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James O. Fraser Of Lisuland (Part 3)

By Mrs. Howard Taylor

    James O. Fraser (1886 – 1938) was a talented young man in his early twenties living in his native England when he felt the call of God to go to China as a missionary. He was assigned by the China Inland Mission (now Overseas Missionary Fellowship) to Yunnan Province of Southwestern China because of his burden to minister among the tribespeople in that area who had never had the Gospel preached to them. He was making good strides in the required learning of the Chinese language when unexpectedly the senior missionary couple, with whom he took meals and had good fellowship, had to move to another city for a time to meet a need there. Though he had been in China only two-and-a-half years, this left Mr. Fraser the only missionary in the city of Tengyueh, as well as manager of the mission station in the city. Another surprise came not long after when he had to make a sudden and strenuous trek through the mountains from China into Burma. A revolutionary movement had arisen in China which planned to overthrow the present leaders of the country, and he was strongly advised as a foreigner to take refuge in Burma during the upheaval.

    After four months in Burma, conditions in China were such that he could safely return to Tengyueh. Here Mr. Fraser was privileged to baptize the first three Chinese converts and to hold a Communion service with them. Although rejoicing that this first small church had been formed in the city of Tengyueh, he knew there were others from whom the Chinese people in the city could hear the Gospel. It was the Lisu tribal people, who dwelt mostly in the mountain ranges, to which this young missionary felt a strong call from God. Now finished with three-and-a-half years of Chinese language study, he was eager to learn the Lisu language.

    About this time a young American missionary, Carl G. Gowman, joined him for a time, and they enjoyed good fellowship and service to the Lord. One outstanding weekend Fraser and the American colleague went into the mountains to attend a Lisu wedding. There were opportunities to present the Gospel and there were Lisu hearts open to hear.

    Mr. Fraser learned quickly that the Lisu people had a strong fear of demons. One Lisu family that chose to pray to the Christian God afterward experienced peculiar demonic attacks on their family. These demonic onslaughts they attributed to their leaving the sacrifices they had previously been making to appease the demon spirits and worshiping Christ instead. Only one man in the family seemed to stand firm and he maintained close contact with James Fraser, but the others in the family ceased holding their simple services of worship to the true God and His Son Jesus Christ. This seemed a big setback, as other Lisu families were carefully watching the family to see if anything happened to them when they stopped appeasing the demons. If all went well, they too would become Christians. Later Mr. Fraser had cause to rejoice that this family repented and returned to God and was standing strong, except for one brother.

    The general director of the mission at this point suggested to Mr. Fraser that he make an exploratory trip to determine the number and location of the Lisu people in the Yunnan Province in which he lived and in Burma. While Fraser loved pioneer life and was well fitted for it that meant even for him a very strenuous six-week journey in the wilds of mountains which were as great as the Alps. Accompanied by the Lisu man standing strong for the Lord, the journey was completed and the report turned in to the director. In due time Mr. Fraser, heard from the director, giving him freedom to give himself to the burden so heavy on his heart – to reach out to the Lisu people. Whether to go to the area where there was a move of the Spirit among the Lisu people and where the work would be easier, or to remain to work among the unreached Lisu where he now lived was left to Fraser. After a time of prayer, "the love of Christ" constraining him (2 Cor. 5:14-15), he felt led to stay where he was, committing himself to preaching to these unreached Lisu people of the rugged mountain area.

    His trust for undertaking such a massive task was in God’s enabling power. But he knew he needed human aid as well. Being closely in touch with his faithfully praying mother in England, he urged her to gather a prayer group that would back his advance into the Lisu people of the China-Burma border area. This prayer group and others that formed proved to be the force under God behind the successful advance into Lisuland. As the home prayer circle in England grew, Fraser noticed in himself a growing spirit of expectancy and new power with his message.

    Another aid to the work at this time was in the person of Mr. Geis of the Baptist mission in Burma, together with a spiritual and prayerful Burmese brother, Ba Thaw of the Karen tribe. Ba Thaw knew English well and had experience in working with the tribal people. Together the three made a strenuous exploratory trip into the rugged mountains and discovered that there were differences in dialects from village to village that meant the task would require multiple foreign or national missionaries. Their conclusion was that the Lisu people were "a people waiting, accessible and in desperate need of the Gospel...." Later Fraser traveled to Burma where Mr. Geis and Ba Thaw helped write a Lisu script so that a simple catechism and teaching books could be prepared for the Lisu Christians.

    Fraser’s home for the first spring among the Lisu was in a village on a steep mountain side, his home being a patched bamboo and thatch hut with earthen floor and leaking roof, but he was satisfied there. Now that he was giving full time to reaching the Lisu, he was hopeful that God’s time had come to grant His blessing and that many Lisu would gather around to hear the Gospel. But although the people were friendly they "showed no added interest in spiritual things. Only a few Lisu scattered in three villages gave evidence of a change of heart."

    A severe depression of spirit threatened to overcome Mr. Fraser. "All he had believed and rejoiced in became unreal, and even his prayers seemed to mock him as the answers faded into nothingness." He felt he had so little to show for five years in China. Had he missed the Lord’s will somewhere? Was he even right in giving himself to a burden for the salvation of the Lisu? Darkness enshrouded him as the conflict within deepened.

    Mr. Fraser recognized that this was an attack of the enemy Satan, that evil one who purposed to crush him and turn him back from his calling. The conflict raged. At the peak of the conflict, his loving Heavenly Father providentially arranged for him to receive in the mail a magazine new to him, published in Britain, The Overcomer. Here he read that the powers of darkness assailing him had been conquered by Christ on the cross. He read the articles over and over and grasped the fact that he must resist the devil on the grounds of Christ’s triumph over them: "having spoiled principalities and powers, He [Christ] made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it" (Col. 2:15). Things about resisting the devil he had known became real to him. He put the truths into practice, and he found that resisting the devil worked as he used God’s Word as a weapon speaking it to the enemy Satan as Christ had in His great temptation. The oppression began to lift immediately. Victory came as he persisted in resisting the enemy. "They overcame him [the enemy Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony" (Rev. 12:11).

    (To be continued)

   – Arranged from Behind The Ranges by Mrs. Howard Taylor. Overseas Missionary Fellowship, www.omf.org.