Voice of the Martyrs Korea traveled to Thailand late last month to continue its persecution training for members of the embattled “Mayflower Church”—the congregation of the Shenzen Holy Reformed Church which fled China for Jeju Island in 2019 before relocating to Thailand this past August in their ongoing efforts to seek religious asylum.
“The church members and their pastor, Pan Yongguang, loved Jeju and were grateful for the tremendous help they received from Korean churches during their time in Jeju,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley. “They hated to leave their adopted home. But after consulting with different groups, they decided that Jeju was a ‘dead-end’ in their hopes for asylum and that a move to Thailand could open up a new opportunity for asylum in America or elsewhere.”
Representative Foley says the group already misses Korea.
“Pastor Pan told us, ‘One day in Jeju Island is better than 1,000 days in Thailand,” says Representative Foley. “They haven’t forgotten those they met in Korea, especially the North Korean defectors in our Voice of the Martyrs Korea ministry. During our visit to Thailand, several of the Mayflower Church members gave us offerings for North Korea ministry from money they had earned in Jeju from picking tangerines.”
Still, she says, the group is grateful to be in Thailand and remains hopeful in their prospects for asylum.
“In practical terms, their situation in Thailand is much harder than Korea, which they fully expected. They are not free to move around like they want. When out in public, they need an escort and protection. They are surrounded by Buddhist temples and idols.”
Voice of the Martyrs Korea Discipleship Manager Pastor Tim Dillmuth leads the Mayflower Church in a persecution training session.
But unlike Korea, in Thailand there is an office of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) where groups like theirs can register in an effort to be officially declared refugees, and very recently several families have had their first interview.
Representative Foley says that the church is in a high security situation, as church members report that Chinese secret police have been tracking them and have on a few occasions physically threatened church members while they were in public areas. To help mitigate this threat, there is a team of people who are living in Thailand and are dedicated to the group’s security.
“Technically speaking, the church members are living illegally in Thailand because their tourist visas have expired, so it is best for them to stay completely outside of the public eye,” says Representative Foley. She said that is why the persecution training event her organization conducted had to occur in secret.
“It was extremely special to learn that our training was the first time that the Mayflower Church was all together for a teaching/worship gathering in Thailand,” says Representative Foley. “Despite the danger, the elders of the church felt like it was important enough to bring the church together to hear the word of the Lord in person.”
In additional to the teaching times, Voice of the Martyrs Korea also personally visited each of the Mayflower Church members. “Through these visitations, we were able to share the word of God in each home and to pray for the needs and concerns of each family. We were also able to pray a blessing upon each home,” she says.
The Mayflower Church assembles together for the first time since all the members arrived in Thailand, to receive persecution training from Voice of the Martyrs Korea.
According to Representative Foley, the Mayflower Church members told them that though they have received help from around the world related to their asylum, the help they receive from Voice of the Martyrs Korea is different.
“Our persecution training is centered around the cross and is designed to bring them ‘face to face’ with what the Bible teaches about martyrdom, which means simply ‘faithful witness’,” says Representative Foley. “During our training times, we neither affirm nor reject their decision to leave China or to seek asylum abroad. We simply point them to the word and also share with them the example of the faithful witness of their brothers and sisters around the world where Christians are persecuted.”
Representative Foley says that the Mayflower Church has always received this message well and is continuing to attempt to put the principles into practice in the life of their church and their families.
“One of the first things that Pastor Pan told us when we arrived was that the whole church was still practicing family household worship. We taught them detailed strategies for this when we first met them two years ago,” says Representative Foley.
Representative Foley says no one knows the timetable or the probability of what will happen next to the church. “Pastor Pan and the church members know they must focus on today. As the Lord Jesus taught us, today has enough troubles of its own,” she says.
Individuals interested in learning more about Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s work in partnership with underground Chinese Christians wherever they are found can visit www.vomkorea.com/en/china.
This girl was one of several children born to the Mayflower Church on Jeju Island. Several more children have now been born to the church members in Thailand.