The South Korean government has denied the second appeal for asylum for the 60 members of Shenzen Holy Reformed Church, including its Pastor Pan Yongguang. The group, dubbed the “Mayflower Church” by global religious freedom advocates, fled China in 2019 for Jeju Island, where they have been supporting themselves by doing menial labor during their asylum process. The denial means the group must leave Korea and return to China in the next few weeks.
Voice of the Martyrs Korea has been training the group for the past two years how to respond to the persecution experts believe they are likely to face upon their return.
The original ship called the Mayflower carried 102 Pilgrims to the ‘New World’ in 1620 as they fled persecution in England. This “modern-day Mayflower” group looks like they will not be granted the religious freedom they were seeking here in Korea, but they still have freedom in Christ, which no government can take away.
The congregation continues to trust God despite the denial of their request. They are a well-trained congregation, not only by us through our persecution training but also by Pan Yongguang, their pastor. The pastor and church members continue to pray that God may yet open a door for asylum in another country like the U.S., but they are fully prepared to be faithful witnesses to Christ no matter what the cost if the Lord sends them back to China.
Pastor Pan founded the church in 2012 under the oversight of Philadelphia Bible Reformed Church in the United States. Because of his connection to the foreign religious group, Pastor Pan began to be interrogated by authorities at least twice a week beginning in 2014. When Pastor Pan refused to affiliate the church with the Chinese Communist Party-approved Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TPSM), authorities pressured the landlord of the building where the church-run elementary school was located to evict them. Church members didn’t want to send their children to state-run schools to be indoctrinated into atheism and communism, so they voted to flee China as a whole church in 2019.
The group, which consists of twenty-eight adults and thirty-two children, posed as tourists and arrived on Jeju Island with almost nothing. In order to avoid being detained during their departure, they had not communicated their plan to anyone, including us. We learned about them and met them for the first time after they arrived. Along with China Aid and other international organizations which help persecuted Christians, we’ve done what we can to help them. Churches in Jeju have also done a lot. Everyone who meets this group loves them, because they are completely non-political and they are all hard-working. They really just want to worship God freely and educate their children to love and serve the Lord.
In June, the South Korean government denied their original asylum request. They filed an appeal shortly afterward, but according to Representative Foley they were denied a second time on October 5th. Facing a deportation to China on October 19th, they filed yet another appeal, in order not be sent back to China. They are uncertain as to how long they can stay in South Korea.
South Korea only accepted an estimated 0.4% of refugees in 2020.
Voice of the Martyrs Korea concurs with other China persecution watchdog groups China Aid and Christian Solidarity Worldwide that if the “Mayflower Church” returns to China, they will be subject to extreme punishments including imprisonments, forced disappearances, and torture. Recently, the CCP has questioned three of the church’s members who remained in China when the group fled, demanding information about the group and also demanding that the members break off all contact with them.
Voice of the Martyrs Korea will continue to stand with the church and share their story, no matter where they are sent. We’ve come to deeply love and respect Pastor Pan and each of the church members since we first met them and learned of their story when they arrived here in 2019. We’ve trained not only the adults but even the young children again and again what the Bible teaches about persecution in the life of the believer. We know that even if God sends them back to China, it is only because he has an even bigger plan and purpose for them, and they will be faithful.
Four hundred years after the original Mayflower Pilgrims, Christians still remember and are inspired by their story. We will do our best to continue to tell the story of these “modern Mayflower Christians” to inspire and challenge people here in our country and around the world.
Individuals interested in donating to Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s work in partnership with the house church Christians of China can visit www.vomkorea.com/en/donate.
Please note “China” on all donations.