Lin was born to a poor family in Fuzhou, who, unable to feed her, sold her as a slave. She was later sold on, to a wealthier merchant, as an adoptive daughter. He recognized her intellectual promise and had her educated at the Chinese Western Girls School in Shanghai, where she came under the influence of Christians.
She wished to become a doctor and study in the USA but her family forced her into an arranged marriage to a Christian instead. The marriage turned out happy and she had nine children, one of whom, Watchman Nee (Ni Shuzu), became a major figure in the evangelization of China and the growth of the unofficial and persecuted house church movement. While a wife and mother Lin became active in the Kuomintang movement as a political organizer and agitator, formed the Women's Patriotic Society, and was awarded the Order of the Second Class by the government.
In 1919 she became a committed Christian and an active evangelist, simultaneously scaling down her political activity. Watchman converted very soon after, and mother and son often preached together in the surrounding villages.
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