Church leaders Bob and Heidi Fu, fleeing arrest in China only to be trapped in Hong Kong, have fled to the United States after a successful campaign for their rescue.

National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) President Don Argue and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck used their positions on the Secretary of State's Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad to coordinate efforts to win U.S. approval of the Fus' refugee status request.

An anxious shiver ran through religious and political refugees amid the cheers in China leading up to the British handover of Hong Kong on July 1.

Even though China had agreed to Great Britain's insistence that Hong Kong's freedoms be respected when the British government's control expired on June 30, most residents of the colony urged refugees to leave before the handover.

From their base in Beijing, Bob Fu, 29, and his wife, Heidi, 31, had trained leaders of the unofficial Chinese house-church movement. And since their arrest in May 1996, an intensive behind-the-scenes effort developed to win their freedom. After escaping from house arrest in Beijing, the Fus were trapped in Hong Kong.

Initially, the U.S. consulate general in Hong Kong delayed any ruling on the family's request for refugee status in the United States, apparently placing a greater premium on political dissidents than religious fugitives.

"There's a bias among some of our political elites that, if you are willing to die for the Bible, you're a fanatic, but if you die in front of a tank, you're a hero," says Nina Shea of the human-rights group Freedom House in Washington, D.C.

NAE's Argue and the State Department's Shattuck became involved in a blitz of phone calls, cables, faxes, and meetings to spring the Fus from Hong Kong. In June, Argue directly contacted President Clinton to warn him that the Fus would probably be martyred if the U.S. took no steps to intervene.

The Fu case indicates that, despite Chinese government denials, house-church Christians face centrally coordinated persecution. The Secretary of State's Religious Freedom Committee's actions in the Fu case show that this initiative can have a significant impact.

BECOMING DISCIPLES: The Fus themselves reveal the breadth and strength of the indigenous Chinese church.

The children of peasants, the Fus grew up in Shandong Province in northern China. At his college in Shandong, Fu led students in support of the 1989 Democracy Movement that ended in the Tiananmen Square massacre. In the aftermath, the Fus became Christians.

Even so, Fu went on to become a teacher at the elite Beijing Communist party school in Beijing. The Fus wanted to help the many intellectuals and officials who had become Christians but dared not admit it.

China is still governed by the Communist party, which trains its leaders for high office at its elite party schools. The Beijing party school is one of the elite among the elite.

At first, government officials tolerated the Fus' Christian beliefs. But they became alarmed as the Fus trained hundreds of evangelists, pastors, and lay leaders from many different areas of China. In the fall of 1995 the Fus established a training center in an abandoned wire factory in south Beijing.

SUFFERING FOR CHRIST: On May 9, 1996, police and state security officers raided the Fus' home to search for contraband religious materials. They were arrested and eventually sent to jail.

"In order to avoid letting me share the gospel, the prison authorities told the other prisoners that they could not speak or contact me," Fu recounts. "One state security official angrily slapped the table and shouted, 'There is no God inside a Chinese jail. No evangelizing and religious practices!' "

Punishment meted out to both the Fus included deprivation of sleep and food. Bob Fu also had to endure force feedings and a beating. Heidi Fu was confined among hardened criminals and ordered to clean latrines.

Later, they were released from prison and placed under house arrest. But the Fus knew that as soon as authorities found out about Heidi's pregnancy—without authorization by the party school—they would coerce her to have an abortion. So they left their guards behind and traveled to Hong Kong.

As the July 1 deadline to pass Hong Kong to Chinese government control approached, the Fus were among the last refugees waiting to flee, but they kept getting passed over because they were not "political" refugees.

One hour before their plane's scheduled departure, the U.S. government finally provided the necessary papers. On June 28, Fu sent a fax to Argue telling him that he, his wife, and new son had arrived safely in the United States and thanking him for assistance.

Fu subsequently had an opportunity to meet Argue at a Religious Liberty Committee meeting in Washington, D.C. "It was a deeply moving time for the committee," Argue says. "Tears passed over smiles of joy."

The Fus have settled in Philadelphia, where Bob is studying Greek at Westminster Theological Seminary. Heidi is staying home to care for Daniel, born April 4.

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