Three practitioners of Falun Gong, an ancient Chinese spiritual exercise that has found its way into modern culture, are traveling through Arizona in an effort to raise awareness of atrocities happening half a world away.
Mary Jo Ard of Tucson and Keyue Dai and Ian Oliver of Phoenix, met with Mayor Bob Edwards Monday in another stop on their "SOS Car Tour."
The trio hope to increase awareness about the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China.
The Chinese Communist Party outlawed the practice of Falun Gong in 1999 because of the overwhelming number of Chinese people -- between 70 million and 100 million -- who were partaking in the Tai Chi-like exercises and stress-relieving techniques, since they had been introduced into modern culture by Li Hongzhi in 1992.
Since the time of its forbiddance, according to Ard, practitioners in China have been sent to work camps, forced into labor or killed.
Dai, who is in her 70s and lived in China, near Beijing, until three years ago when she immigrated to Arizona, narrowly escaped persecution from her country's government for practicing Falun Gong, she said.
Dai said she was visiting her sister in Shanghai when government officials stationed themselves outside her house to wait for her return.
Her friends alerted her about the danger and, without ever going back home to gather belongings or say goodbye to anyone, Dai left for Phoenix, where her son lives.
The trio travels one day each week to a different area of the state in a decorated minivan championing their cause. Practitioners have undertaken the same cause in states across the country.
They have already visited with leaders in nearly half of the 90 cities and towns in Arizona since last September, when they first began their tour. They have also met with leaders in nearly all of the congressional offices of the state.
"Atrocities of this magnitude can't continue once awareness meets a certain level," Ard said.
Edwards agreed to pass on the information to the Payson Town Council and wished the trio luck with their efforts.
"I commend you for what you are doing," he said. "Not a lot of people would do what you're doing."
For more information, visit www.falundafa.org or www.fofg.org. Ard, Dai and Oliver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.