed, and received threatening calls and messages even while they were in South Korea. They said relatives in China had been summoned, interrogated, and intimidated.
At that time, the Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed the matter was “not a diplomatic question.”
Then in March 2023, about 40 Thai immigration police came to the apartment complex where the church members were residing and arrested and detained all 63 members for overstaying their visas. After the church members returned to their prior residence days later, they were taken away by the Thai immigration police. They were taken first to a local Chonburi police station to pay a fine for overstaying their visas, then later to an Immigration Detention Center where the men were separated from the women and children.
During this time, the church members were at risk of forced repatriation to China due to suspected pressure from agents of the Chinese Communist Party.
“Within the next week, they will be deported. What we don’t know is which country they will be deported to,” a police representative had said.
Thailand has in the past repatriated Chinese nationals wanted by China, including members of the Uyghur ethnic group, a mostly Turkic Muslim minority that has faced religious and racial persecution in the Xinjiang Province on China’s northwestern frontier. Thai authorities had also previously deported Chinese dissidents who were recognized as refugees by the U.N. and were awaiting resettlement in Canada, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Religious freedom activists said the U.S. State Department played an important part in working with Thai officials to have the Christian refugees sent to the U.S. instead of China where they would face punishment for their faith.
Several Christian organizations, including ChinaAid Association, Freedom Seekers International, China Ministries International, and 21Wilberforce worked with State Department officials and several U.S. lawmakers to secure the group’s haven in the United States.
In April 2023, church members arrived at an airport in Texas on Good Friday. It marked the end of a long journey.
Pan told CBN News in May of last year he was stunned by God’s miraculous intervention.
“I was surprised when the Americans said they already bought the tickets and we were to leave right away. It was sort of impossible! I am reminded of the verse in Job that says ‘I have heard about you but now I see you.’ When I got on the plane and left, I felt like I was dreaming. It reminds me that God is the God who is at work and He will do what He has promised,” he said.