Waiting for Freedom | God's World News

Waiting for Freedom

  • 1 hostage
    Harrison Li holds a photo of his father, Kai Li, who is currently imprisoned in China. (AP/Jeff Chiu)
  • 2 hostage
    Chinese authorities accused Kai Li of being a spy. The United Nations and the United States say this claim is unfounded. (AP/Jeff Chiu)
  • 3 hostage
    U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens (right) greets freed Americans. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool via AP)
  • 4 hostage
    Roger Carstens speaks with American hostages freed from Venezuela. (AP/Stephen Spillman)
  • 1 hostage
  • 2 hostage
  • 3 hostage
  • 4 hostage


You have {{ remainingArticles }} free {{ counterWords }} remaining.

The bad news: You've hit your limit of free articles.
The good news: You can receive full access below.
WORLDteen | Ages 11-14 | $35.88 per year

Already a member? Sign in.

Kai Li emigrated from China to the United States. He started an exporting business, moving products overseas. When he visited Shanghai in 2016, Chinese officials arrested him. They interrogated him without a lawyer and accused him of being a spy.

The United States and the United Nations agree that he’s wrongfully detained. But that’s not enough to bring him home.

Over the last two years, the U.S. government has retrieved historic numbers of wrongfully imprisoned hostages. In December 2023, the United States rescued 10 Americans from prison in Venezuela. A year before that, officials retrieved professional women’s basketball star Brittney Griner from Russia.

But many more, like Li, remain jailed or missing. Their families wait.

Foreign governments don’t give up prisoners for nothing. They seek a quid pro quo. (That’s Latin for “something for something,” or one thing for another of the same value.) For example, Iran released five U.S. citizens in September—but only after the United States gave Iran $6 billion in withheld money.

Those exchanges require negotiation and time. When the governments involved don’t get along, it gets more complicated.

Harrison Li—Kai Li’s son—is a doctoral student at Stanford University in California. He feels happy for the families whose relatives return. He has even become friends with some of those families. But it still hurts.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say that then the next thought is, you know, ‘When’s it our turn?’” says Harrison.

Some families get to plead their case directly to President Biden. Harrison hasn’t had that opportunity. He wonders if he’s doing enough.

Roger Carstens is the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs. When an American is wrongfully detained, he and his team jump into action. They negotiate for the release of prisoners. Sometimes, they get to deliver good news. When the United States reaches a hostage release deal, Carstens retrieves the prisoner in person. On behalf of the U.S. government, he says, “I’m here to take you home.”

Other times, Carstens has to bring bad news. He’s also responsible for communicating with the families of hostages. Before Griner’s release, someone from Carstens’ office had to visit the sister of a different Russian hostage. That official had to break the news in person that Russia refused to free her brother.

When one hostage gets released and another stays behind, it weighs heavily on Carstens and his team. They never have long to celebrate. There’s always another prisoner to free.

Before Jesus, we were all prisoners. But He came to set captives to sin free. He exchanged His life for our freedom. He makes us citizens of His kingdom and eventually takes us home for good.

Why? We can celebrate with those who have found freedom—but we also pray for the safe return of those who have not.

Test my knowledge