Fraser Of Lisuland
James Fraser was one of the great missionary pioneers of the twentieth century. He was born in 1886 into a Christian home of culture and refinement in Britain. His father, James Fraser, conducted evening prayers daily with his family.
Mrs. Fraser gave her children their first lessons in music and drawing. "She read to them and talked to them often about the things that matter most. She studied carefully beforehand for the lessons on the life of Christ, which went home to their hearts. Through her own love for foreign missions she interested them in the advance of the Kingdom of God…. In his pioneer days in China with the China Inland Mission, James wrote of his missionary call being due to his mother’s prayers."
As a boy Jim was venturesome and enterprising. He was especially apt in music and mathematics…. He could play the best classical music, hour after hour, with no notes before him. A lover of the outdoors, he developed great powers of endurance….
The Frasers "were brought up to read the Bible and go to church regularly. James became organist at a small Methodist chapel, where he also attended a class meeting and taught in the Sunday school." He was greatly influenced by his mother’s prayer life.
Vacations in Switzerland with his cousin prepared Fraser for the more strenuous mountain climbing of later years in the Province of Yunnan, in Western China, near the borders of India and Burma. When he was twenty years of age, looking forward to his last year in London University, a fellow student handed him a little book entitled, Do Not Say. Here the great commission was brought home to his heart in a new way, and he yielded himself completely to the Lord for foreign missionary service. After taking the degree of Bachelor of Science in Engineering in London University with honors, Fraser applied to the China Inland Mission, was accepted and went at once to the headquarters in North London for special training.
Fraser incessantly tramped over the towering mountains of Yunnan, in rain and mud and cold, living under the most primitive conditions, seeking the lost for Christ. Like Praying Hyde of India, he was a man of prayer. Through prayer he wrestled with the powers of darkness, in the midst of rampant heathenism and his letters home to his mother and his prayer circle contain vital lessons on prayer for every Christian.
Much of the time Fraser traveled and lived alone among the tribesmen of the hills in Yunnan, and later Kansu. He diligently made notes of the language of the people, in which his ear for music proved to be a valuable aid. He translated many hymns, wrote others himself, and taught them to the people in their own language. In the summer of 1918 he completed his translation of Mark’s Gospel, wrote a simple dictionary and primer, and an enlarged catechism with a number of new hymns. Two years later he translated the Gospel of John. At the request of the British Government, he wrote a "Handbook of the Lisu Language," which was published in 1922.
Resisting the Evil Spirits
Fraser encountered the power of evil spirits in heathendom. He was often oppressed by these powers, and would go off alone on the mountainside and cry aloud to God for help in overcoming the opposition of Satan and the depression of his own spirit as he sought to lead the tribal people to Christ. It wasn’t the privation, or the loneliness of this isolated outpost, nor the rigors of scaling the steep mountain walls to find tribal enclaves, nor even the difficulty of making himself at home with these utterly primitive folk – no, none of these things troubled him. But the lack of abiding fruit in the hearts of the Lisu people – this was his constant burden. "Give me Lisu converts," J. O. Fraser cried from the heart, "and I can truly say I will be happy even in a pigsty."
"People will tell you," he said, "after a helpful meeting perhaps, that such and such a truth is the secret of victory. No: we need different truth at different times. ‘Look to the Lord,’ some will say. ‘Resist the devil,’ is also Scripture (Jas. 4:7). I found that worked. The cloud of depression dispersed. I found that I could have victory in the spiritual realm whenever I wanted it.
"The Lord Jesus Himself resisted the devil vocally. ‘Get thee behind Me, Satan!’ (Luke 4:8). I, in humble dependence on Him, did the same. I talked to Satan at that time, using the promises of Scripture as weapons. And they worked. Right then the terrible oppression began to pass away. One had to learn gradually how to use the new-found weapon of resistance. I had so much to learn! It seemed as if God was saying: ‘You are crying to Me to do a big work among the Lisu; I am wanting to do a big work in you yourself.’"
Concerning the recurrence of evil thoughts, he said: "These thoughts were present with me even when I was preaching. I went out of the city (Tengyuch) to a hidden gully on the hillside, one of my prayer haunts, and there voiced my determined resistance to Satan in the matter. I claimed deliverance on the ground of my Redeemer’s victory on the cross. I even shouted my resistance to Satan and all his thoughts. The obsession collapsed then and there, to return no more."
Again: "When things seem to go wrong, I try to keep my mind in the attitude of Romans 8:28, and my heart in the attitude of First Thessalonians 5:18, ‘…good wings on which to rise.’ ‘All things work together for good to them that love God,’ and ‘In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.’"
Work on Your Knees
Here is a glimpse of his prayer habits: "I find it well to preface prayer not only by meditation but by the definite request that I may be directed into the channels of prayer to which the Holy Spirit is beckoning me. I also find it helpful to make a short list, like notes prepared for a sermon, before every season of prayer. The mind needs to be guided as well as the spirit attuned. I can thus get my thoughts in order, and having prepared my prayer can put the notes on the table or chair before me, kneel down and get to business."
To the prayer group at home he wrote: "I am feeling more and more that it is, after all, just the prayers of God’s people that call down blessing upon the work, whether they are directly engaged in the work or not. Paul may plant and Apollos water, but it is God who gives the increase; and this increase can be brought down from heaven by believing prayer, whether offered in China or in England. We are, as it were, God’s agents – used by Him to do His work not ours. We do our part, and then can only look to Him with others, for His blessing.
"If this is so, then Christians at home can do as much for foreign missions as those actually on the field. I believe it will only be known on the last day how much has been accomplished in missionary work by the prayers of earnest believers at home. And this, surely, is the heart of the problem. Solid, lasting missionary work is done on our knees. What I covet more than anything else is earnest, believing prayer, and I write to ask you to continue to put up much prayer for me and the work here.
"I cannot insist too strongly," he continued, "on my own helplessness among these people apart from the grace of God. Although I have been now ten years in China and have had considerable experience with both Chinese and Lisu, I find myself able to do little or nothing apart from God’s going before me and working among them. Without this I feel like a man who had his boat grounded in shallow water. Pull or push as he may, he will not be able to make his boat move more than a few inches. But let the tide come in and lift his boat off the bottom – then he will be able to move it as far as he pleases, quite easily and without friction.
"It is indeed necessary for me to go around among our Lisu, preaching, teaching, exhorting, rebuking, but the amount of progress made thereby depends almost entirely on the state of the spiritual tide in the village – a condition which you can control upon your knees as well as I."
James Fraser further wrote his prayer warriors: "Praying without faith is like trying to cut with a blunt knife – much labor expended to little purpose. For the work accomplished by labor in prayer depends on our faith: ‘According to your faith’ not works, ‘be it unto you’ (Matt. 9:29). I have been impressed lately with the thought that people fail in praying the prayer of faith because they do not believe that God has already answered, but only that He will some time or other answer their petitions. This is not the faith that makes prayer effective. True faith glories in the present tense, and does not trouble itself about the future. God’s promises are in the present tense, and are quite secure enough to set our hearts at rest.
"Their full outworking is often in the future, but God’s Word is as good as His bond and we need have no anxiety. Sometimes He gives at once what we ask, but more often He just gives His promise (Mark 11:24). Perhaps He is more glorified in this latter case, for it means that our faith is tried and strengthened. I do earnestly covet a volume of prayer for my Lisu work – but oh, for a volume of faith too! Will you give this?"
So one might go on, quoting from the letters and conversations of this indefatigable, talented yet modest, selfless, pioneer missionary. His speech seems to be "always with grace, seasoned with salt" (Col. 4:6).
Not until October, 1929, at the age of forty-three, did Fraser marry. Then God gave him a lovely, devoted companion, who shared his hardships with him for the next nine years. She had come out from England to join her parents in Kunming, and when, in talking with a fellow worker, Fraser heard of her and heard her name, a quiet voice said in his heart, "That is your wife – the one I have prepared for you."
The record of these latter years gives a picture of the Frasers’ happy life with their two children, and still more accomplishments for God. It was then that he completed the Lisu New Testament, "a crowning joy in Fraser’s life." The closing days of that strenuous, useful life came at Paoshan. "More and more his heart was drawn out in prayer. He had found and rented a room in a Mohammedan neighbor’s house where he could be alone for prayer – just a bare attic room, unfurnished, with no window, but with a few boards that could be lifted out to let in light and air. There were many coming and going in the mission house, and he would go over to his rented room before breakfast and sometimes remain there in prayer for hours. Mrs. Fraser wondered.
"‘Is there any special burden on your heart that you could share with me?’ she inquired.
"‘No,’ he answered tenderly, ‘just the many and great needs of the Mission. And I want to be wholly occupied with my Lord Jesus.’
"After that, a few days only of most serious illness – and on September 25, 1938, the call came: ‘Come up higher.’"
– From Sunday School Times, a book review of Behind The Ranges by Mrs. Howard Taylor.
[Editorial note: Operation China (Paul Hattaway) reports that in 1916 and 1917 alone, Fraser baptized 60,000 Lisu. In 2000 there were an estimated 300,000 Lisu Christians.]