WASHINGTON — A pastor who led a congregation of 64 Chinese Christians from religious persecution in China thanked God for bringing them to freedom in the United States but warned that many faithful heroes still face oppression from the Chinese Communist Party.
Pastor Pan Yongguang of the Mayflower Church, whose members fled to South Korea in 2019 after encountering threats and interrogations from Chinese police, spoke outside the U.S. Capitol Wednesday alongside ChinaAid Founder Bob Fu before attending an interfaith event chaired by the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mike Gallagher, R-Wis.
The Mayflower Church gained its name after its members arrived at South Korea's Jeju Island seeking religious freedom, similar to the 17th-century Protestant separatists who traveled to the British colonies. They later traveled to Bangkok, Thailand, hoping to get refugee status from the United Nations but were detained in an immigration detention center.
Four years after fleeing the CCP, Pan and 63 members of the church received humanitarian parole in the U.S.. In April, they arrived in Dallas, Texas, after concentrated efforts from Fu and multiple government officials and agencies to negotiate their release.
According to ChinaAid's website, the persecuted Christians now reside in Tyler, Texas.
With Fu translating for him during the press conference, Pan expressed gratitude to God for his "power," which brought everyone to the U.S. But he noted that many religious people in China, including his imprisoned friend, Pastor Wang Ti of Early Rain Covenant Church, are still oppressed by the CCP.
The pastor also thanked Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Rep. Nathaniel Moran, R-Texas, lawmakers who advocated for the Mayflower Church and were present at the press conference. Pan thanked Deana Brown, founder and CEO of Freedom Seekers International.
Around three months ago, Brown was detained alongside the Mayflower Church in Thailand.
The members were eventually released after paying fines, much to the relief of those who feared deportation. Pan thanked Brown during the press conference for choosing to stay with them throughout the experience.
"God could use a stone," Brown told The Christian Post in an interview. "I was really glad that I was there to be used by Him. It was my privilege to be able to do that, and I think for Americans, it's important to know that so many of us can do something."
Pan spoke to CP, with Fu once again serving as a translator. He believes the U.S. government should put "pressure" on the persecutors in China. Pan said that various denominations in the U.S. can and have helped persecuted Christians in China in multiple ways, citing the provision of Bibles and media advocacy as some examples.
Fu warned that the CCP has "launched a war against faith," highlighting several examples of persecution, from pastors facing fines for having offering boxes in their churches to the imprisonment of Ugyghur Muslims in concentration camps.
Fu emphasized how the CCP is forcing people to "submit" their faith "totally" and "completely" to the government. Later, in an interview with The Christian Post, Fu stressed that "religious freedom is the foundation for freedom."
Echoing her remarks during the press conference, Brown provided further details about how Americans can help refugees start their new lives, listing activities such as letter writing and helping them learn English.
Following the press conference, Pan and Fu attended an interfaith roundtable discussion on China's suppression of religious freedom in the Capitol.
During the discussion attended by those of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, Rep. Gallagher kickstarted the talk by warning that China is "rewriting the Bible."
The chairman echoed reports the CCP altered the part of the Gospel of John where Jesus defended an adulterous woman by telling her accusers: "Let he among you without sin cast the first stone." Jesus then tells the woman to "Go forth and sin no more."
The original version was a "beautiful story of forgiveness and mercy," as Gallagher noted, but not in the rewritten version featured in a 2020 Chinese university textbook. Instead of Jesus forgiving the woman, he stones her to death.
Gallagher relayed other reports that in churches across the Henan province, CCP replaced the Ten Commandments with quotes from China's President Xi Jinping. For example, the CCP replaced the commandment "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me" with "Resolutely guard against the infiltration of Western ideology."
"Xi Jinping has no problem with the first commandment, just so long as he and the CCP are playing the role of God," Gallagher said.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and former chair of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, said that China does not "discriminate" regarding "repressive actions," stressing that "all religious groups are seen as a threat to the Chinese regime."
The former USCIRF chair insisted that Congress must make "human rights a priority."
Several religious officials and experts in attendance suggested ways to confront China on the issue, such as sanctions and preserving communications between religious groups in China.
USCIRF Chair Rabbi Abraham Cooper, who also attended the roundtable discussion, told CP that the "real battle" is the issue of the supply chain. Cooper argued that if there is to be any real progress, pressure must be placed on companies that aid in persecution.
"And that is everyone's obligation, especially those of us who see much of human rights through the prism of religious freedom," he said.
Cooper, the associate dean and director of global social action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, also stressed that Congress holds the "key" to the issue. He highlighted various ways that it can improve its approach.
"They need to be educated about supply chain issues," he said. "They need to know to take one person or one church and put a human face on it. That's the sleeping giant in America."
While he noted that the city tends to lack bipartisanship, Cooper added that if churches, synagogues and mosques embraced their obligation to assume leadership on the topic, then it would cease to be a Republican or Democratic issue.
Cooper also highlighted the importance of prayer and education, especially for young people who need to have the issue brought down to a level they can identify with to help them understand the problem by bringing them into the "ethical choices."
One of the ways Fu believes that the U.S. can further religious freedom in China is to have a "systemic" way of addressing the issue. Fu suggested making the conversation about religious freedom "transparent" and public. He argues that having discussions with China about the issue behind "closed doors" is "counterproductive."
Another way Fu believes that the U.S. can combat religious persecution in China is to sanction the perpetrators, including police officers, public security officers, judges and prosecutors.
By putting the names of these people on a sanction list, Fu proposed that this could act as a "deterrent" by making it clear there is accountability for persecution. Fu said Biden already signed such a law in 2022, the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which affirmed that the U.S. must support accountability for human rights abuses.