Chinese church’s search for freedom ends in United States
Members of the Mayflower Church released from detention in Thailand
After years of fleeing religious persecution, members of the Chinese Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church arrived on U.S. soil on Friday. Pastor Bob Fu of Texas-based ChinaAid tweeted photos of their arrival and of Pastor Pan Yongguang draped in a Stars and Stripes towel as he waited in an airport. The congregation was scheduled to fly Friday evening to Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport before going on to Tyler, Texas, where they plan to resettle.
Pan led his congregation, also known as the Mayflower Church, to seek asylum in South Korea in 2019, but local courts repeatedly rejected them. The group relocated to Thailand in August 2022 to apply for refugee status at Bangkok’s United Nations’ refugee office.
On March 30, nearly 30 Thai immigration officers raided the hotel in Pattaya where the church members hid and arrested them for overstaying their tourist visas. In China, the government had forced landlords to evict the house church and the Christian school it founded. Authorities disrupted the church’s services, monitored church leaders, and pressured Pan to sever ties with churches in the West, Christianity Today reported.
Under Thai regulations, they needed to report to the Chinese Embassy to renew their visas, which they refrained from doing for fear of being deported to China.
After their arrest, Thai authorities detained 12 men and two teenage boys at an immigration facility in central Bangkok, while 49 women and other children were kept at another center in the northern part of the city.
Thailand’s Foreign Ministry and Immigration Bureau spoke with the UN Refugee Agency and the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday about the Mayflower congregants, who received UN refugee status last year. An unnamed Thai immigration official with knowledge of the talks told the Associated Press that Thai officials would “find a way” for the Chinese Christians to be sent to a third country, but authorities did not announce a destination at the time.
Detained in Bangkok, the men of the Mayflower Church seized the opportunity for evangelism, according to messages Pan sent earlier this week to ChinaAid and Freedom Seekers International, a refugee integration organization. (The Texas-based groups shared the messages with WORLD.) Pan said they were allowed to use their cellphones for 10 minutes per day.
The group held daily worship services and shared the gospel with other Chinese and Burmese detainees. Two young Chinese men professed faith in Christ, wrote Pan, who wondered whether another young man from Xinjiang should be baptized. The pastor said being detained was “difficult and joyful” and they were “very, very thankful for bearing fruit in prison.”