At any one time there may be thousands of people worldwide who have gone missing in connection with their faith. Some of these people may have been ‘disappeared’ because of what they believe, while others are targeted because of the actions their faith inspires them to take.

This month, CSW is remembering some of those who have gone missing, standing with their loved ones as they seek answers and fight for the truth.

China Gao Zhisheng

 

Mexico Aaron Mendez Ruiz

Top - Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng who was last seen in August, 2017; and bottom - Protestant Pastor Aarón Méndez Ruiz, director of a migrant shelter in Mexico who was abducted in August, 2019. PICTURES: Via CSW.

 

"This month, CSW is remembering some of those who have gone missing, standing with their loved ones as they seek answers and fight for the truth."

One of those missing is Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng. Gao was well-known for frequently taking on human rights cases and defending religious minorities in particular. As a result, he was regularly targeted by the Chinese authorities, suffering multiple detentions, disappearances and incidents of violence, as well as serving a prison sentence from 2011 to 2014.

Gao was last seen in August, 2017, when he was disappeared by the authorities. His whereabouts have remained unknown ever since, but he is believed to be in some form of detention. 

In a statement earlier this year, Gao’s wife Geng He said: “There have been no phone calls, no information. Nobody knows anything about him. It’s as if he evaporated.” She even called on the Chinese government to hand over her husband’s remains, claiming she now believed he had been “persecuted to death.”

Another of those disappeared is Protestant Pastor Aarón Méndez Ruiz, who was abducted alongside his co-worker Alfredo Castillo de Luna from a migrant shelter in Mexico in August, 2019. 

Pastor Méndez Ruiz was the director of the Casa del Migrante AMAR migrant shelter in Nuevo Laredo, on the US-Mexico border. He and Mr Castillo de Luna were abducted by members of a criminal group who had previously targeted Cuban migrants at the shelter with the intention of kidnapping them for ransom.

Despite an October, 2019, order from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (CIDH) which instructed the Mexican Government to detail what measures it had taken “to determine the whereabouts or destination” of the two men, neither have been seen or heard from since. There  has been no progress in the investigation and no perpetrators have been held to account.



Elsewhere, in Syria, the whereabouts of hundreds of civilians, including members of the Christian and Yazidi communities, have remained unknown for years.

Among them are Archbishop Boulos (Paul) Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Archbishop Yohanna (John) Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church, both of whom were abducted by gunmen on 22nd April, 2013, as they were returning to Aleppo after overseeing a humanitarian mission. Their driver, who was also a priest, was murdered in the attack.

Both men have now been missing for over eight years, and as the situation in the country remains highly insecure there is no indication that the authorities are taking steps to ascertain their whereabouts.

For the families and loved ones of all of these individuals, and many others like them, their disappearances are devastating in every sense. Every day they wake up not knowing if their relatives are safe, healthy, or even alive, suspended between grief and hope.

Those responsible for the disappearances often refuse to admit any involvement. In some cases, as in China, it is the government which is directly to blame. In others, as in Mexico and Syria, governments fail to conduct detailed investigations or to hold perpetrators to account. 

There is therefore an urgent need to stand with these families in prayer and advocacy as they continue to await answers and justice. They are not giving up, and neither should we.

You can support CSW’s ‘Still Missing’ appeal here. Our faith teaches us that God knows the whereabouts of every single person, knows what they are doing, what they are thinking, everything they have experienced. Moreover – God is always active, always answering prayers, even in situations that may seem hopeless. 

Psalm 139 verse 2 (NLT): “You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.”

Please join us in praying for Gao Zhisheng, Aarón Méndez Ruiz, Alfredo Castillo de Luna, Archbishop Boulos (Paul) Yazigi, Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, and all those who have gone missing in connection with their faith, and for their families and loved ones.

Ellis Heasley is public affairs officer at UK-based religious freedom advocacy CSW.