An international letter-writing campaign effort helped bring about the release of a Christian newspaper editor and house church leader in China after more than 10 years of imprisonment for leading an underground Christian church.
Li Ying, of the South China Church in Hubei province, was released from Wuhan Women's Prison on Dec. 25, 2011, and now she has come out to share of her ordeal with ChinaAid, an organization based in the U.S. set up to help persecuted Chinese nationals.
Religious practices in China are tightly controlled, with the government requiring churches to register, and approving less than 25 Protestant seminaries and Bible schools with less than 10 full-time employees.
Ying was actually released five years early from her 15-year imprisonment that started in 2002, and was very grateful to all those who supported her during her ordeal. She is the niece of Pastor Gong Shengliang, founder of the South China Church, one of the fastest growing house-church movements in China.
The official charge against Ying and five other church leaders in China when they were arrested in 2001 was that they were "using a cult to undermine enforcement of the law," and were actually sentenced to death, before the higher court in Hubei revoked the death sentences in Sept. 2002. The court cited lack of clarity about certain facts and insufficient evidence.
Ying shared with ChinaAid founder and president Bob Fu that it was all those letters (more than 11,000) from the international community and churches worldwide that convinced authorities to release her and at the same time gave her encouragement to continue believing and keep strong.
Ying was editor-in-chief of the church newspaper, South China Special Edition (Huanan Zhuankan), had been arrested several times and in 1996 spent a year in prison for her work. With the good news of her release, however, she has also been told she will have to submit to "community correction," which includes the requirement that she live only in government-appointed neighborhoods and attend government-appointed churches.
Her profile on PrisonerAlert.com, a website which tracks the conditions of political and religious prisoners worldwide, reveals that Ying was not even allowed to have a Bible while in prison. She was also forced to work 15 hours a day on products for export out of China, and was not allowed to read the letters in her support that she received.
Mark Shan, a spokesperson for ChinaAid, shared with The Christian Post the dire situation in China that is leading to the arrest of church leaders like Ying and others in the country.
"House Church, the unregistered church, functions illegally and underground in large, so it has been under persecutions from the government since the 1950s. Three-Self Church, the official one, functions publicly and legally yet with restrictions from the government. Both churches have increased in popularity but House Church is faster because they can multiply by increasing more meeting places while Three-Self Church is hard to get permission from the government to have new buildings," Shan explained.
"House Church always face persecution, especially church leaders are facing danger of even being sent to prison, though different regions in different times have different degree of persecutions. In recent years, a few house church leaders have been punished severely, e.g. Xinjiang Uyghur Christian leader Alimujiang sentenced for 15 years in 2008; Fa Yafeng the leader of church rights defending movement, has been in house arrest for over a year; and Beijing Shouwang Church who suffers nonstop persecution from April 10 of 2011 to now and all of the church leadership are under house arrest since then," the spokesman revealed.
Asian-American basketball sensation Jeremy Lin has recently been pointed out as an inspiration for Christians living in China who face religious persecution in their Communist homeland. Lin, whose family identifies as Taiwanese, has captured the heart of many people in mainland China, including Christians who are often times persecuted.