Chinese Church Voices

Following the Footprints of Early Missionaries to Yunnan (1)

Chinese Church Voices is a weekly column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.


Nine Christians from several cities in China traveled to Nujiang, Yunnan Province to find the places where early foreign Christians proclaimed the gospel among the Lisu. During the trip they met people who knew those early workers and were impacted personally by their conversations and simply being in those places. The faith of those early workers and those still serving continues to speak to us today. This article from We Jingjie is being posted in two parts because of length. This is part one; part two will follow next week.  Be sure to look at the original article; there are several amazing photos included.

A Visit to Nujiang: Following the Footprints of Missionaries

 I wish I could get home right away and stay in my quiet bedroom next to the deep valley. The birds sing their morning song early, joyfully, and clear. The sunset glows behind clouds at evening, and the towering peaks as well, all contributing to a wonderful and glorious view.

When I read this passage written eighty years ago by American missionary Isobel Kuhn, I was moved by her picturesque life. However, when we traveled almost halfway across China, dragging our exhausted bodies, breaking through layers of pandemic barriers, and finally arrived in front of this dilapidated hut, everything seemed totally different than we expected. The small wooden hut was a dozen or so square meters in size. The roof was covered with gray tiles. It was very dark inside and the only furniture included a small desk by the wall, a short cabinet, and several farm tools we could not identify. Even so, we still felt that it was worth the trip.

The Grandma Who Guarded the Hut for 60 Years.

This is our second visit to Nujiang and we encountered many obstacles before we arrived. A few days before departure, our leader Sister Qiu suddenly felt dizzy and nauseous. She had to stay in bed and could not even respond to text messages. Our air tickets had to be cancelled several times because of the pandemic; transit routes were changed repeatedly. Even our meeting point had to be changed from Tengchong to Dali. All these obstacles made me doubt whether I should continue with this trip.

However, when we finally met at Dali Airport on June 20, all those doubts suddenly disappeared. Instead, we rushed happily to Liuku Town, the capital of Nujiang Autonomous Prefecture, two hundred kilometers away from Dali. Once we were there, the Lisu brothers and sisters served us delicious local pilaf. It happened to be brother Zhihong’s birthday that day and we had a joyful dinner together.

But a phone call quickly dampened our mood. We were told that because of pandemic measures, we would not be allowed to visit the village the next day. We had planned to visit the village Maliping, where John and Isobel Kuhn had once lived and served.

We had already missed visiting missionary James O. Fraser’s former residence because of changing plans, and everybody felt very disappointed. Furthermore, because of landslides in the rainy season we had heard that we might also miss the trip to Dulong River. Everyone felt dejected.

We tossed and turned and prayed all night, At six in the morning we received a text from brother Zhang Yu that said someone could take us to Maliping Village.

It was truly God’s grace! Later, underneath white clouds and a beautiful blue sky, we drove to a church in that village. The church was located by the side of a hill, with whitewashed walls and a gray tiled roof. Because of the pandemic, the door of the church was locked. To the left and right of the church were two large, lush trees planted by the Kuhns 80 years ago. Beside the tree Mrs. Kuhn planted stood the Bible school; below the hill on which Mr. Kuhn’s tree stood was the hut where they had lived for 13 years.

Next to the Kuhns’ hut lived an old woman with her family. This 84-year-old woman is a follower of Jesus and welcomed us warmly when we tried to take photos of the hut. She married into this village in the 1950s. When the Kuhns left in December of 1948, she led her family to repair the outside part of the hut, while the objects inside remained untouched. She then guarded this hut for more than 60 years.

Standing on the hillside and overlooking the whole of Nujiang, which was the center of evangelization back then, we could almost see the honest and illiterate mountain people who came here, climbing over the mountains during the rainy season to study the Bible eagerly. As the Bible says: “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130). And then those groups of people brought the gospel to homes in every corner of Nujiang.

Reconciliation in front of the Tombstone.

On June 22, Lisu pastor Guang took us through misting rain and on muddy mountain paths to a cornfield in Pulege Village, located in Puladi Township of Gongshan County. This was the evangelical center where J. Russell Morse and his family worked from 1930 to 1949.

People in China are not familiar with the Morse family. It is only known that the Russell Morse and his wife brought their 4-month-old son to Xikang Province, China [now known as the western part of Tibet]  under Albert Shelton’s influence. When Albert Shelton died in a bandits’ melee in Tibetan areas in 1922, Morse was only 24 years old and had just arrived in China. He and his family followed Shelton’s last wish and determined to dedicate their lives to China. Later, the Morse family moved to Yunnan Province and preached the gospel to the Lisu people there before gradually climbing over the Biluo Snow Mountain and finally settling down in Nujiang.

I studied the vegetable patch before me. This was the Morse’s main evangelical center in the 1930s. In 1949, a large number of missionaries were forced to leave China, but Morse was unwilling to leave. He was later imprisoned in Kunming for 15 months before being forced to leave for Myanmar. Since then, the Morse family and their descendants have travelled from Myanmar to northern Thailand and continue serving the Lisu people to this day.

On a different hill, planted full of corn, we found the tomb of Warren P. Dittemore, a missionary who worked with Morse. Dittemore arrived in China in November 1945 and died of disease in August of the next year when he was only 30 years old. He had been in China for less than a year. On his tombstone was a verse: “And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4).

There is a Chinese saying that fallen leaves return to the roots, which means people should always return home in the end. However, this unvisited tomb marks the love of a group of young people seventy or eighty years ago who were willing to commit to and be buried in a distant and impoverished place.

Standing in front of Dittemore’s tombstone in the drizzling rain, we sang the hymn “A Kernel of Wheat.” “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Our tears flowed silently, and one sister even cried out loud. Later, she told us that it was as if the tomb was a sign of the Father’s love. She felt like a rebellious child being accepted by the Father, and the pain in her heart was finally released.

Brother Wenteng went forward and wiped the tombstone over and over again. In his own words, he said that he was wiping his own heart. The previous night he and I had blamed one another for some logistics problems. Watching him wipe the grave, I was moved to tears. What can I complain about compared with those missionaries who gave their lives?

We apologized to one another and reconciled before the tombstone. I forgave others, and I forgave myself. Once again, I felt peace.

Part two will follow next week.

Original article: 再进怒江,疫情中探访福音的足迹, 境界Ⅱ
Translated, edited, and reposted with permission.

ChinaSource Team

ChinaSource Team

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