An American family has taken to the Colorado wilderness to focus public attention on human rights abuse occurring 6,700 miles away in China’s northwestern Xinjiang province, home to the minority Muslim Uyghur community.
Nathan Duddles, his wife and son have embarked on their “Freedom Trek” to spread awareness of religious freedom violations in Xinjiang.
Accompanied by a family friend, the Duddles hope to spread the word about the human rights crisis in Xinjiang among fellow hikers this summer on the 485-mile Colorado Trail that stretches through the Rocky Mountains from Denver to Durango.
Duddles, who lived and worked among the Uyghurs in China and Kazakhstan for 19 years, is founder of Silk Road Peace Project, “a movement of prayer, racial reconciliation, and advocacy, seeking peaceful resolution to an unprecedented human rights crisis unfolding in NW China.”
Independent experts estimate that 900,000 to 1.8 million Muslim Chinese citizens have been confined in more than 1,300 concentration camps in Xinjiang, according to the 2020 annual report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which echoes international concern and condemnation of the detentions.
Scheduled from July 12 through August 21, Freedom Trek has a threefold mission: fundraising, advocacy, and prayer—all to benefit the Uyghur people.
Duddles’ four-member team hopes to make connections with the “trail community” comprising several hundred people who hike on the Colorado Trail every summer. The team highlights their cause through custom-made patches on their backpacks and T-shirts and business cards carrying “quick response” (QR) codes that facilitate access to information and enable users to make a financial pledge.
The wilderness is “the ultimate expression for what Uyghurs most need right now—freedom,” they say on their Freedom Trek website. “It is also the perfect backdrop for a kind of pilgrimage—time to reflect, intercede, and heal, far from the madness of a distracted world.”
Using a Twitter feed, @TrekFreedom, Duddles and his team provide updates about their hike, spread awareness about the Uyghurs, and post prayers aimed at resolving this humanitarian crisis.
“Somebody asked me about the sign on our packs,” reads a July 21 Freedom Trek tweet. “After I explained, he mentioned that he felt like there was no hope. To which I replied, history proves there is hope when the little guys start doing their part. Like a single flower daring to bloom in a storm.”
Four days before Duddles and his team hit the Colorado Trail, they tweeted, “Surprise! Everyone had at least heard of the Uyghurs and what is happening. Compared to a year ago, this was very encouraging.”
Duddles is buoyed by the goal of building a network of support and activism to bring change to the Uyghur crisis.
“Time in the wilderness always reminds me of what is true and what will last,” he tweeted, inspired by a striking image of the sun’s rays bursting through ominous grey clouds beyond the Rockies.“This morning I want to remind my Uyghur friends that oppression cannot last. Freedom will finally break forth.”
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