The first victim of religious persecution to share their story today at the US State Department’s first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom couldn’t share it in person.
Chinese pastor John Cao is currently serving a 7-year prison sentence, a punishment handed to him from the Chinese government after he helped build 16 schools for the Wa people, an impoverished minority group in Myanmar.
Cao’s wife, Jamie Powell, shared her husband’s story to a room full of dozens of religious civil society leaders from around the world.
“Spreading education wasn’t just the side goal of my husband,” said Powell. “It was his call from God. Education was the vehicle with which to enable freedom from poverty and moral wrongs.”
Her husband began to be harassed by the Chinese government when he built schools in Guizhou and Yunnan, two provinces in southwestern China. Surveillance and questioning by officials persisted, despite Cao eventually turning the schools over to the government.
While a US green card holder who moved to the states to attend Alliance Seminary in Nyack, New York, Cao nevertheless kept his Chinese citizenship to continue missions work in his homeland, World reported last year.
Cao grew passionate about working with communities across the Chinese/Burmese border after visiting the Kachin people in 2012.
“He was shocked by the poverty he saw,” said Powell. “Children without clothes, child mortality rates really high, a makeshift school with a pigpen adjacent to the classroom.”
Cao worked with fellow Chinese Christians to open schools in the community, ones that served around 2,000 students in Wa state.
Cao was arrested last March.
“It is clear to us now that John was set up for arrest because of his faith-driven work and accused of facilitating organized border crossing,” said Powell. “This charge is often used to prosecute human traffickers.”
Cao was convicted this spring. His time detained has left him a shell of his former self. Cao has lost more than 50 pounds, said Powell. He has not been able to communicate with Powell or their two sons.
Cao was not the only victim of Chinese religious persecution spotlighted at the ministerial. A representative from the predominantly Muslim Uyghur group followed Powell by sharing his own story.
Another religious persecution victim whose story was highlighted at the State Department was Shahbaz Bhatti, one of Pakistan’s few Christian politicians, who was assassinated in 2011. Peter Bhatti represented his brother and described him as “not afraid of speaking out” against the country’s blasphemy laws.
Peter said his brother expressed a deep conviction before he died in how he had decided to live out his faith.
“I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know the meaning of the cross,” Shahbaz said, according to Peter.
Peter called the United States “a champion of human rights” and called for funds coming into his native country to be used for education and economic development with “the consultation of local and international human rights organizations.”
“Shahbaz’s sacrifice will not go in vain no matter how much we will have to pay the price,” he said.
Peter’s comments were followed by Razia Sultana, a Rohingya lawyer, who advocated for a bill placing sanctions on Myanmar because of its harsh treatment of the Muslim ethnic minority. She also said she would not advocate for repatriation unless the Rohingya were guaranteed full citizenship.
The middle of the day included a discussion between cable news personality Greta Van Susteren, Hollywood producer Mark Burnett, and religious freedom advocate Johnnie Moore.
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Source: Christianity Today