Writing Sample - A Journey For Freedom

Published September 11, 1998 in The Stafford County Sun (Part one in a three-part series. Published under my former name, "Dawn Rizzoni.")

FERRY FARM RESIDENT TALKS BELIEFS IN CHINA

Ferry Farm- When Rich Cizik was a young boy, he became enthralled with Chinese culture. The source of his fascination? Reading Pearl Buck's "The Good Earth."

"Reading that book incited a love and interest of China in me," said Cizik.

So when the Ferry Farm resident was selected to be part of a delegation to China to promote religious freedom, Cizik saw that fascination come full circle.

By invitation of China's President Jiang Zemin, President Clinton chose a panel of three religious leaders to head the delegation, The Rev. Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop of New York, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, President of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, and Donald Argue, then President of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Cizik, who works for the NAE's bureau in Washington, was selected by Argue to be one of five staff members to join the delegation. Being a graduate fellow of the National Political Science University in Tawain, Cizik's background in Mandarin language and China studies made him a perfect candidate.

The delegation's mission was to promote better dialogue between the U.S. and China on religious rights and raise awareness of special situations where religious freedom was being denied or threatened.

Before undertaking their journey, the delegation was presented with specific concerns from President Clinton, the State Department, members of Congress, and various non-governmental organizations.

One concern was over China's requirement that religious sites and activities register with China's Religious Affairs Bureau.

This places unwarranted governmental control over religious life, the delegation said, and there is concern that believers who practice their faith without governmental approval are harassed and punished.

"Church members (in registered churches) can only teach within the confines of their church," Cizik said. "They can't preach outside to others, and the names of all their members have to be turned into the government."

The strict rules have sparked an underground movement of churches whose numbers are growing rapidly.

"The underground churches are considered illegal, which makes them subject to government harassment, intimidation, and persecution," said Cizik.

Also of issue, as stated by the delegation:

-Only five religions are officially recognized in China: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism. The delegation wanted the government to develop a clearer policy toward unrecognized faiths, including Judaism.

-Religious persons in China, who already contribute positively in the modernization of their society, could contribute much more if given the freedom to do so. The delegation wanted to see freedom of religion extended to religious practices, not just beliefs.

-The administrative procedure of education through labor is often given to religious persons who practice unauthorized activities. Such punishment conflicts with international standards.

The delegation also participated in discussions with the Chinese Embassy in Washington prior to their visit and asked for the release of several religious leaders believed to be detained.

Cizik himself was concerned that the Chinese government would try to manipulate the delegation with misinformation. "I took great pains to understand (the government's) mind set before the trip," he said. "(The government) will falsify information and disinform foreigners in service to the country. I would go into every meeting with this assumption, knowing there's this history."

As a staff member, Cizik's role would be to directly challenge any information given to the delegation that was believed to be false. "I'm not a shrinking violet," he said. "I'm not easily intimidated." Thus, he was prepared to play the usually uncomfortable role of what he termed "the black hat."