by John B. Kuhn
Tbe prayer meeting at Woosung Road was dismissed, and as the people began to leave, we finally clasped each other’s hands. I had heard of him, but now in the summer of 1927, in Shanghai, at China Inland Mission headquarters, we met. My wife Isobel had made his acquaintance previously in Vancouver, B.C.
James O. Fraser was a graduate in engineering at the University of London. He went to China as a missionary in 1908 and served in the southwestern province of Yunnan among both Chinese and Lisu. He formulated the script for the Lisa language, which became the basis for Lisu literature, including the recently translated Lisa Bible. Mr. Fraser also served two years in Kansu Province, and at various times in Shanghai at China Inland Mission headquarters. He was superintendent of the CIM work in Yunnan from 1928 to 1938. He died in Paoshan, Yunnan, at the age of fifty-two. The best known biography of Fraser is Behind the Banges by Mrs. Howard Taylor (Philadelphia: Overseas Missionary Fellowship. $2.50).
The prayer meeting at Woosung Road was dismissed, and as the people began to leave, we finally clasped each other’s hands. I had heard of him, but now in the summer of 1927, in Shanghai, at China Inland Mission headquarters, we met. My wife Isobel had made his acquaintance previously in Vancouver, B.C. She glowed with admiration as she told me her impressions of him. From her I had learned of his spirituality, his skill in handling the Scriptures, his accomplishments on the piano, and his disciplined pioneer missionary life in Southwest China.
There he stood, tall and spare in his white summer suit. The wistfulness about his eyes, and his relaxed, quiet bearing revealed to me a man of steady purpose who had worked among people of China’s hinterland fourteen years without a furlough. He was a master on the piano, yet was only able to have an accordion in far-off Yunnan; a graduate of the University of London in electrical engineering, yet called to serve where the people were still not used to flashlights – that was James O. Fraser!
"Are you going to Yunnan?" I asked him.
"Yes, in due course, and I’d like to take a few young men with me."
The attraction was electric. I felt there could be no higher privilege than to be sent to Yunnan Province under his escort. He had captured my heart.
A few months later our group of three new missionaries was on its way- to Yunnan with "J.O." as escort. Although our ship had scarcely weighed anchor, and although we were still in the Whangpoo River, Fraser began asking questions about Chinese characters on signboards along the bank. What dill they mean? He was testing our sprouting knowledge of Chinese.
As a conversationalist, he was always ready with a subject for discussion. The brisk walks on deck of our ship, the Empress of Asia, were always a time of enlightenment and instruction. He was an attractive companion in travel, always seeking the good of the person or party with him. In Hong Kong he was invited to give a musical program at the Y.M.C.A. After taking down the front of the piano, so that the volume would fill the house, he proceeded to play the masters from memory.
Later, aboard the small coastal vessel en route to Haiphong, he would call us aside for Bible meditation and prayer. There I perceived his deep spirituality and his penetrating insight into God’s Word.
FIRST LESSON IN HUMILITY
In Haiphong I was to have my first lesson in humility from him. We were staying in a French hotel. and, being assigned to the same room, we were to share the one big bed and be caged under the great spreading mosquito netting. Upon retiring, all seemed to be going well, when suddenly I sensed my partner was gone! Whereupon I discovered him on the floor. He had spread his own "pu kai" on the floor, though there was no net to cover him. He was not afraid to expose himself to the mosquitos, if only it would mean a peaceful night for his young partner. Neither did I realize at the time that malaria was a dangerous fever that killed thousands annually in the Orient, nor, of course, that J.O. would one day succumb to this disease. The young missionary was allowed to pass the night in peace.
I soon found him to be agreatmixer, at home with all types of people, and in a number of languages. Did we need an interpreter in Indochina? He was right there to speak French. Or a Chinese speaker on the train? He was immediately available to sit with the fellow passenger and chat in fluent Chinese. I was later to learn that he was a thorough scholar in Chinese, with a ready command of the language in any situation.
I came to admire him among English-speaking people, too. There were no dull moments, or embarrassing silences in his company. He was alwavs ready with a pertinent question, a word of appropriate advice, a cheering commendation, or an expression of appreciation. In American circles he soon felt free and easy, often drawing smiles from his hearers at his own expense, as, for example, when he would tell how he learned to say "gas" instead of "petrol." Being fully conversant with the Yunnanese, he spoke the colloquial language most fluently. And with the Lisu? Well, they were his own people!
He was my first field superintendent. The spiritual tone and standard of his life ranked high with me. His ministry in prayer was outstanding. The spiritual conflict of those early years in Yunnan, where he buried himself for fourteen years before his first furlough, set a rare course of prayer warfare that was to bless and enrich many who heard him, most of all the Lisu tribe. It was for this people that he challenged the devil, and claimed from him a release of his captives in the name of Christ who conquered him on the cross. At this point the Lisu church was born, and a mighty spiritual conflagration ignited, the fires of which have continued to spread, until 70.000 Lisu souls have been swept into the Kingdom of God.
In a small Chinese loft I had my first visit from my superintendent. We sat together in an inner room, over the Word of God. He asked me to choose a portion of Scripture for meditation-it was 1 Peter 5. I shall never forget the satisfaction and appreciation this seemed to give him. I suppose he felt that something of the strategy in prayer warfare was now being transmitted to the younger worker. "Whom resist" ( 1 Pct. .5:9). was J.O.’s watchword.
"Pray through" (praying until the burden was lifted) was another of his spiritual techniques. He once threw out the challenge to a whole missionary body in Kunming, Yunnan, to meet together and pray through. Certain situations had arisen that seemed to be hindering the work at that time, and therefore Fraser felt we should gather for concerted prayer until the "cloud moved," or "the wall fell down." The missionaries accepted the challenge and laid aside ordinary occupations to wait upon the Lord. The group was international, made rip of missionaries at various stages of field experience, including veteran missionaries of long years in China.
We prayed. There was no singing-only prayer and waiting with God’s Word. Deep conviction set in. Brokenness and contrition led to confession of sin. Hearts were bared before the Lord, and opened to one another. Young missionaries had things to say to older missionaries, and older workers had things to say to each other. Matters had to be faced and put right while the Lord continued His deep probing in our midst. Then we "got through," and all were conscious of it.
As we gathered for the final session, all hearts overflowed in testimony. Unitedly we yielded to the surge of 1 Corinthians 13 through our hearts. Then came singing, and we were free to to move on once again in our regular pursuits.
To me, a young man early in his missionary life, such an experience had a tremendous impact. This had been a ten-day prayer meeting, when busy veteran missionaries were led to set aside other pressing claims just to pray and wait upon God! Fraser’s challenge to "pray through" had been accepted. lie was satisfied we had done so. God had answered the prayerneedsthat had brought us together. Fraser found that the mass of work that had accumulated during those days was cleared away with a most unusual speed and facility.
Fraser’s prayer ministry stimulated others. In the early foundation-laying days of the Lisu work, this was most evident. His mother in England was his closest prayer partner. Others of like mind were gathered around her, and they cooperated closely with Fraser on the field. He kept them wellinformed, writing in intimate detail of the work among the Lisu. This little praying band felt so well-informed that the members seemed to live next door to the Lisu. Beyond doubt, the early spiritual breakthrough was due in great measure to the effective praying of these home folks.
It was in this area that Isobel Kuhn derived much inspiration for prayer ministry among the Lisu. In 1934 we were sent to the Lisu work, and immediately Isobel set herself to correspond regularly with praying friends at home. She felt that if this was how the Lisu work had been started, and was maintained by Fraser and others, it would have to continue that way. Her writings that later become so well-known were largely the outgrowth of her regular monthly prayer letters and deputational ministry.
A TRUE DISCIPLINARIAN
Fraser was a true disciplinarian. This was seen in his early application to the Chinese language, and was later reflected in his coaching of others. On one occasion during our introduction to life in Yunnan, he presented me with a little red notebook. It was to be used to record colloquial expressions. I was always to have it with me. After I had accumulated a few pages of terms, I was to review them with my Chinese teacher, who would correct them and write them in proper Chinese characters. They were then to be translated in a permanent notebook in my own Chinese handwriting. At a later date when Fraser visited me we reviewed my permanent book together.
Thus it was that a good foundation was laid in the use of everyday Chinese. My standard was to record ten new expressions daily. This required close association with the people, both for hearing and speaking. But how profitable I found it to be! I soon discovered that nothing so delighted the Chinese as to hear the language they used in their ordinary life. Fraser early learned the value of the "talk of the people," and eagerly passed on the formula to those of us who followed him.
He was critical, but kind. Once, at the close of a day on the road together, he said, "Let’s have a preach on the street." The people gathered eagerly, as they usually did, and J.O. askd me to speak first. After we had sung a hymn or two, I held forth, and before long I noticed him hunched over just below me, taking notes. I knew what that meant. He was not recording my colloquialisms, but rather my mistakes! After the meeting, while we were walking to the inn, he told me about my errors, and offered corrections. Then he also added a word of commendation and encouragement. I profited greatly in those early years from his sound counsel and advice in the acquisition of the Chinese language.
Some years later we were again together, where we would both be speaking Chinese in public ministry. Whereupon I approached him and said, "I would appreciate it if you would feel free to correct my Chinese while we are together." He said he would. Then he added, "May I ask you to do likewise’?" I could scarcely believe my ears. He knew how to encourage the younger worker!
His disciplined life made him unusual. He never commented on the taste of a meal. Whether the food was palatable or not, he was usually silent about it. On the road, his dress was native. He wore ordinary homespun cloth, and grass sandals. This was in keeping with the most economical road requirements. In the inn he would spread out his bedding on the floor, his books, Bible, and correspondence. Here he would do his work and have devotions. In the early years he always walked. He disdained the thought of riding a mountain chair. Later, he rode a mule when traveling. He read either a book or a newspaper as he rode along Yunnan’s circuitous mountain trails. I once heard him talk about typing on muleback. He thought of contriving a frame that could be strapped to his body to hold the typewriter, and thus expedite his heavy correspondence, if old jasper the mule didn’t mind! In 1924, during his second term of service, he was assigned to another province, Kansu, but he never felt really satisfied until he was reassigned to Yunnan in 1927. Later, he spoke of Kansu as his "Leah" and Yunnan as his "Rachel."
On one journey we took together to Kuching, I hoped we would arrive for Sunday. This would mean we would have to do two stages on Saturday. Fraser was not in favor of this. I was. He chose to remain at the village of Malong over Sunday and visit the scattered Christians there. He had no objection, however, to my going on ahead alone, and he encouraged me to use his mule, adding that he would walk to Kuching on Monday. We passed a shop that had boiled potatoes for sale, and he helped me stuff my pockets with them before I rode away, on his mule.
Nightfall came upon me. I was still a long way from my destination, and at each bypath the old mule thought the time had come to halt. I had to dismount and persuade him otherwise. After a time, even though my course was lit by a beautiful moon, I soon got lost. Fortunately, I came upon a farmer reaping his harvest by moonlight. He was kindly disposed to a lost traveler, and agreed to lead me to the city. It was after midnight when they opened the city gate for me, and I made my way to the Gospel hall. Meanwhile, Fraser had found a suitable place to stay in Malong, and enjoyed a full night’s rest before the Lord’s day. He arrived Monday morning with an interesting story about how he had found a number of Christians and ministered to them on Sunday.
I was astonished when Jim Fraser asked me to be best man at his wedding. The ceremony was simple, quite in keeping with his wishes. It was conducted by Mr. Diamond of the Methodist mission, the father of the bride. J. O.’s only concern was that he might be asked to speak, and he early alerted me to his apprehension. He wished for himself complete silence. I obediently arranged this. As soon as propriety allowed, the bride and groom were out of sight and off for their honeymoon, which took them to Yunnan’s far west and Lisuland.
Fraser was a Methodist, but this did not preclude harmonious relations with those of other denominational persuasions.
Not privileged with formal theological training, he was nevertheless disciplined in his study of the Word of God. In London, it had been his practice to attend the well-known Friday night Bible classes at Westminster Chapel under G. Campbell Morgan These classes provided a firm foundation for his Bible knowledge. His eschatological views might have been somewhat divergent from others, but he was always gracious where these views were in conflict. He was patient in teaching, and he had mastered the Chinese art of repetition in learning. This helped to build a solid foundation for the Lisu church.
The first book I ever noticed Fraser reading was Boland Allen’s The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church. From the early days he believed in the indigenous development of the church. The foundations laid in the Lisu church reflected his early convictions about this. When the Lisu wanted to take the Gospel to their fellow tribesmen, Fraser encouraged them to go right ahead and exhorted those left behind to support the evangelists. Did they want to build chapels? They were instructed to do so with their own skill and materials. God blessed their "home grown" efforts that developed into a most exemplary work. In 1928, when in China the pendulum swung toward self-supporting churches on a nationwide scale, Fraser was in his element. We young workers stood wholeheartedly with him. Not all veterans were so easily convinced, but Fraser joined in conferences with them and patiently expounded the principles of spontaneous growth that would develop mature, responsible churches. His persistence was rewarded when the Yunnan Chinese and tribal churches brought into being by the China Inland Mission grew along indigenous lines. Meanwhile, those of its in the Lisu work were allowed to reap the results of his early planting. Fraser’s clear understanding of indigenous principles was aptly and consistently applied to the emerging Lisu church. The expansion of that church both in China and Burma gives genuine evidence of the validity of these principles. For this we repeatedly gave thanks.
Some of us were greatly heartened when we won Fraser’s commendation. In one of his last letters to me just before his death in Paoshan, Yunnan, in 1938, be told of his appreciation for the completion of the first rainy season Bible school among the Lisu of the Upper Salween River district. Bible schools had been conducted before this one, but never before on this scale. When lie heard of its completion within the pattern of indigenous development, he was overjoyed, and he passed on word of hearty approval and commendation.
Malaria laid its deadly grip on Fraser in 1938, and claimed his life. He was then in Paoshan city, carrying on his ustial prayer ministry. We learned later that he had hired a little room across the street from the mission house, and each morning lie would go there for prayer and fasting. His burden at that time was for spiritual increase in the Yunnan churches.
Those of its who worked tinder him thought he was an indispensable superintendent. Isobel Kuhn wrote of this, after his death, in Nests Above the Abyss: "I say `indispensable,’ for we still feel that way. After the first shock of the news there was a forlorn feeling, that, speaking of human fellowship, `there is no one now to work for.’ How Mr. Fraser trill enjoy hearing about this, was always a first reaction to any joy or blessing, and we still leave found ourselves thinking that very thought, only to come to ourselves with the desolate realization that he is no longer here. There was no one else on earth who had such a complete knowledge of the details of our problems, and so no one who could share so perfectly in our joys and sorrows. And lie never disappointed its in that sharing. He was more than superintendent to us: he was our missionary ideal; a continual rebuke, challenge, and stimulus to maintain at any cost the apostolic methods of missionary work. His brilliant gifts, united to unfailing humility and a sympathy motherlike in its tenderness and thoughtfulness, made him our refuge at all times of perplexity and need. To win a smile of approval from him was worth any extra effort. It is one thing to be praised by a person who has no experience of your work; it is quite different to win a `well done from one who himself is a master in that very line. We have lost a great stimulus as well as an indispensable counselor."
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