A group of children and young adults from 14 countries started and have persevered on a quest to rescue orphans from China. They are cycling across America. They call their mission Ride2Freedom, and so far they have faced heat, rain, cold, wind, storms, and mountains. They have also inspired warmth, joy, and support from people along the way.
My colleague Cat Rooney spent time with them in Kansas. She told me that when they were in groups, they always noticed and included everyone. They were unfailingly kind, according to Cat. She said if they were going to create the society of the future, she was eager to see it.
I wondered what kind of experiences shaped the Ride2Freedom riders. They are devoting this summer to do a challenging feat. They all practice Falun Gong, I understand, and they intend to rescue other young people who were orphaned by the persecution of Falun Gong in China. Falun Gong is a spiritual practice of exercises and meditation, and follows the principles of truth, compassion, and forbearance. It has been brutally suppressed by the Chinese Communist Party since July 20, 1999. That’s longer than some of the riders have been alive.
Olivia Zhang is 15 years old, and she was born in China. She said she started practicing Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, when she “was really little.”
“I really have been through the persecution and knew a lot about the persecution, so that’s why I decided to represent China,” she said.
Her family was more fortunate than many other Falun Gong families in China, who face torture, sexual abuse, separation, financial ruin, organ harvesting, and death. Hers did not. But she and her mother felt they had to speak up for others who are suffering. It’s the same reason she is riding now.
As a child, “Actually, my family … never got directly persecuted. My mom or my sister never went to jail or never got arrested, but almost every day my mom and me would go out to do some truth clarification.” They would give people fliers telling the facts about the human rights abuses in their country, and hang banners at night, which gave censored information such as “Falun Dafa is good; the persecution is wrong, stuff like that,” said Olivia.
This was a brave and risky thing to do. She felt afraid but did it anyway.
“At school I also did some truth clarification with my friends and my teachers, so that was quite dangerous too, so I think that was the impact that the persecution gave me when I was little, my childhood. After I came to the U.S., everything is fine,” Olivia said.
Her family lives in Indiana now. But Olivia has not forgotten her fellow Falun Gong children in China.
“I feel like I have some kind of connection to the orphans even though my family never really got persecuted, but I feel like the orphans, I feel like they are so innocent and they’re so little, so that’s why I want to join this project—is to really rescue the orphans and just hopefully we can put an end to the persecution by telling more people about the persecution,” said Olivia, all in one breath.
The group has won support from elected officials and the general public. She said they tell everyone they meet about their cause.
“The mayor and city council of O’Fallon, Missouri … do recognize the sincere and heartfelt efforts of the Ride 2 Freedom youth in raising awareness of the plight of millions of children in China, and do hereby proclaim June 30, 2015 to be “Ride to Freedom Day,” wrote Mayor Bill Hennessy.
That’s one of many formal and informal acts to recognize the riders and their pure hearts.
When I first heard of their plan, sometime this winter, I teared up. Probably I am not the only one.
Olivia said, “So, every time I go up and talk to people, people are always very impressed by what we are doing, like why we are doing this. Sometimes they take selfies with us to show their support, sometimes they even give us donations.”
Chris Jasurek of Florida is one of the adults chaperoning the group. He wrote in a Facebook post, “There is still a lot of work to be done to finally end the persecution of Falun Gong in China. Ride2Freedom hasn’t been easy, and the tasks ahead won’t be either. Slavery ended. Apartheid ended. Entrenched, endemic injustices can end. The persecution of Falun Gong will end. Ride2Freedom is a big step toward that.”
Epoch Times staff member Cat Rooney contributed to this report.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.