James Fraser, Missionary to China
James Fraser was born in England, in 1886. He was one of six children. When he was five, his family moved to St. Albans near London. His mother faithfully taught the children music and drawing, as well as lessons from the Bible. For years she prayed that at least one of her children would become a missionary. Years later, as a missionary in China, James Fraser wrote that his missionary call was due to his mother’s prayers.
As James grew older, he developed the quality of endurance which was to stand him in good stead in China. He once walked to and from London in one day, a distance of forty-four miles. On another occasion he rode 199 miles on his bicycle without dismounting. He ranked twelfth in England by passing a London University matriculation exam, and later completed a course in engineering. While a student at the University, he was given a book entitled “Do Not Say”, written by a missionary in China. The book contained challenging and thought-provoking statements such as,
“If our Master returned today to find millions of people
unevangelised and looked, as of course He would look, to us for an explanation, I cannot imagine what explanation we should be able to give. Of one thing I am certain – that most of the excuses we are accustomed to make with such good conscience now, we should be wholly ashamed of then.”
Fraser’s response was to give himself wholly to the Lord for His purposes. His biographer says of him, “the young man handed over not the latch key but the master key of his whole being.” (1) Fraser began reaching out to lost souls in his locality, then, aged twenty-one, applied to the China Inland Mission. The C.I.M. was founded by Hudson Taylor, and had grown to over a thousand members. Fraser was accepted into the mission, and set sail for China. This caused mixed emotions for his mother. To part with her son was difficult, but she was also full of joy. She wrote, “Jim, dear, I am the happiest woman in London today.” (2) She once said, “I could not pour out the ointment on [Jesus’] blessed feet, as Mary did, but I gave Him my boy.” (3)
Upon arriving in China, Fraser spent several months at the mission language school, and later moved to Tengyuey, a city in China’s far western province. He could not bring himself to settle there for life, as he believed the people were within reach of the gospel, while thousands of Lisu people in the mountains still waited to hear the good news for the first time. He later wrote of the burden he felt to reach the people, “I was very much led out in prayer for these people, right from the beginning. Something seemed to draw me to them, and the desire in my heart grew until it became a burden that God would give us hundreds of converts among the Lisu of our western district.” (4)
Fraser could not speak Lisu, but in the meantime diligently pressed on in his study of the Chinese language. Though just twenty-two, he was becoming one of the best Chinese speakers among the C.I.M. missionaries. On one of his short-term evangelistic journeys, he climbed a hill and looked out over a huge plain, populated with lost souls yet to hear the gospel. He said,
“The whole plain, with a population of perhaps 100,000, is without the light of the Gospel. I believe God would be glorified by even one witness to His name amid the perishing thousands. ..It does seem a terrible thing that so few are offering for the mission field. I can’t help feeling that there is something wrong somewhere. Surely God must be wanting His people to go forward. Does not the Master’s last command still hold good?” (5)
Almost a year after Fraser’s arrival in Tengyueh, a Lisu tribesman escorted him through the hills to his village. He was warmly welcomed, the people laying straw mats on the ground alongside the fire for him to place his bedding on. He was given a generous meal of rice, eggs and cabbage. During his stay, Fraser jotted down Lisu words and phrases and gathered a vocabulary of around 400 phrases. This impressed the Lisu, as the Chinese had always said that the Lisu language could not be written.
Fraser continued on with his study of Chinese, devoting five hours per day to the task. He also preached on the streets and held services in the local chapel. However, he felt more at home witnessing one-on-one. He once wrote,
“I have..been feeling lately that this personal work is quite as important as preaching. To have a man come to see you at your own house and be able to talk with him plainly and directly about his soul’s welfare – what could be better? Of course preaching to crowds must be done, but it is not the only way of bringing men to Christ. It may seem a strange thing for a missionary to say, but I feel that if God has given me any spiritual gift it is not that of preaching. I know my own clumsiness very well – but the Lord has always helped me in the one-by-one work, and He is giving it to me here.” (6)
Fraser counted his mother as a fellow-worker in prayer, and would send her names of people to pray for. He placed much emphasis on prayer, and wrote to a friend, “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” (7)
In July 1912, Fraser completed all six sections of his Chinese language study, after three and a half years of hard work. He was then able to return to the Lisu village, this time to live among the people and learn their language. Over the years he had the joy of seeing many Lisu come to Christ, eventually numbering in the thousands as Lisu believers led others to Christ.
As is normal in missionary life, Fraser faced hardships. On one occasion his feet and legs broke out in ulcers after he was bitten by a dog and by insects and leeches. During this trial he also suffered from depression. He endured heartache when some Lisu believers put away their Christian books and stopped praying, reverting back to their old ways. They had been in bondage to demons for so long that the “pull” was still strong. Seeing believers backslide was a cause of much grief to him.
In January 1914, he wrote home to his mother and asked her to consider forming a small “prayer circle” of believers who could stand with him in prayer. His mother soon gathered a group of friends to intercede for him. The writer of the introduction to Fraser’s biography made this observation,
“It was not primarily Fraser’s energetic evangelism and wise counsel that made his work so effective. It was his emphasis on prayer in his own life and his gift of fostering prayer groups in the homeland. This constant prayer barrage covered the whole operation, protecting it from the deadly fire of Satan’s forces. Surely here lies the secret of a truly successful missionary enterprise.” (8)
James Fraser faithfully served the Lord in China until his home-call in 1938. A complete account of his life is recorded in the excellent biography, “Behind the Ranges”, by Mrs. Howard Taylor. May we be inspired by James Fraser’s example, and be encouraged to play our part in the great task of world evangelism.
(1) Taylor, H. Behind the Ranges” (Moody Press, Chicago, USA, 1964) p23
(2) ibid p26
(3) ibid p27
(4) ibid p32-33
(5) ibid p44
(6) ibid p57
(7) ibid p58
(8) ibid p9