By Erin Stone
Posted: Saturday, April 23, 2016 10:56 pm | Updated: 8:42 am, Mon Apr 25, 2016.
■ Nonprofit is working to free pastor of one of the nation’s largest churches
In a relatively small city in central China, a woman was buried alive April 14 for being a practicing Christian. Ding Cuimei and her husband Li Jiangong, a house church leader, were buried in rubble after a government-backed demolition team destroyed their church. Jiangong survived, but Cuimei had suffocated by the time she was pulled free.
A week after Cuimei’s death, the annual China Aid Freedom and Justice Dinner was held at the Midland Country Club. The Rev. Bob Fu, leader of Midland-based international organization China Aid, has dedicated his life to fighting the persecuted in his homeland, after he and his wife, Heidi, were imprisoned 20 years ago for practicing their faith.
Midland churches have long supported persecuted ministries abroad, but when Fu came to Midland seeking asylum, he catalyzed what has become one of the most powerful and successful nonprofits fighting for religious freedom in China and across the globe.
“The topic of justice is a biblical theme. That’s the calling from the Lord,” Fu said in an interview before the dinner. “We’ve always called on the Chinese government to obey its own laws, its own constitution. In its constitution there’s an explicit clause that says citizens are guaranteed freedom of religious belief. So we’re not advocating for something unique to American values … We’re calling for them to obey their own laws.”
The persecution of Chinese Christians has been going on for decades, leaving thousands of people imprisoned, beaten and tortured. China Aid has rescued more than 15 families over the past 10 years, Fu said. About six of these families remain in Midland, he said.
Most recently, China Aid has been working on a campaign to free Yang Hua, a pastor of the largest church in China’s southwestern Guizhou province. Hua has been in police custody since Dec. 9, after he resisted authorities’ attempts to confiscate church property.
“Because of the increasing persecution in the past year, we have been focusing on a lot of family of prisoners cases by providing support and international advocacy and biblical training for pastors,” Fu said.
The church went from three or four families to more than 600 believers in the past six years, Fu said.
“What they are known for in spite of the persecution and being declared as illegal because they refused to register to the communist party’s United Front Working Department, is that they have been helping so many of the vulnerable in the community, especially those children who were deserted, in particular girls due to the family-planning system where many girls were just thrown on the street,” Fu said.
In the past six years, the church has provided foster care for more than 3,000 of these children, Fu said.
The evening of the dinner– which was morning in China — Hua met for the first time with his attorneys who China Aid has supported, Fu said.
The keynote speaker at the China Aid dinner was Professor William Inboden, who has worked in the field of justice and religious freedom for many years and currently teaches at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas. He is a close friend of Fus and was part of the congressional team that initially helped the Fus gain asylum in the U.S. in 1997.
“Usually you think of the human rights cities as Washington, New York and London, but Midland really became that because of (local churches’ and China Aid’s) work,” Inboden said. “China Aid quickly became the gold standard for a comprehensive approach to these issues. Sometimes an organization will only work on one aspect of a human rights issue, but the challenge with injustice and oppression in the world is that it takes place across a full spectrum so you need the responses to address a full spectrum. China Aid does that.”
China Aid follows a three-pronged approach: expose, encourage and equip, according to its website. The organization works to expose “systematic persecution, harassment, torture and imprisonment of human rights lawyers, religious communities and democracy advocates in China,” financially support Chinese citizens and their families who have experience persecution by the Chinese government and provide leadership training for community and NGO leaders to defend their basic human rights.
Inboden discussed the possible trajectories of China and its impact on the rest of the world — and the important role played by organizations such as China Aid.
“China as a nation is at a real geopolitical crossroads,” Inboden said. “They have the second-largest economy in the world, they have a rapidly modernizing and growing military, they are really trying to act as the dominant regional power in the Asia Pacific. So as China becomes more powerful will it become more responsible or will it try to be aggressive and be a bully and dominate the region in un-peaceful ways?”
Thus far, they’ve been moving toward the not-so-peaceful ways, he said. For the last 30 years, the region has had tremendous economic growth and prosperity and growing political liberalization, Inboden said of the Asia Pacific region.
“So it is a region that was moving in a really good direction and now China seems to be taking it into some bad directions,” Inboden said. “This is where I think the Chinese government’s ongoing repression of religious freedoms and political freedom is of a piece with its external aggression. The government feels it needs to keep tight control on people inside the country and as that creates some understandable frustrations, it wants to pick external enemies to channel some of the people’s resentments that way.”
Thus, the persecution of Chinese Christians continues. But Midland and the people of the United States as a whole are much more kin to China than some may think.
“I’ve traveled all over the world and met lots of different people, but there is an incredible commonality that all human beings have and that is that we all want justice,” Inboden said during an interview.
“All of us are created in God’s image and no person would say, ‘I want to be imprisoned and oppressed, I want to be told what to think, where I can or can’t worship or how many children I can or can’t have… It doesn’t mean that every government will be an identical constitutional democracy necessarily, but all of them should have at least these fundamental human rights.”
China Aid Contacts
Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
Cell: (432) 553-1080 | Office: 1+ (888) 889-7757 | Other: (432) 689-6985
Email: [email protected]