Breakpoint: The Mayflower story repeats itself

Members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, also known as the Mayflower Church, leave from the Nongprue police station on their way to Pattaya Provincial Court in Pattaya, Thailand, on March 31, 2023. More than 60 self-exiled members of a Chinese Christian church who were detained in Thailand after receiving U.N. refugee status will be deported by next week, probably to a third country, officials said Wednesday, April 5. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, also known as the Mayflower Church, leave from the Nongprue police station on their way to Pattaya Provincial Court in Pattaya, Thailand, on March 31, 2023. More than 60 self-exiled members of a Chinese Christian church who were detained in Thailand after receiving U.N. refugee status will be deported by next week, probably to a third country, officials said Wednesday, April 5. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Mark Twain famously said, "History doesn't repeat, but it often rhymes." History rhymed recently when a Chinese church undertook a journey resembling the saga of the Pilgrims, first fleeing their own land for sake of religious freedom, then staying for a time in another country and finally finding sanctuary in America. The whole ordeal has earned the small congregation, formally known as the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, a fitting name: "the Mayflower Church."

Four years ago, the 60-plus members of the Shenzhen fellowship fled their homes in Communist China. Facing the increasing intolerance of Beijing authorities and the growing megalomania of Xi Jinping, the congregation had only two options: flee or bend the knee. They chose the former and kept their faith.

After first making their way to territory that belongs to South Korea, where they were denied asylum, they ended up in Bangkok. But as the Pilgrims found their initial refuge in Holland less than ideal centuries ago, this Chinese church found that Thailand could not be their new home. Authorities there detained the community for violating their immigration visas, which put the refugees at risk of being returned to China.

But God has been at work. Due to the efforts of Christians in America, including U.S. congressmen, state department officials and the 2021 Colson Center Wilberforce Award winner, Bob Fu, the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church was granted asylum this spring in the United States. In fact, they arrived in Texas just in time to join a Good Friday service with their American brothers and sisters.

While the story of Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church has a happy ending, their plight and that of the persecuted Church in China and around the world is far too common. The Early Rain Covenant Church is another Chinese congregation that has been forced to suffer under Beijing's growing intolerance of Christian groups. The church has hundreds of members that have repeatedly faced oppression and arrest by the Communist authorities. They, like the Shenzhen fellowship, have refused to join the state-approved and state-controlled national church.

Their refusal is not unlike that of the Hebrew sons who refused to bow before Babylonian Emperor Nebuchadnezzar. And, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, these groups have learned the cost of faithfulness, lessons that unite them with the sufferings of Christ and offer inspiration to Christ's Church worldwide. In fact, a recent book, "Faithful Disobedience: Writings on Church and State From a Chinese House Church Movement" by Early Rain's pastor Wang Yi, provides in-depth, theological reflections on the relationship between Christians and the state, particularly when the state is oppressive. For Wang, these theological reflections are not hypothetical. Even now, he is serving a prison sentence in his homeland for his godly defiance.

Persecuted church bodies are not merely to be objects of our mercy and care. When they suffer, we suffer. They are our fellow laborers and members of the same Body. We may not be able to share in their suffering, but we do have the honor of learning from their struggles. Our trials, at present, are not as extreme or dramatic as theirs. However, the wisdom they offer may well be the insight we will need to face down the challenges of our own times and the times that may come. Let us continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in China and elsewhere, aiding them however and whenever we can. Let us be grateful for the gifts of their hard-earned wisdom.

To learn more about Bob Fu and the incredible work of China Aid, visit chinaaid.org.

This Breakpoint was co-authored by Dr. Timothy D. Padgett.

From Breakpoint, April 28, 2023; reprinted by permission of the Colson Center, breakpoint.org.