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LA Times: Texas pastor a key player in Chen Guangcheng case

Sunday, May 6, 2012

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times  May 5, 2012, 8:47 p.m.

Bob Fu, who fled China in the 1990s after being put under house arrest, has been a crucial contact for some U.S. officials in the controversy over the dissident who has strained U.S.-China relations.

WASHINGTON — When Bob Fu's cellphone rang halfway through a congressional hearing concerning detained Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, all the West Texas pastor had to do was gesture for the congressman in charge, Rep. Christopher H. Smith, to disappear with him into a nearby room.

Soon after, Smith, a Republican from New Jersey, returned with a stunning announcement: "Bob Fu has made contact with Chen Guangcheng in his hospital room."

Smith invited Fu to the dais, where Fu knelt next to the congressman, put Chen on speakerphone from Beijing and translated.

"I want to make the request to have my freedom of travel guaranteed," Fu translated for Chen.

Fu then explained: "He said he wants to come to the U.S. for some time of rest. He has not had any rest in the past 10 years."

Fu's role at Thursday's hearing was the most striking example of how the founder of a once obscure evangelical group has emerged as a key contact for some U.S. officials in the controversy surrounding Chen, the blind activist whose status has strained U.S.-China relations.

Fu spoke with Chen before and after his dramatic escape from house arrest to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing on April 22, and his efforts helped prompt the congressional hearing on Chen's case.

Fu, 44, a father of three, knows from experience the pressure Chen faces.

During the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, Fu led a group of fellow students from Liaocheng University in Shandong. That same year, he became a Christian and held worship services at a secret "house church" with help from his wife, Heidi.

Meanwhile, Fu taught English at a Communist Party school in Beijing. He called himself "God's double-agent."

In 1996, the couple were jailed for two months, then placed under house arrest, Fu said. His wife was pregnant with their first child — without the necessary government permission under China's one-child policy.

Fearing she might be forced to have an abortion, they fled to Hong Kong, where their son was born. Fu chose two names for his son: Daniel in English, after the Biblical warrior, and Boen, or "abundant grace," in Chinese.

A year later they moved to Philadelphia, where Fu graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary. In 2002, the couple started the nonprofit ChinaAid Assn. in their garage. Two years later they became U.S. citizens and moved to Midland, Texas.

Midland — an oil town best known as the childhood home of George W. Bush and his wife, Laura — was a hotbed of evangelical social action, with Midlanders capitalizing on their association with the Bushes to bring attention to the struggle of Christians worldwide, from Southern Sudan to North Korea.

Jon Stasney, a retired rector at Christ Church Midland, worked with Fu as a member of the Ministerial Alliance and attended his fundraisers, including a recent dinner that raised more than $380,000. The keynote speaker?

"It was just Bob Fu," Stasney said. "I didn't know he had been imprisoned himself, that he was a house church pastor. He's not just read about these things in a book — he's actually experienced it."

Last November, Fu joined a group of exiled Chinese Christians in Dallas to present the Bushes with a gift for the George W. Bush Presidential Library: a notebook prisoners had used to secretly copy the Book of Revelation in Chinese.

Fu says the ChinaAid Assn. now has more than half a dozen staffers; offices in Midland, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles; and a budget of $1.5 million, much of it raised from donors in the Bushes' Bible Belt hometown.

Fu also says there's a staff of several dozen in China, an underground network that supports the families of political prisoners and provides legal training and assistance.

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times

China Aid Contacts
Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
Cell: (432) 553-1080 | Office: 1+ (888) 889-7757 | Other: (432) 689-6985

"Bob Fu has dedicated his life to bringing freedom of religion to the Chinese people. His story is a testimony to the power of faith and an inspiration to people struggling to break free from oppression."
—Mrs. Laura Bush

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