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The Student News Site of Westmont College

The Horizon

The Student News Site of Westmont College

The Horizon

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Naomi Pirolo’s childhood smuggling Bibles into China

Sofia Pela

Who would have guessed that a three-year-old riding in a stroller would be a skilled international smuggler? Westmont fourth-year student Naomi Pirolo was just that. From 2005 to 2007 she lived with her family in China transporting Mandarin Bibles from Hong Kong into China.

Bryon and Kathy Pirolo, Naomi’s parents, were in charge of the Bible smuggling transport. The Pirolo family often received help from short-term teams who traveled to China. “My parents did not work for a specific mission organization,” said Pirolo, “Instead, they transported Bibles on their own accord.”

Crossing the Chinese border was no easy task. Bibles were usually packed into strollers, suitcases, pockets and even large coats in hopes the authorities would overlook them.

Pirolo would ride in the stroller with Bibles stuffed under her blankets and packed within interior pockets.

More often than not, Bibles would not be found. However, when the Bibles were seen on people crossing the border it would result in a slap on the wrist as the border officers would throw the Bibles away and warn the travelers not to do it again.

On one specific occasion, Pirolo’s father, Bryon, was asked to give over his suitcase full of Bibles. The officer placed the suitcase into the scanner and right when it was about to scan the officer became busy with something else. This allowed the Pirolo family to be free to continue their Bible smuggling efforts.

If caught with Bibles in China, the Pirolos ran the risk of being deported back to the United States. On the other hand, if citizens of China are caught with Bibles, they could face more serious penalties.

During one of the smuggling trips, Ben and Brandon, two of Naomi’s siblings, were caught and detained in a separate room, waiting for interrogation.

Upon entering the room, they called their father and joked about jumping out of the window. They ended up using this idea of escape, and Byron met up with his sons once they escaped through the window.

Pirolo often looks back on her time in China and how her mission experience shaped her opinions on mission work as a whole.

Pirolo says religious freedom is a good idea and an important right for citizens to have. For a long time, China has resisted such freedoms. Pirolo says that religious freedom should be kept at the core of the mission’s values and that missionaries should never force their beliefs on another. Forcing your beliefs on another is not the same as them accepting the belief to be their own.

Ben married a Chinese woman in China and lived there for many years. Over recent years, China has become “too dangerous for the Bible and its believers,” said Pirolo. “My brother and his wife moved to the United States to keep both themselves and his in-laws safe.” These dangers included possible fines and imprisonment.

Pirolo’s parents still work in missions with her father who is currently in Peru leading a team to spread the Bible. Her mother, Kathy, works for Wycliffe, a non-profit organization that specializes in Bible translating.

Kathy gathers prayers from missionaries across the world and forms them into books for others to read as a side project for Wycliffe.

Pirolo’s future dreams and career goals have been shaped by her mission work in childhood. She has recognized the call to help those who need a little more help in places that sometimes seem hard to reach.

She hopes to work within a non-traditional education setting, such as a broadening school or special education environment.

“My childhood helped me meet so many people and places where communities needed different kinds of help,” said Pirolo. These communities included people who have experienced traumatic life events, lived in underdeveloped cities, lost family members and have children with special needs.

Naomi Pirolo is looking forward to graduating this spring with a bachelor’s in English and minors in writing and education. If you see her around Westmont, be sure to ask her about her childhood adventures smuggling Bibles into China.

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