FRANK WOLF INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AWARD RECIPIENTS
Pastor Bob Roberts, Jr.
He is the founder of GlocalNet, co-founder of the Multi-Faith Neighbors Network, president of the Institute of Global Engagement and founding global pastor of Northwood Church near Dallas, Texas.
Pastor Bob Roberts, Jr. was honored as the 2023 Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Award recipient at a dinner on Thursday, October 5th at Dallas Baptist University, The Great Hall, Dallas, Texas.
“How did a Baptist pastor’s kid from a small town in East Texas become a trailblazer in the areas of peacemaking and international religious freedom?” asks Heather Thompson Day in her Christianity Today “Viral Jesus” podcast discussion with Dr. Roberts.
Bob Roberts Jr. is a pastor and renowned bridge builder who has dedicated his life to promoting and advancing religious freedom, peacemaking and civil engagement. He is the founder of GlocalNet, a ministry dedicated to mobilizing the church to bring about transformation in the public square, co-founder of the Multi-Faith Neighbors Network (MFNN), an organization committed to promoting religious freedom through intentional cross-cultural relationships, and newly appointed president of the Institute of Global Engagement (IGE), an organization that catalyzes freedom of faith worldwide so that everyone has the ability to live what they believe.
With decades of experience in peacemaking and international religious freedom, Pastor Roberts’ groundbreaking work has earned him respect and recognition from the United Nations, U.S. Department of State, World Economic Forum, ambassadors, international royal families, and policy leaders worldwide. His impressive contributions were honored by The White House in 2022 when he and the MFNN co-founders received the Uniter Award for their inspiring grassroots bridge-building work across faith groups throughout the US.
For over 30 years, Roberts led Northwood Church near Dallas, Texas, where he is now the Founding Global Pastor. He is also a prolific author of six books and the host of the Bold Love podcast, where he shares stories of his journey and encouraging people to boldly love their neighbors.
Bob holds a Doctorate of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary, a Masters of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a BA from Baylor University
Dr. Bob Fu, President, ChinaAid
Global champion of human rights and freedom of religion, belief, and conscience.
In 2022 Dr. Bob Fu was honored as the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Award recipient at a dinner in the Great Hall at Dallas Baptist University.
When Bob Fu arrived in the United States in 1997 as a fugitive from China, he would have never dreamed that one day he and his family would be forced to leave for a safe house in this country because a threat had been made on his life. Guo Wengui, a Chinese billionaire in the US on a tourist visa and living in a Manhattan penthouse, built a following as a blogger under the alias “Miles Kwok.” Beginning in January he began to target Bob Fu and recently posted a message on YouTube openly calling on his followers to kill Bob Fu and others he listed on a “global kill cheaters” campaign, claiming Bob to be a communist spy.
A couple years ago agitators showed up in front of Bob’s house every day as a reminder of the serious nature of the warning. Local law officials and the FBI moved Bob and his family to a safe house for their protection. His situation is another reminder that Communist China tries to silence dissidents even if they live in Midland, Texas.
This is not the first time Bob and Heidi have been targeted by the Chinese. They both became Christians after the Tiananmen Square massacre when Chinese soldiers killed innocent students in 1989. Bob believed he could work within the government framework and still share the gospel, but he soon learned the Communist Party would not tolerate his beliefs. During the day, Bob taught English to future Communist leaders, and in the evening, he trained leaders for the illegal church. Bob called himself “a double agent,” that later provided the name for his excellent autobiography, “God’s Double Agent.” Ultimately, Bob and Heidi both were sent to prison for their activities.
When they were released from prison, it wasn’t long before Heidi became pregnant with their first child even though they had not received permission from the government. Their only option to keep from aborting the baby was to flee China. After a courageous and miraculous escape from China, they arrived in Hong Kong, where they learned they could not get a visa for the US. The clock was ticking, because Hong Kong was on the verge of Britain transferring Hong Kong to China. Just after Heidi gave birth to their first child and days before the transition, Bob and Heidi were at McDonald’s when they were interviewed by a reporter from “ABC News with Peter Jennings.” He asked Bob about his opinion of the impending change in Hong Kong’s transition.
Bob boldly responded, “Actually I’m a religious dissident from China, and my family will certainly be arrested again for our Christian religious beliefs unless the United States government will act on our behalf.” He continued, “The countdown to the handover is a countdown to our imprisonment. Please America, stand up for religious freedom.Bob’s plea spread like wildfire across America and resulted in a letter from President Bill Clinton telling the US Consulate to let the Fu family go.
It would have been easy for Bob and Heidi to enjoy the freedoms of life in the US and never look back. Yet, their love for Christ and for their homeland motivated Bob to become one of the leading voices in America for religious freedom in China. Bob has made friends among faith leaders of all religions and has also become a friend to members of Congress and leaders of four administrations including several presidents. I have heard prominent Americans speak of Bob’s integrity, courage and humility.
Debra Fikes and the Midland Ministerial Alliance became friends with Bob and worked with Mid-Cities Church and others to relocate the family to Midland, where he would be much safer than in Philadelphia. Bob began to serve as an associate pastor at Mid-Cities while he continued to do advocacy work in D.C., as well as the UN and training house church pastors and human rights lawyers in the Asia-Pacific.
In April 2006, Fu invited seven Chinese human rights activists to Washington, D.C. During the visit, they met with President Bush at the White House. The group included the prominent Chinese human rights attorney, Li Baiguang and Chinese pastor Wang Yi. In 2017, just a couple of weeks after the national Prayer Breakfast in D.C. that Li attended, we were saddened by the news that Baiguang had died in a Chinese hospital of liver failure. In a Reuters article by Christian Shepherd, on Feb. 26, 2018, Li’s death was described as suspicious since he had been healthy and never drank alcohol. Former Congressman Frank Wolf said he and Bob had met with Li just a week before he died and he showed no signs of illness. On Dec. 30, 2019, Wang Yi was sentenced to nine years in prison. He was the pastor of the Early Rain Covenant Church and had been arrested a year earlier with dozens of other church leaders.
Bob knows the cost that comes to those who stand up to an oppressive government like China. Li Baiguang and Wang Yi are only two of a long list of friends of Bob Fu who have suffered and continue to suffer for their faith. What the Uyghur people in Northwest China are experiencing in China is the Holocaust of our day. The plight of Christians and other religious minorities are not far behind. Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party seeks to control all aspects of life. Internet firewalls are built to keep information away from their own citizens. Prisons are filled with good people who seek only to live lives of peace and prosperity.
Bob has been confronted with the two temptations of being silenced by evil people as well as being seduced by powerful people. While some bask in the favor of presidents and senators, accommodating the leaders’ agendas for a photo op, or withdrawing from engagement with injustice, Bob stands strong, honest, courageous and humble.
Bob’s statement to the ABC reporter in Hong Kong needs to be heard today. “Please America, stand up for religious freedom.” Stand up to the tyranny of China. Stop allowing our government officials who leave office to work for law firms that support companies controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. Stop buying products from companies that benefit from the forced labor of prisoners in China. Stop taking our religious freedom in the US for granted.
Excerpts from an opinion editorial written by Dr. Randel Everett that previously appeared in the Midland Reporter-Telegram
U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback
Global champion of human rights and freedom of religion, belief, and conscience.
The third annual Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Award celebrates an outstanding leader who is working to advance freedom of religion or belief by standing up to oppression in the pursuit of freedom of religion, belief, or conscience.
21Wilberforce Founder and President, Randel Everett, announced that the 2020 honoree is the Honorable Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
The 2020 laureate was recognized at a virtual reception held on November 17, 2020 at 4pm ET due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“It means a lot me that 21Wilberforce has chosen to present this award to Ambassador Brownback. Sam and I have been friends for many years and we worked together on several issues,” said Congressman Frank Wolf. “When Sam was in Congress, he stood out for his interest in human rights and religious freedom. He and I were the first two members to go to Darfur during the genocide. Sam came back and led the effort to declare what was happening there. And he has continued to admirably champion human rights and international religious freedom during his tenure as Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.”
Ambassador Brownback has an extensive track record of working in a bipartisan manner to promote religious freedom and other human rights for people around the globe. During his sixteen years as a Congressman and U.S. Senator, Brownback was a leading advocate for international religious freedom, advocating for landmark policy reforms as well as prisoners of conscience wrongly incarcerated for their faith. He was a key sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) that established a legal mandate for the promotion of religious freedom as an element of U.S. foreign policy. The IRFA also created Brownback’s current position in the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom and established the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Ambassador Brownback was the first senator to go to Darfur during the genocide and came back and spoke out to help the people of Sudan. He was also highly active in working on religious freedom issues in Egypt, China, North Korea, and many other countries.
Since his confirmation as Ambassador in 2018, Brownback has worked to build a global movement among civil society groups and governments to advance international religious freedom. Under his leadership, the U.S. initiated and has held two historic annual Ministerial to Advance International Religious Freedom meetings in Washington, DC, forged a working relationship with the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, and is working to launch 100 similar Roundtables in countries around the world.
The inspiration for the award comes from Congressman Frank Wolf, who has worked tirelessly for decades to promote international religious freedom and later served as Distinguished Senior Fellow at 21Wilberforce.was
Archbishop Ben & Dr. Gloria Kwashi
Anglican Leader, Global Advocates
In 2019, 21Wilberforce presented the second annual Frank Wolf Speak Freedom Award to Archbishop Benjamin and Dr. Gloria Kwashi of Jos, Nigeria. Named for Congressman Frank Wolf who has worked tirelessly for decades to promote international religious freedom and later served on staff with 21Wilberforce, the award was presented at a dinner held at Dallas Baptist University.
Founder and President of 21Wilberforce, Randel Everett, said: “Their life story is one of courage, faith and boundless love.”
Archbishop Kwashi is the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Jos, Nigeria and General Secretary of GAFCON. He is well known as an evangelist throughout Nigeria, Africa, England, and the United States. Dr. Gloria Kwashi has been Diocesan President of the Mothers’ Union, Women’s Guild and Girls’ Guild, and is the Provincial Trainer for the Mothers’ Union (Church of Nigeria).
For many years Boko Haram, one of the deadliest terrorist groups in the world, has spawned unrest, displacement, and death in northern Nigeria. The Kwashi’s have not escaped the violence. Their vicarage and church were burned to the ground and they have survived several assassination attempts.
Such courage has come at a price, for Archbishop Kwashi who has been personally targeted and his wife, Gloria, and son have been badly beaten. On that occasion, Gloria was dragged through the streets to the diocesan offices. She was left blind until an operation in Texas restored her sight. Almost 18 months later, as the family prepared to celebrate Gloria’s recovery, four young men arrived to kill the Archbishop, who immediately fell to his knees to pray. “Man of God, we have come for you,” they said. “This is not the time for prayer.” They took him outside, but stopped to negotiate the price of his life. One of them screamed. “I’ve changed my mind. Let’s take him back inside and kill him there.” It never happened. They took what money Gloria could find and disappeared into the night. That’s something of what contending for the faith has meant for Ben and Gloria Kwashi.
North American Bishop Julian Dobbs describes the Kwashis as, “Two of the most important and courageous Christian leaders of our generation.”
In response, the Kwashi’s took in 50 orphans who lost their parents due to the violence. Dr. Gloria Kwashi also founded the Zambiri Outreach and Child Care Centre. The primary and secondary school serves 400 pupils – all of whom receive free education, free feeding, uniform, and medical care.
Extraordinary leadership in advancing international religious freedom around the globe.
In 2018, 21Wilberforce presented the first Frank Wolf Speak Freedom Award to the city of Midland for leadership in international religious freedom. As Congressman Frank Wolf worked tirelessly for decades to promote freedom of religion or belief around the world, the Midland Community has been and continues to be actively engaged advocating for human rights and those persecuted for their beliefs.
In the heart of the dry and dusty West Texas oil fields rests the city of Midland. For most outsiders, Midland is best known as the childhood home of former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush. At the turn of the millennium, however, the quiet, industrious town halfway between Fort Worth and El Paso set off a firestorm of activism. Deborah Fikes was the unassuming teacher, wife and mother who lit the spark.
After George W. Bush was elected President, he made frequent references to Midland. “If you really want to understand me,” he would tell reporters. “Go back to my roots.” And they did. Reporters flooded Midland, and Fikes recognized an opportunity. “Churches in Midland had one of the most unique opportunities to plug in at a high level. If they got involved, they would have the ear of the President and could make a difference.”
For Fikes, the obvious issue was to elevate the plight of believers persecuted for their faith. For years she had been reading literature from the Voice of the Martyrs. She prayed and wrote letters to Congress on behalf of the persecuted but felt frustrated that she couldn’t do more — until a Texas favorite son entered the White House. “I did not have a grand plan,” says Fikes, who simply wanted to leverage the sudden media attention and newfound access to the President of the United States. “I wanted the pastors to raise the issue of the persecuted church and get their congregations involved.”
She approached the Midland Ministerial Alliance (MMA), a loose network of area churches, to host to the 2001 International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP). The flagship event drew more than 40 local churches and thousands of participants and got the attention of national leadership in Washington, D.C.
The many others who also helped these efforts include Larry Long and Rev. John Stasney.
Midland became an epicenter for church mobilization — a practical response to religious persecution and civil rights abuses around the world.
In 2001, just one month before 9/11, 32,000 evangelical youth invaded Midland, Texas. Drawn to a Christian music festival called “Rock the Desert,” they clapped and danced to the rock anthems of Newsboys and Skillet. Festival organizers also highlighted a social and diplomatic crisis in Sudan, then a war zone with one of the worst global records of religious persecution and human rights violations perpetrated by the Sudanese government and Janjaweed Arab militias. Over the next several years, as the attendance exceeded 90,000, organizers built a mock slave cell and an authentic Sudanese village and handed out promotional material on the Sudan Peace Act.
Without a doubt, Midland’s citizen ambassadors helped push the Sudan Peace Act through Congress in 2002.
Support from Midland also helped fund a center in Thailand for women and children at risk for sexual exploitation, and continue to support countless churches, schools and other projects in places like Sudan, North Korea, and China where persecution is extreme. Many ministries working on the frontlines of religious persecution have made Midland home base, including the China Aid Association (Bob Fu) and Watch and Pray International (Getaneh Getaneh). And many on 21Wilberforce’s Board of Directors that have advised and provided support to this organization live in Midland.
For 20 years, Midland’s mighty faith community has rolled up its sleeves to combat religious persecution and influence U.S. foreign policy, not from the halls of Congress, but from the pews and the public square. As one observer noted about Midland, “God used a lot of normal people” to do extraordinary work. And as Deborah Fikes would earnestly note, this work has been important not just for Christians, but for all religious faiths and freedoms. As such, the arid oil-patch town of Midland has proven to be fertile ground for some of the most important and far-reaching applications of the policies and outreach inspired by the International Religious Freedom Act.