James O. Fraser Of Lisuland (Part 1)
James O. Fraser was born in 1886 in England into a Christian home. The father was a veterinary surgeon and was also active in public life. This meant he was often away from home, but he conducted evening prayers regularly with his family of six children, and there was also reading of the Bible and faithful attendance at church. James’ mother, a warm-hearted Christian lady, taught the children at home much about Christ. The children were gifted above the average, and they inherited her warm-hearted nature. This led to rich fellowship and happy times in the family. Her interest in foreign missions to advance the kingdom of God was conveyed to them, and it is likely that many a silent prayer went up for at least one of her children to become a missionary. Later in life James attributed his missionary call to the prayers of his mother.
James inherited a love for music. Eventually he became organist for a small Methodist Chapel, where he also attended a Class Meeting and taught in the Sunday school. As a boy he excelled in playing classical music on the piano. Many years later, if he chanced upon a musical instrument in a city of China, he could recall these selections without the written music before him. His musical ability proved useful during his missionary career in numerous ways, such as gaining attention for an open-air presentation of the Gospel or in teaching hymns to a small group of new converts seated on the floor around a fire in the smoke-filled room of a humble thatch-roofed hut in a remote mountain village.
James also excelled scholastically and graduated with distinction from a difficult engineering course. During school and college years James and a cousin the same age developed a deep friendship and enjoyed some summer vacations together in the mountains of Switzerland. James, who inherited a fine physique from his father, found great pleasure in the challenge of climbing the heights. It is written of him that he had "an instinctive response to the high, the difficult...." Through the stern demands confronted in mountain climbing, he built endurance that served him well when years later he tramped the mountain ranges in China. He liked the silence of the mountains and adjusted well to the solitude found in the heights. "God fits His instruments for the work He has in view," writes his biographer.
As he was at the threshold of an almost certain successful engineering career, a fellow student gave him a little paper-bound book. The author was a missionary in China, and in the book was posed the question whether it was right that the majority of people living in the twentieth century of our Christian era should have no knowledge of salvation through Jesus Christ. God had provided this marvelous salvation for all mankind, and He had entrusted to His disciples the privilege and the responsibility of spreading this message. Captivated by this truth and by a sense of his responsibility for the eternal welfare of others, James heard the Lord’s command to "Go!" as well as His call to himself personally, "Come, follow Me." He gave himself unreservedly to the Lord Jesus Christ. He "handed over ‘not the latch key but the master key’ of his whole being" to the Lord. The claims of Christ on his life took the first place. The course of his life was changed.
At the age of 21, he applied to serve with the China Inland Mission (now Overseas Missionary Fellowship) and was accepted. At the headquarters he came to full agreement with principles of the mission – "working on interdenominational lines, without stated salary, avoiding debt in any form and making no appeals for money." His parents heartily consented to his decision. His mother could say, "I could not pour the ointment on [Jesus’] blessed feet, as Mary did – but I gave Him my boy." A deepened fellowship developed between James and his mother. The loneliness the mother felt as he left was a willing sacrifice for Jesus’ sake, and was not He worthy of it?
In China for Christ
Even before arriving in China about 1909, Mr. Fraser (as we will henceforth refer to James as a missionary) felt a drawing to the tribespeople up in the mountains, and was praying for a ministry among them. They were beyond reach of the message of salvation which was within reach of the people in the cities. And so, arriving in China, he was assigned to Tengyueh, a Chinese city not far from the Burma border in Yunnan Province in Southwest China. It was on a main trade route and people of various nationalities mingled there, including tribespeople. Some of the first tribespeople he made contact with were Lisu people he met in the marketplace. In the west of this province among the Lisu people there was a move of the Lord going on with missionary support, but this was not reaching the Lisu people around Tengyueh in the eastern part.
Mr. Fraser was assigned to study the Chinese language until he had enough grasp on it that he could begin to learn a second language, the Lisu language. Then he could join the missionaries working in the midst of the moving of the Spirit among the western Lisu people. So Fraser’s first years were given up to serious study of the Chinese language, but right from the first he was drawn to pray for the conversion of hundreds of the eastern Lisu people.
He was well aware of the likelihood of the spiritual life to lag behind during the routine of learning the language. He was careful to maintain Bible study. He considered prayer a vital necessity, having seen the time his mother gave to prayer and the uplifting effect it had on her. He found quiet places for communion with God, mostly in the out-of-doors away from the bustle and noise of the city. The hymns were a source of much encouragement to him.
After nine months of study of the Chinese language, the missionary in charge of the work at Tengyueh had him preach in the Chinese language at the street chapel. He prepared with careful study of the message and his preaching was understood and was very acceptable. After this he took part regularly in the services. Through his diligent study of the Chinese language he eventually became one of the best Chinese speakers of the mission.
Within fifteen months he had undertaken two evangelistic journeys in the area, accompanied only by a Chinese coolie. The first was a four-day trip to his destination, the city of Paoshan and the villages of the surrounding plain. He moved from place to place throughout the city, telling the simple Gospel to little groups that gathered to listen. He was impressed with the careful attention they gave to his preaching. It was their first time of hearing the Gospel for there was no missionary stationed there. He lamented that there were perhaps 100,000 people in the area, all in ignorance of the blessed Gospel. He also distributed tracts which were eagerly taken by those who gathered to listen to the Good News he had to share.
About a year after coming to Tengyueh, he was delighted to meet a Lisu man who was agreeable to taking him up into the mountains to Lisu country. In one village he visited, although Fraser knew little Lisu language, a father and four sons in one of the villages indicated they wanted to pray to the one true God and they took down and burned the objects used in their demon worship. For Mr. Fraser it was the blessed beginning to the work on his heart.
(To be continued)
– Arranged from Behind The Ranges by Mrs. Howard Taylor. Overseas Missionary Fellowship, www.omf.org.