mywesttexas.com Kathleen Petty | Posted: Saturday, July 21, 2012 7:30 pm
Bob Fu never imagined all that God was calling him to do.
When he and his wife, Heidi, started ChinaAid Association from a Pennsylvania garage 10 years ago, their goal was to meet an immediate need, he said.
A decade later, the ministry has advocated for the human rights and religious freedom of dozens of Chinese citizens. ChinaAid's staff has grown to include employees in multiple states. Hundreds of volunteers and donors have signed onto the cause. And, after Fu's involvement this year in the release of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, the Midland-based ministry now is recognized by nearly every major media outlet in the country, as well as by a growing number of elected officials worldwide.
"Who would have imagined all that God had planned?" Fu said. "We just feel, if we are faithful a little bit, God is always faithful with a lot."
ChinaAid officially will celebrate its 10-year anniversary Tuesday with a half-day human rights summit in Washington.
Speakers will include U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, congressional leaders, Chinese human rights lawyers and David Aikman, the former bureau chief for Time magazine in Beijing.
Fu said the organization wanted the celebration to be not only a recognition of the last 10 years but also an event that furthers its mission.
"That has become the pillar of ChinaAid ministry: High-level diplomacy, media exposure and legal defense," Fu said. "We led one campaign after another in the last 10 years. We're so glad now to reflect -- many cases were overturned, death sentences (were) overturned, many were rescued."
The Fus, along with their oldest son, Daniel, who was then 2 months old, fled China in 1996 and were granted asylum in the U.S.
Bob Fu had not always been a Christian. While in college, he volunteered as a student leader for the Tiananmen Square demonstrations hoping that type of outcry would bring change. Following the "bloody crackdown" of the 1989 demonstrations, Fu said he devoured the pages of a Christian book that had been smuggled into China by a professor and eventually he converted. Fu said he realized then that true change can come only from a renewing of the Holy Spirit.
He and Heidi became leaders of an underground Christian house church in one of China's major cities. They were arrested in the mid-1990s on a charge of "illegal evangelism."
After fleeing China, they settled in Pennsylvania. Fu enrolled in Westminster Theological Seminary hoping his education would one day allow him to teach other Chinese Christian leaders.
"I did have sort of a sense of mission that I felt called to be a professor to help Chinese Christian leaders," he said.
Then, in December 2001, Fu organized a retreat for Chinese dissidents at a congressional center in Maryland. While there, the group received word that five house church pastors in China had been sentenced to death.
He and his wife immediately began praying, Fu said, and then looked to see what else could be done. A congressman who had spoken at their retreat was scheduled to be part of a U.S. delegation to China and agreed to address Chinese leaders about the case, Fu said.
The couple also helped to connect and organize defense attorneys in China and eventually created a network of 53 lawyers who agreed to take the cases of the five pastors and the about 17 other church members who had been arrested with them.
The Fus started alerting media outlets, hoping if enough people became upset over the case there would be added pressure to overturn the sentences.
When donations started coming in from supporters in the U.S. who wanted to help cover the legal costs of the five pastors, Fu said he couldn't find a ministry to take the funds. The money needed to be sent to China for the legal defense team and there wasn't a nonprofit in the U.S. set up for that, Fu said.
So, he started one.
"People want a tax deductible receipt when they donate so I said, 'I'll register one,'" he said.
He and Heidi filled out the paperwork in one night and waited for approval.
They gained official nonprofit status in the fall of 2002.
Soon after -- in part because of work by ChinaAid and dozens of others -- the five pastors were granted a new trial and their death sentences overturned, Fu said.
ChinaAid's tactics in that first case are the measures the agency uses today. The ministry supports human rights lawyers and families of those who are imprisoned for their beliefs.
Media outlets still are contacted about various cases, online petitions are signed and letters are sent to elected officials from the volunteers within ChinaAid.
Through his contacts in China, Fu also has helped to arrange for the escape of those involved in the most extreme cases of religious and human rights persecution.
As more people hear of their ministry, Fu said people continue to ask how they can help.
Some tell him they're thankful he's brought the stories of the Chinese to America. Before ChinaAid, they told him, they didn't realize how lucky they were to be in a country where their faith can be practiced freely.
"People here in the free world in America, we often sort of take our freedom for granted. Persecution means your boss in your company didn't treat you very well or you feel your feelings were offended because someone was talking not nice," Fu said. "These people, they're imprisoned for simply confessing their faith and leading a church and defending others."
The Fus moved their family and ChinaAid to Midland in 2004.
The Ministerial Alliance of Midland had been in Washington that year and in a chance meeting, the Fus connected with the pastor of Mid-Cities Church and other Midlanders on the trip.
The Fus were invited to Midland for a visit and after their warm welcome decided to relocate.
"Heidi and I came here and we just fell in love with Midland immediately," Fu said. "We decided to move without a second visit."
Now operating from a one-story white house on Big Spring Street, Fu said ChinaAid Association still is working to meet a need.
It's not uncommon for Fu to be out of town testifying at a congressional hearing, before the United Nations or in front of European leaders. In 2011, he attended the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony for Liu Xiaobo, who was honored but didn't appear because he wasn't allowed to leave China.
He was recognized by President George W. Bush in March and his story was included in a collection of notable freedom fighters at the Bush Institute in Dallas.
This year, ChinaAid gained notoriety when Fu became involved in Chen Guangcheng's case. During a hearing in Washington on the matter, Fu held up his cellphone and allowed Chen to provide his own account.
The move prompted journalists from Washington, New York and as far away as Japan to fly into Midland and see what Fu's operation entailed, he said. He was featured by the Washington Post, The New York Times, MSNBC, CNN and the Japanese equivalent of "60 Minutes."
Fu is not without his detractors. He has been criticized for being too partisan or overly critical of some people in the U.S. government when it comes to intervention in Chinese cases.
Fu paused as he reflected on the growth of ChinaAid, particularly over the last year. Any success the organization has had, he said, is the result of God's grace. He and his wife are doing what they're called to do, he said.
"It's more of God's wish to use such a small organization like ours to make a difference and I think capture people's minds," he said.
And, he added there's still much to be done.
"Overall, of course, the general situation is still very hard in some areas; it's very harsh," Fu said. "That makes me feel still a reminder that we're not finished. Our mission still needs to go on until all people can practice peacefully and freely without being afraid of arrest or detention or betrayal."
Kathleen Petty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.