A Chinese born-again Christian who believes Australia’s bushfires and the coronavirus pandemic are signs of the impending Apocalypse has been recognised as a refugee, with an Australian tribunal finding she would be persecuted for her faith if returned to China.
The woman told the tribunal reviewing her refugee claim that people who did not join the Local Church would perish when God returned to Earth, just as those who did not board Noah’s Ark perished. She said it was her mission to evangelise and bring others to the church, to allow them to be chosen by God to be saved.
Among the ample signs that God’s return was imminent were the catastrophic bushfires over the Australian summer and the coronavirus pandemic, she said.
The woman, whose refugee case was heard jointly with her Chinese husband and whose name was suppressed, had been in Australia since 2007. She met her husband while in Australia. Both had come to Australia to study but had not finished their studies. The husband had been raised a Christian, but the women said she was not particularly religious before coming to Australia. Her family were Feng Shui practitioners, which she dismissed as virtually "fortune tellers", according to the tribunal.
The couple’s refugee claims were rejected by the government in 2017 because a delegate of the immigration minister did not accept that they were members of the Local Church.
But the Administrative Appeals Tribunal disagreed, finding the pair had joined in late 2016, shortly after being baptised into the Baptist faith and then married.
The tribunal described the woman as a “fervent ‘born again’ Christian” who has “enthusiastically embraced and believes in the ‘doomsday’ tenets of the faith”.
“I am satisfied that, if she returns to China, she would continue to practice her faith and to evangelise, particularly due to her conviction that world events such as the coronavirus are signs of the impending apocalypse,” the tribunal concluded.
The woman said she joined the Baptist church after her infant son was admitted to hospital for tests and she felt lonely and afraid. But she told the tribunal that the Baptist church never felt right because members had to sit and listen to the preacher. She said discovering the Local Church in Melbourne — which has no pastor, and where members shout and pray aloud — made her feel like she had “gone home”.
The couple claimed at their hearing in February that "the new atmosphere in a new church instilled new vitality into [their] bodies" and they felt as if they had been "rejuvenated again," according to the tribunal’s judgement, issued in late April.
They said that if returned to China they would find a Local Church and continue to worship openly and to evangelise, but feared it would mean they would be targeted by the Chinese government, including with forced indoctrination, and that their son would be ostracised.
The tribunal found that the Local Church, whose adherents are also known as the “Shouters” in China, was designated by Chinese law as a “xie jiao”, or evil cult, organisation. Members of xie jiao face arrest, surveillance, interrogation, raids and court action. There were also reports that members held in detention were subject to torture and forced indoctrination, the tribunal found.
The tribunal was convinced by the woman’s ability to discuss in detail the importance of her faith, and her belief that all “non-believers” risk damnation when the end of time arrives, which she said was imminent.
The couple were both genuine members of the Local Church and there was a real risk they would be subjected to persecution in China on account of their faith, the tribunal said, so they were both refugees.