The Uyghurs of China

by David Vidmar

If you’ve kept up with recent world news, you may have heard what’s happening to the Uyghur people in China. Most ethnic Uyghurs identify as Muslim, and over one million of them are currently detained in Chinese prison camps just north of Tibet with the stated purpose of “preventing terrorism.” These prison camps resemble those established by oppressive regimes throughout history, and Uyghurs around the world are living with that deep pain.

Knowing this, last weekend a church in Pasadena decided to use their listening skills to love and bring comfort to their Uyghur neighbors. Through the bridge-building efforts of Peace Catalyst staff members Bill and Julie Clark, a Pasadena Foursquare church hosted close to 20 Uyghur adults and children for a Peace Feast.

The room was filled with warmth and somberness as highly-educated Uyghurs with Ph.D.s and graduate degrees filled the room. They shared with us a delicious home-cooked meal of traditional Uyghur lamb and spicy noodle dishes, and Turkish friends attended and brought a friendship dessert called Ashure or Noah’s Pudding. 

Then pastors David and Brita welcomed the Uyghur speaker, Dr. Erkin Sidick  

Erkin is Senior Optical Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab who is bursting with sorrow over the trauma Uyghurs are facing today. He shared tearful stories of how his family, friends, and neighbors in Xinjiang are suffering, and he showed slide after slide of people he knows who have been imprisoned or who have disappeared or even been sentenced to death. He also said that if they returned to their homeland, Uyghurs in the US would immediately be imprisoned, and family members could also be arrested. US officials are calling it a “high tech police state.”

Uyghurs throughout the world and outside of Xinjiang live with the fear that what they do or say can have grave consequences for those back home. Being pictured with them on Facebook or a website, receiving phone calls or emails . . . all pose great risk for Uyghurs living in China.

Uyghurs around the tables also shared about their own trauma. One Uyghur medical doctor attending the church’s listening event told me how he warns his patients of the dangers of stress and the health risks it causes. He realizes that while he shares that, he wonders how he will take his own advice. Haunting images of what his friends are enduring weigh him down and cripple his sleep.

So this little gathering of church members listened, grieved, cried, and prayed for their Uyghur brothers and sisters. Erkin explained how we could help by signing this petition (and this one), and he implored us to write to our political representatives, but it was hard to avoid a sense of heartbreak.

Throughout the Psalms and cries of lament in the Scripture, there are raw, heartfelt prayers and complaints poured out. God is one who listens. So we do well when we listen well to the hurts of others. Perhaps He listens through our own ears.

Peacemaking between Christians and Muslims involves listening and lamenting. These actions have the power to transform everyone involved.