After over 10 years of ministering to prisoners in China, the family of American pastor David Lin is finally raising awareness and calling on the Chinese government to end his unjust imprisonment as they fear that his health may have taken a turn for the worse.
Lin, who became a believer in Christ after coming to the United States, began making trips back to China in 1999 to share the Gospel with the unchurched in the secular communist nation. He became active in the house church movement.
Months after he applied for a ministry license in 2006, Lin was detained under unclear circumstances, placed under house arrest and prevented from leaving Beijing. Three years later, he was charged with contract fraud and sentenced to life in prison.
Although Lin has staunchly maintained his innocence, he has not wanted to raise the attention of his case because he felt as if his imprisonment was a God-ordained mission field, according to his daughter, Alice Lin. Inside the prison, Lin could minister to prisoners from over 30 nations.
But after a decade in prison and having missed his son’s graduation, daughter's wedding and the birth of his grandson, the family now fears that something could be seriously wrong.
“In December, we had this huge scare. He reached out to me urgently asking me to have his Bible translations removed [from prison],” Alice Lin told evangelical conservative activist and pastor Tony Perkins on his Washington Watch radio program on Tuesday. “We were so grateful that the embassy was able to oblige and go and remove his Bible translations. So that embassy sent his Bible translations to us.”
When the family received the box of translations, Alice Lin said they were disturbed by what was found.
“In that box with his Bible translations, we not only got the Bible translations. So we also found his Bible and all the cards and pictures and letters we sent him over the years,” she told Perkins, who also heads up the Washington-based advocacy organization Family Research Council and is a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
“That Bible has sustained him for the last 10 years. It's like a man in the desert sending home his only bottle of water,” she continued. “When my mom opened that box, she was hysterical. She knew was something wrong. We don't know what's happening. We know that something serious is happening in that dark place.”
At FreePastorLin.com, the family voiced concern that his health may be deteriorating and that he could be mistreated because of his faith.
“The most important thing we can do is pray,” Alice Lin explained. “We have seen God's hand here. He has preserved my father all these years. Pray for his safety. Pray that the Lord continues to keep him under His wing and pray that he can come home soon.”
She added that while the family does not know the exact details of her father’s case, he told them that officials forged documents and even tried to get him to sign a confession — something he would not do because he “didn’t do anything wrong.”
“What we do know is that he was in China because he had this huge burden for the unchurched in China. He had the vision to build a church and a Christian training center,” she explained, adding that he was imprisoned because of his faith. "His last message to us as a free man ... he told us, 'Don't worry, God knows what He is doing. It is God's wish that I am here. There are many people inside that need to hear God's Word. Please don't worry but only pray for me. I will be back in the U.S. soon.' That was 10 years ago."
China ranks as one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s World Watch List. China’s crackdown on nongovernment sanctioned house churches over the last several years has led to the arrest of countless worshipers and the destruction of churches.
Perkins and USCIRF Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga adopted Lin this week as their “prisoner of conscience” as part of USCIRF's Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project. The project recently saw success in the form of the release of a peaceful Muslim prisoner in Pakistan who was advocated for by USCIRF Commissioner Johhnie Moore.
“We call on Chinese authorities to provide Pastor David Lin with any medical attention that he needs and allow him to return home to the United States,” Arriaga and Perkins said in a joint statement. “The Chinese government has committed a grave injustice against this man who now faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison. We are especially concerned about the possibility that Pastor Lin is being targeted in prison because of his faith.”
Lin is not the only American pastor imprisoned in China.
A White House petition was launched last year in support of Pastor John Cao, who last year was sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of "organizing illegal border crossing.” He was working to build schools in the impoverished neighboring country of Myanmar. The petition was signed by over 29,000 people.
As for the Lins, they have had limited contact with their father over the years. But more recently, Alice Lin explained, the frequency in which her father has reached out to them has increased.
“He has had this anxiousness and urgency in his voice,” she told Perkins. “It is the first time he has ever asked us to reach out for help. He actually knew Ambassador Terry Branstad in 90s and asked us to reach out to him and ask him to visit him in prison.”
Alice Lin stressed that her father is missed dearly. She explained that she was not able to have a proper wedding ceremony because her father was not there to walk her down the aisle.
“My mother has been operating as if she is a widow for the last 12 years,” she detailed. “My father has missed a lot. Things are changing now and it is time to bring him back home.”
Perkins called on listeners to pressure the U.S. government to demand that the Chinese government release Lin.
Perkins compared Lin to Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who was imprisoned for years in Turkey but released last year after diplomatic pressure from the U.S. government and prayers from thousands of people across the globe.
“[E]ven now as we are negotiating a trade deal with China, we demand that China recognizes basic human rights,” Perkins stressed, “chief among them being religious freedom.”