A group of students, faculty and community members casually gather on a lawn at the Missouri University of Science and Technology campus, seat themselves and begin to go through a series of meditation poses that are timed along with music streaming from a nearby iPod.
To many of these people, this is a form of exercise or a way they care for themselves. It is a way to clear their minds and get in touch with their spirituality.
To one woman among them, it is more. It is a political statement.
The exercises are part of a spiritual practice known as Falun Gong or Falun Dafa. According to the Falun Dafa Information Center, the practice was founded in China in 1992, and its followers were subjected to persecution by the Chinese government beginning in 1999.
“To me, it is aggravating, and it is unjust, and that’s putting it mildly,” Effner said of the persecution. “It really infuriates me, but I’m not supposed to be angry as a meditator.”
The persecution is believed to consist of violent acts against practitioners in an attempt to remove its presence from China, as the practice itself has been outlawed.
“Learning about the practice and how noble it is made it (persecution of practitioners) even more unsettling,” Effner said.
That unsettling feeling led her to get involved. She wanted to do her part in righting this wrong.
Her first adventure in activism was a walk from Little Rock, Ark., to Memphis, Tenn., to help raise awareness.
Her next adventure was a trip to China where she meant to take part in a protest. Prior to her trip, she saw this act as being the height of her crusade against the persecution of the practice she had come to love so much.
Effner made it to China, although she technically never touched Chinese soil. She never made it out of the airport because she was arrested and deported back to the United States.
She wasn’t able to fulfill her intended mission, but the experience opened the door to a new mission.
She was not treated with violence during her arrest at the airport but did see some effects of the Chinese government’s ban on the practice.
She described a conversation with a Chinese woman.
“She said, ‘Oh, I’m scared of you guys,’ and I asked her why. She said, ‘Because you light yourself on fire.’ ”
Effner does not light herself on fire, nor is self-ignition a part of standard Falun Gong practice.
She also recalls a conversation with a Chinese guard who drove Effner and others in the protest group who were arrested at the airport on a bus to be deported. She says her interaction with that man had more impact on her than any other experience during the trip.
Page 2 of 2 - Effner sang the man a song about the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.
“After I sang that song, I saw him wipe a tear from his eye,” she said. She took his tears as a sign that he knew the Chinese government was wrong.
“It kind of awakened me that this was a long-term mission,” Effner said of the trip. “This wasn’t something I was going to do once and it was going to be over.”
Today, Effner uses her music and similar songs to help in her mission of increasing awareness about the practice and what is happening in China.
She, along with her father, Randall Effner, have recorded several songs focusing on human rights issues in China and those associated with Falun Gong. The pair has traveled to many metropolitan areas in the United States including Boston, Washington, D.C., and New York City, to perform their music at events.
Effner moved to Rolla from Columbia with her husband, Chen Hou, when he took a position in the biology department at Missouri S&T. Since making Rolla her home, she has focused on spreading her message locally through her music, leading Falun Gong practice sessions and organizing awareness events such as an art exhibit held this spring.
She plans to continue spreading her message until the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners stops, although she says she does not identify with being an activist.
“I feel weird when people call me that because I don’t think of myself as an activist,” she said. “I’m just a regular person, and I sometimes organize events to raise awareness.”
She says it is the same feeling of an injustice happening that started her quest to fight this persecution that makes her continue this journey.
“I think the main thing that keeps me going is simply knowing it is the right thing to do and that I believe it will have a powerful impact on China and also the world in terms of freedom of belief and justice,” Effner said.
For more information about Effner or to hear her music, visit www.justicewillprevail.com.
For more information about Falun Gong, visit www.faluninfo.net.