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Isobel Kuhn

Missionary
Born December 17, 1901
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Died March 20, 1957; Age 55
Wheaton, Illinois, USA
Education University of British Columbia; Normal School; Moody Bible Institute
Spouse(s) John Becker Kuhn

Isobel Selina Miller Kuhn, born Isobel Selina Miller, aka, "Belle" (December 17, 1901-March 20, 1957), was a Canadian Protestant Christian missionary to the Lisu people of Yunnan Province, China, and northern Thailand. She served with the China Inland Mission, along with her husband, John, as a Bible translator, church planter, Bible teacher, evangelist and authored several books about her experiences.

Contents

Early life

Isobel Selina Miller Kuhn was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada,[1]:117 and moved with her family to Vancouver, British Columbia, when she was 11-years-old.[2]:14 She was called, "Belle," from the time she was a child through her missionary married life.[2]:15[3]:78 Her father was a roentgenologist and a Presbyterian lay preacher at a rescue mission,[4]:13,15,24[1]:6[2]:14 and her mother was president of the Women's Missionary Society in the Canadian Presbyterian church for many years.[4]:13 Her grandfather was an ordained Presbyterian minister.[1]:6 Kuhn was raised in a loving Christian home, although in her words it was without having "a direct confrontation with [the] living Savior", herself.[1]:6-7,85[2]:15 Yet, after experiencing just a "pitying sneer" from a skeptical University of British Columbia English professor, Kuhn decided that she didn't need to know or need to seek the God her parents had been teaching her about anymore.[1]:5-7,18,144 She became an agnostic like many of her peers to be thought of as, "modern" and "intelligent."[1]:8 A vivacious and popular young woman even though she didn't drink or smoke,[1]:8-10,11-12,19-22-23 Kuhn was taught by her parents to always do what was "respectable" and to "marry well," which meant she was to marry a man with "a good education" and "social status" like her own.[1]:10[4]:14,21,27 While at the university, the co-ed had even gained a life-time membership with the coveted college drama troupe as a freshman, which was a rare honor.[1]:9< Even though she had abandoned the Christian teachings she was raised on and became an agnostic, because of her upbringing she was still, "considered a good girl, even a 'Christian'!," by at least some of her friends and acquaintances[1]:9 Yet, after a crisis in which she found out that the man whom she was secretly engaged to not only was unfaithful to her,[1]: 11,13 but also told her to expect the same treatment in their marriage,[1]: 12-13 she was having sleepless nights and was on the verge of taking her own life. However, instead of drinking a bottle of poison from the bathroom medicine cabinet at 2:00 a.m., which she intended to do, Kuhn gave over that impulse to the sound of her father's sleeping groans from his bedroom, because he had been a "dear, kind father...."[1]: 13-14 She went back to her bedroom conflicted and unsure what to do. As she sat on her bed, she remembered a Latin quote from a Dante poem, which she guessed translated, "In His will is our peace." Her thoughts then returned to the idea of the existence of God. However, she believed that if God did exist, she certainly wasn't "in His will"; and, maybe that's why she had no peace, she thought. Deciding to pray, yet not wanting to be duped by a "mental opiate," the unsure young woman whispered a prayer "with raised hands to God, to prove to her that He is and to give her peace; and, if He did she would give her whole life to Him - do anything He asked her to do no matter what He asked - no matter where He asked her to go, for her whole life."[1]: 14-15[4]:32 Afterward she decided to begin studying the life of Jesus Christ, in the Gospels. However, despite her Bible reading, Kuhn was very much a secret Christian in the beginning, renouncing "worldly" pursuits a little at a time, but struggling to pray often.[1]: 16-25

In May 1922, Isobel Kuhn graduated with honors in English Language and Literature from the University of British Columbia. From there the graduate had to attend five months of Normal School in order to obtain her teaching certificate. Her intention was to become a dean of women and teach at a university. She first taught third grade at the Cecil Rhodes School, in Vancouver, for more than a year. When Kuhn became a teacher, it was the first time she had lived on her own. The reason for this move was necessity. Her family had decided to pick-up and move to Victoria, B.C. Kuhn stayed at a boarding house in Vancouver.[1]:9,22

While attending her second-consecutive Christian summer missions conference at The Firs [original], in Bellingham, Washington, in the summer of 1924, Kuhn met the guest-missionary and conference speaker and the man who would become one of her greatest spiritual mentors and friends, James O. Fraser.[4]:13,14 The following September, Kuhn began studying at Moody Bible Institute, in Chicago, Illinois.[1]:70 However a staunch Canadian, the missionary-to-be never would have chosen this school on her own initiative. A Christian acquaintance who gave Kuhn the train fare and start-up money for the first year for Moody requested that she go there.[4]:18 She had actually begun preparing to become a missionary by attending night classes at Vancouver Bible School.[4]:15 Yet, at Moody, though her intention was still to be a missionary, her energies were then focused on the Tibeto-Burman Lisu people, on the China-Burma [Myanmar] border,[4]:13 after meeting and hearing Mr. Frasier speak at The Firs and being convinced this is what God wanted her to do.[1]:65,67-69 She graduated from Moody as valedictorian,[1]:114-115 in December 1926,[1]:114 after an illness put her one semester behind in her studies. While at the school, it was noted that she had participated in open-air preaching, piano playing at a boy's reformatory and neighborhood visitation ministries.[1]:76-83,107 For the most part, she also worked through school to pay her way, though she also received some unexpected financial support when it was needed.[4]:15-18,24-25,27-28,29-33,35 The busy student also met her future husband at Moody, John Becker Kuhn, whom she once called "another dreamer,"[1]:74 as she wrote about her husband-to-be. He started school a year earlier than his bride-to-be and went on ahead to China alone, as was the mission's counsel at the time concerning unmarrieds when only one of them has been accepted by the mission.[4]:18[3]:8

Kuhn's mother, who loved her daughter though was "clingy,"[1]:84[4]:14 at one time had told her that "the only way this young Christian would become a missionary was over her mother's dead body". This caused Kuhn much angst, because as a Christian she wanted to honor her mother and father. As this missionary-to-be wrote, she was "too young in the Lord to understand that obeying God comes before obeying parents." Ultimately, she was allowed by her mother to go to Moody.[4]:13-15,18,19,21-22 Yet, Kuhn's mother died during an operation while Kuhn was in her first semester at Moody. Before her mother died, however, she acknowledged to a woman friend that her daughter had "chosen the better way."[4]:26

Once she graduated from Bible school, Kuhn applied to the China Inland Mission, but was rejected at first because of a single character reference who gave a negative report. But after further review and almost a two-year wait after Bible school, which included a delay until the "foreign uprising of 1927" cooled down:18[3]:8 and her mission's ordering a six-month delay, which included one month of complete bed rest, because of previous overwork, her desire to become a missionary was fulfilled, and she sailed for China.[1]:119,151-155

During the almost two years Kuhn was made to wait for her passage to China, she lived with her father and brother again, who had both moved back to Vancouver and rented an apartment after her mother's death. Now, Kuhn needed to earn a living again, since her father wasn't willing to support his daughter's mission endeavors financially, though he supported her decision to become a missionary.[4]:15 But, her concern grew, as she was afraid that if she signed a contract to teach again, she would be bound until the end of the contract and not be able to quit at a moment's notice to leave for China. So, on a whim she took an unpaid speaking engagement in front of a women's group, and, much to her surprise, was asked one week later to be the superintendent of what was then called, "Vancouver Girl's Corner Club," for a salary of $80 a month, a little amount even then. The club was an evangelistic outreach to business and professional women who met in a downtown Vancouver building during the work week to talk and eat bag lunches together. The superintendent's responsibilities included being available for the women at noontime to meet them and to evangelize when possible. For the newly-minted Bible school graduate, it was a paid position that she grew to love deeply, but could resign from on a moment's notice[1]:126-129

China

On October 11, 1928, Kuhn sailed on a passenger ship out of Vancouver to China, as a missionary with China Inland Mission.[1]:157 However, as a new missionary she was totally unprepared for the cost of the missionary life she pursued, from the poverty, to the vermin, to the Lisu diet, to the crowds and more. All of it had its' affects in Kuhn, some of which her husband had little trouble with, if any. In these times, she would "fall on her knees and weep before the Lord" asking Him to help her, which she believed that He did. Kuhn eventually found ways to cope with certain irritations, like fleas; and, she even grew to enjoy certain things she originally couldn't stomach, like "large chunks" of boiled pork fat[4]:41-44 and bean curd.:18[3]:23-29 She married John Kuhn, in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, on November 4, 1929.:18[3]:10 Over the next four decades they served together like her mentor, J. O. Fraser, who came before them and who also worked alongside of them until 1938. Although John Kuhn was separated from his wife by his leadership duties and eventually by CIM superintendent duties for sometimes as long as a year throughout all of their ministry in China, the Kuhns first ministered in Chengchiang, Yunnan,:18[3]:9 from 1929-1930, and in Tali [Dali], Yunnan, which had been without missionaries for the previous yea:18[3]:41 They were there from 1930-1932.:18[3]:62 While in Tali, the Kuhns had a baby girl, Kathryn Ann, in April 1931.:18[3]:49 They then ministered in Yongping, Yunnnan, a mostly Muslim area, from 1932-1934. However, the Kuhns lived in an area of the city that had a lower percentage of Muslims.:18[3]:60-62 The Kuhns ministered among the Lisu, in China, from 1934 until 1950. In 1936, after 16 months of ministering in "Lisuland," the Kuhns took their first furlough to see both his and her families, in Manheim, PA, and Vancouver, respectively. Until this furlough, John had been on the mission field 10 years and Isobel had been on the field eight years.:18[3]:99-112 Back in Lisuland, "Belle" had her second child, a son, Daniel Kreadman,[5] in August 1943.:18[3]:53 In 1942, they started a Bible school for girls and one for boys, in 1943.[4]:121

The Communist take-over of China forced "Belle" and her son, Danny, to leave the country and put her missionary life on hold for two years, in March 1950. John Kuhn left China 18 months after his wife. While on furlough, the Kuhns spent their time in Wheaton, Illinois, because their daughter was studying at Wheaton College.:18[3]:118,121

Yet, sensing God's call again, but having a "closed" China, by 1952 the Kuhns continued their ministry among another Lisu people group, this time in northern Thailand, until 1954,:18[3]:121 when they retired.

Death

Isobel Miller Kuhn was diagnosed with cancer in 1954 and died battling it with her husband at her side, on March 20, 1957,[3]:121 in Wheaton. Her funeral was held at Wheaton College Church.[6]

Legacy

Christianity has been thriving in the Salween River valley where the Lisu live in China, 50 years after the death of Isobel Kuhn. Of the 18,000 Lisu who lived in Fugong, Yunnan in 1950 - 3,400 professed faith in Christ. As of 2007, there are estimated to be 80-90 percent of the 70,000 making the same profession. In Yunnan, it is estimated that there are between 100,000-200,000 total Lisu Christians. More than 75,000 Lisu Bibles have been legally printed in China following this explosive growth.[7]

Today, this strong Christian presence in the Lisu communities of China and beyond can probably be attributed at least in part to Isobel Kuhn and her idea to start what she called the, "Rainy Season Bible School." This was a school born from the fact that in the heavily agricultural area that the Kuhn's ministered, the rainy season disrupted all normal life of the people. So, Kuhn brain-stormed the plan to have classes to preach the historic Christian Gospel and to teach the Lisu the basics of the Christian faith during the agricultural down time. These classes were taught by Kuhn and others. From these classes, countless men who became evangelists and pastors were called to take the Christian message to untold numbers of nationals and travelers throughout China.

Kuhn's autobiographical and biographical missionary writings are still in print over 50 years after they were published.

Quotes

About Isobel Kuhn's life early on when she forsook Christianity, she wrote:

"At the end of my walk home, I came to the conclusion that I would henceforth accept no theories of life which I had not proved personally. And, quite ignorant of where that attitude would lead me, I had unconsciously stepped off the High Way where man walks with his face lifted Godward and the pure, piney scents of the heights call him upward, on to The Misty Flats [original]. The in-between level place of easy-going - nothing very good attempted, yet nothing bad either - where men walk in the mist, telling each other that no one can see these things clearly. The Misty Flats where the in-betweeners drift to and fro - life has no end but amusement and no purpose - where the herd drift with the strongest pull and there is no reason for opposing anything. Therefore they had a kind of peace and mutual link which they call tolerance."[1]:7

Of her brief Bible school years, Kuhn reflects:

"....I received more blessing through the devotion and fire of my fellow [missionary] students at Moody than I did even through my studies. I thank God for them. After graduation we scattered, and many I did not see again for twenty or thirty years. But, when we did meet, what a joy to find their passion for Christ as fervent as in student days! And what a thrill to hear from their lips that the dreams of student days had been fulfilled by a gentle, kind Master! He had inspired our dreams and His callings had been justified."[4]:34-35

One of Kuhn's quips about her missionary years with the Lisu:

"When I get to heaven they aren't going to see much of me but my heels, for I'll be hanging over the golden wall keeping an eye on the Lisu church!"[2]:157

Works

  • By Searching: My Journey Through Doubt into Faith (Autobiography. Pt. 1.), Moody Press (August 8, 1959) ISBN 0802400531
  • In the Arena: An Autobiography. Pt. 2., China Inland Mission/OMF Books (1962) ISBN 9971972689
  • Green Leaf in Drought - Time, Moody Press (1957) ISBN 9971972735 (The story of Arthur & Wilda Matthews, the last CIM missionaries to leave China.)
  • Stones of Fire, China Inland Mission (1951) ISBN 997197276X
  • Ascent to the Tribes: Pioneering in North Thailand, Moody Press (1956) ISBN 0853631360
  • Precious Things of the Lasting Hills, China Inland Mission (1963) ISBN 0853630445
  • Children of the Hills, OMF International (1999) (Formerly called, Precious Things....)
  • Second-Mile People, OMF Books (December 1982)
  • Nests Above the Abyss, Moody Press (1964)
  • Whom God Has Joined, Moody Press (1958) ISBN 192912211X

Some later editions of Kuhn's works have been edited and revised by others.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Kuhn, By Searching: My Journey Through Doubt Into Faith (1959)
  2. ^ a b c d e Hoadley Dick, Isobel Kuhn (1987)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Kuhn, Whom God Has Joined (2004)
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Kuhn, In The Arena (1977)
  5. ^ Billy Graham Center: Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL, Ephemera of Isobel Miller Kuhn - Collection 435
  6. ^ Billy Graham Center Archives Online: Isobel Kuhn - Funeral Service - March 22, 1957
  7. ^ OMF International (2007), p. 1-2

Further reading

  • Broomhall, Alfred James; Hudson Taylor & China’s Open Century Volume Seven: It Is Not Death To Die; Hodder and Stoughton and Overseas Missionary Fellowship, (1989)
  • Canfield, Carolyn; One Vision Only (1959)
  • Reason, Joyce; Searcher for God: The Story of Isobel Kuhn (1964)
  • Repp, Gloria; Nothing Daunted: The Story of Isobel Kuhn (1995)
  • Taylor, James Hudson III; Christ Alone - A Pictorial Presentation of Hudson Taylor's Life and Legacy; OMF International, (2005)

External links

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