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The new pilgrims


WORLD Radio - The new pilgrims

The Mayflower church was released from detention in Thailand and arrived in the United States on Good Friday

Members of Mayflower church celebrate their arrival in the United States. Photo Credit to Chad Bullard

NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: fleeing persecution.

Over the last decade China has been cracking down on Christian churches. Thousands of Chinese believers have fled their homes to seek asylum in other countries. Typically, individuals will set out on their own, and in some cases, entire family units.

But last week, something new happened.

MARY REICHARD: On Good Friday, the 63 members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church arrived in the U.S. to seek asylum as a congregation. They avoided being sent back to China and almost certain trouble, and were instead reunited at the Dallas Fort Worth International airport.

This congregation is also known as the Mayflower church. Back in China, it operated a small Christian school until 2019. That was when government harassment and demands to shut down the “illegal” school became too intense to ignore.

At first, the church tried moving to South Korea. But members’ asylum applications were rejected multiple times. Last year they relocated to Thailand and began new asylum applications, citing religious persecution.

EICHER: But at the end of March, police arrested church members for overstaying their visas. Until last week it appeared likely that Thailand was going to deport the congregation back to China.

So how did the church make it to the United States?

Well, joining us now is Chad Bullard, the CEO of ChinaAid, a Christian human rights organization instrumental in bringing the Mayflower Church members to the United States.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Good morning, Chad.

CHAD BULLARD, GUEST: Thanks so much for having us, Mary.

REICHARD: Chad, take us through the past week of your life. Where have you been, and what has it been like finalizing the last steps of these believers’ journey to the United States?

BULLARD: It has been quite a ride, I got a call two weeks ago, and we were informed that the Chinese government might have noticed a location of we were hiding this church out in Thailand. And so apparently, one of the members got concerned and they were facing just severe threats from the Chinese government from their families back into the mainland. And so just the pressure and everything started ramping up. And we got a call that said, we may need to relocate them. So within five hours, I jumped on a plane out of Dallas, and I was on my way to the Middle East, transiting there to Thailand, and about a 22 hour trip.

REICHARD: You have an extensive background in Homeland Security and law enforcement. What had to happen to allow this group to come to the United States? How extraordinary was the outcome?

BULLARD: Oh, it's extremely extraordinary. We had documented threats from 2019. So we had over 50 documented threats that we reported to the State Department that we worked with Congress just on a regular basis. And really over the last seven to 10 days, everything just ramped up once they found out their location, they're in Thailand. So that's when we immediately took a flight over there, we relocated the church to a different location in Thailand, of course, moving 63 people is not easy. So we had to have just different vehicles, vans, and of course, having just a hotel that would hold that many people. So yeah, it was it was quite a feat to do.

REICHARD: What can you tell us about the persecution these believers faced in the countries they left?

BULLARD: Yeah, so the persecution I mean, there's threats to their finances, there's threats to their immediate family members, whether it be their moms or dads that these, this church is average age between the ages 35 to about 45. And so their parents still live there, their brothers and sisters still live there. They have nieces and nephews. And so just all around threats from financial to you know, one minute, they're saying, hey, we'll take care of them. We just want them to come back. And then the next minute, they're making threats, obviously, severe persecution, arrests, and maybe even further worse.

REICHARD: Several human rights groups have noted that this is the first instance of a church congregation immigrating as a group. Do you think this will be an isolated incident, or are there indications that it will become more common as persecution increases in China and other countries hostile to Christians?

BULLARD: Yeah, I mean, I think Xi Jinping has made no, he's not trying to keep it quiet. It's world domination. And one of the things is, they're going after Christians in such a big, big way. So I don't know that this will be the norm, it's very difficult to relocate 63 church members, literally 8,000 miles and just in hiding in the secrecy and just the finances and getting a money and, and going through the State Department and getting them the refugee status. So it's very, very difficult to do. I mean, extremely dangerous, and very costly to the to the Chinese people that are being persecuted.

REICHARD: What was it like greeting these folks when they got here, I mean when they first arrived in the United States up at JFK in New York? What will you remember most?

BULLARD: Well, I so I was, I had been in Thailand. I've been in Taiwan. We had one of our workers that just happened to be there. When when it was raided and so that that happened. And of course, I had literally just left so I had been gone 24 hours when they were put in prison over there. And so the minute they got off that plane and JFK had just been there, you know, within the last week and a half. So I see him at JFK, and of course, just the hugs. And I mean, literally I had one lady she was just literally on the ground of the airport just crying because they didn't know if this was gonna happen. I mean, literally we were literally minutes away. If they're going either to China and face severe persecution, prison, beatings, just I mean, you can only dream of what was going to happen to them, versus heading over to the United States.

REICHARD: What’s next for the Mayflower Church?

BULLARD: So what we're doing now is we're working with it's it's an international organization that it's Freedom Seekers International, and it's an organization in Tyler, Texas, and they have a camp there. And at right now, we have them at a different undisclosed location. And we are going to be working with them to try to get them up and going, get all their paperwork done, as far as just acclimating to the society and going through everything that's obviously needed with the United States government and helping them get them on the right track to success. Get the kids in schools and public schools out here. We got some of the kids that are are going to be college aids, they're smart, they're already learning English they've been working on for the last two years in hopes of this day. And so hopefully, they'll get to put that into use and we can help them get into universities around here and and make them productive, productive citizens.

REICHARD: Chad Bullard is the CEO of ChinaAid. Thank you for joining us!

BULLARD: I really appreciate you guys. Thank you so much for having me.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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