Bible Smugglers -- Caught  

Posted by JC Lamont in

Here's an article Michael Scott sent me. Very interesting.

Chesterfield man hits Bible blockade in China
By Scott L. Miley

CHESTERFIELD — Forrest “Press” Higginbotham knows how to sneak Bibles into foreign countries.

The easiest way is to stow the books in duffle bags, then move hastily through airport customs. When safely at a pre-arranged meeting spot, smugglers hand over the Bibles to Christian pastors or missionaries.

The scheme isn’t so much subterfuge as being able to blend in with a crowd.
The duffle bag method had worked three times previously for Higginbotham, 78, a former missionary and pastor in Africa who lives in Chesterfield.

But on Aug. 17, Higginbotham was among four Americans, including one of his grandsons, who were stopped by Chinese police as they toted duffle bags through the Kunming Wujiaba International Airport in southeast China.

Inside the bags were expensive Bibles with study guides intended for pastors working in secret Christian “house churches” in Communist China.

The delivery was coordinated by Vision Beyond Borders, a Wyoming agency that distributes Bibles and teaching materials in countries where they say Christians are persecuted.

Higginbotham was making his fourth trip with the organization and taking the third of his eight grandchildren on the journey.

Roadblocks were not new. He has been forced to cross the Mekong River from Cambodia into Vietnam by barge with Bibles in tow. He also hid Bibles in railroad station lockers and secretly exchanged the key with a Christian missionary.

But this time he was with his 15-year-old grandson, Stephen Constantinou of North Brunswick, N.J. Also on the trip were Vision Beyond Borders founder Patrick Klein and a 60-year-old mission worker from New York.

Each traveler had one piece of carry-on luggage and two duffle bags individually packed with 70 to 80 Bibles.

But security was heightened due to the Beijing Olympics, some 1,300 miles to the north. Customs officers demanded all luggage slide through a scanner. That’s when authorities found 300 Bibles.

Chinese police cited a 2007 law allowing one Bible per visitor.

“We all got busted, as they say,” recalled Higginbotham, speaking upon his safe return home. His wife, Barbara, was by his side as they talked on the front porch of their Chesterfield home.

He continued, “When they told us we couldn’t take them in, we just refused to go without them. We said no, we want our Bibles back.”

Within minutes, police and Americans hit a stalemate.

The Americans were sent to a private room in the airport. They spent the next 20 hours negotiating in relatively comfortable digs with leather sofas, air conditioning and TV. They watched the Olympics.

“It was all about China. American athletes were shown only for three or four seconds,” said Klein during an interview on his cellphone a week after the incident.

Chinese authorities allow limited numbers of Bibles into the country. They are available at officially sanctioned churches but the sale of Bibles is forbidden in public bookstores, he said.

“They were adamant about not giving them back until we left the country and here they were being the loudest about having religious freedom,” said Klein.

“The Chinese leaders keep telling the world the Chinese people have religious freedom. To even prevent them from receiving Bibles certainly contradicts that claim,” Klein said.

The police spoke limited English. As negotiations wore on, even the grandson jumped into the talks.

Higginbotham recalled, “He was wanting to tell them what he thought but the Chinese are not great ones for letting 15 year-olds talk to them. They wanted to talk to our leader and Stephen would speak up every once in a while.”

He added, “Since they were so strict and took such a firm stand and since we gave them kind of trouble, we were afraid the Bibles would be burned. And they were too valuable to be destroyed,” Higginbotham said.

During the stand-off, Higginbotham, who has been to Nepal, Hong Kong, Laos and other countries, said he didn’t feel threatened.

“Having an American passport is a great advantage. I’ve not been to Muslim countries but I think it would be very dangerous,” he said. “But all that happens to us is that we get things taken away from us.”

Being American citizens protected the group, said Daniel Burton, senior staff writer with China Aid which draws attention to China’s record on human rights violations against Christians.

“If they were Chinese, they would be in prison right now so they’re blessed the Chinese didn’t want an incident during the Olympics,” said Burton.

China Aid was founded by Bob Fu who was detained in 2002 for pastoring a “house church” in a closed factory.

At the airport, Klein feared the stand-off could escalate so he used his international cell phone to contact China Aid which issued press releases that were picked up around the world.

Drawn into the stalemate, the American Embassy confirmed that a law banning Bibles did exist. The travelers were without a defense. The group left the airport to go into Kungming, leaving the Bibles with the police. After two days, they decided to head back to Bangkok where Visions Beyond Borders has a warehouse.

At the airport, security officials were waiting with the Bibles on carts. The Americans were asked to be sure the supplies were all there before boarding the plane.

“At no time were they ever really in danger,” said Higginbotham’s wife, Barbara, 78. “Of course, you never know in a foreign country what’s going to happen.”

The Higginbothams are members of Lindberg Road Church of Christ and both work in prison ministry. Barbara is retired after working 46 years at receiving docks for General Motors. A former African missionary, “Press” Higginbotham, nicknamed after his middle name of Presnell, is a local representative for Voice of the Martyrs, based in Oklahoma, and serving mission work in 50 countries.

The organization reports that more Christians are in prison or in detention in China than in any other country. The movement supporting unregistered churches, or “house churches,” comprises approximately 90 percent of China’s Christians.

Higginbotham, who has seven grandsons and one granddaughter, is ready to go again. He pays for the trips, this time about $3,500, from his own savings.

Barbara Higginbotham is supportive of her husband making future trips. “I wasn’t concerned. He has done it for so long. I knew something was a little different this time because he called me for Bob Fu’s number at he China Aid Association.”

“My grandfather stood up to them and my leader, Patrick Klein, stood up to them, then I knew I shouldn’t be afraid because they’re older and I know they care for me. So I didn’t really get nervous or scared,” he said.

“First of all, just being 15 years old and having that experience is just amazing. I mean most 15 year-olds don’t get to do that. Even being overseas and seeing the other part of the world and just serving people besides myself.”

He said, “I think as far as distributing Bibles, I think a lot more people should do it. It’s a great experience being able to serve other people and give them a chance to read the Bible and know what the word says.”

Though the group failed to get Bibles to their destination, Higginbotham believes the incident, by going international, alerted others to the persecution of Christians in China.

Various organizations serve Christian missions in foreign countries. The three discussed in this article, along with contact information, are:

Vision Beyond Borders, PO Box 6770, Sheridan, WY 82801 or 2155 N. Main St., Sheridan, WY 82801
Call (307) 672-5995 or visit
The ministry provides tools and training for people in foreign lands. Founder Patrick Klein has helped deliver over 750,000 Bibles around the world.

The Voice of the Martyrs, P.O. Box 443, Bartlesville, OK 74005
Call (918) 337-8015 or visit
Encourages Christians to fulfill the Great Commission in areas where they are persecuted. Provides Bibles, literature, radio broadcasts, medical assistance and other aid.

China Aid Association, P.O. Box 8513, Midland, Texas 79708
Call (888) 889-7757 or visit
The group was founded in 2002 by Bob Fu who had been imprisoned two months for operating a house church. China Aid documents accounts of religious persecution throughout China and provides financial support for pastors and the families of prisoners.

This entry was posted on 08 September, 2008 at Monday, September 08, 2008 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Wow, what an amazing story. The boldness he has for Christ, I'm envious.
Thanks for sharing this article.

September 9, 2008 at 10:02 AM

Awesome story!

Glad I found your blog link on FW boards. Sounds like your book is coming along nicely. So exciting about the upcoming writers conference.

September 9, 2008 at 7:12 PM

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