Before John Kuhn and Isobel met at Moody Bible Institute in 1924, each had received the Lord’s call to the China Inland Mission. Isobel heard the Lord’s call to work specifically with the Lisu people in Yunnan after meeting J.O. Fraser, who pioneered work among the Lisu and later became the CIM director for Yunnan. The Kuhns differed in background and temperament. American-born John, from German stock, was steady and methodical. Canadian-born Belle had Irish blood and was given to heights and depths of emotion. In 1926 John finished Moody and left for China. Belle finished the following year, but due to anti-western riots, she did not reach China until 1928.
The newly-married Kuhns were assigned to Yunnan, but to Belle’s amazement, Fraser’s concern for her health kept them from the remote Lisu regions. In 1934 he did approve a short trip to the Black Lisu, and needs of the church convinced him to extend the Kuhns’ time until they took a furlough in 1936. When they returned in 1937, Belle was shocked by Fraser’s decision to keep John as his assistant rather than send them back to the Lisu. A few months later, however, the needs of the Lisu church again compelled Fraser to send the family out. Except for a three-year absence during World War II, the Kuhns worked in Lisu villages for the next 13 years.
As director, Fraser chose to use national Christians for evangelism and missionaries for discipleship. His strategy fit Belle’s gifts perfectly, as her calling was to teach and to “mother” the Lisu believers, often through the Rainy Season Bible Schools that she developed. When Fraser died in 1938, John was appointed acting superintendent for western Yunnan. Belle continued her ministry among the Lisu while John’s attention turned to overseeing the work among Chinese and minority peoples. This changed resulted in frequent and long periods of separation, one of many trials that God used to foster Belle’s deep dependence on Him. Her already-deep prayer life grew as she saw God strip away every love except His, an often-painful process recorded with great honesty in the eight books that she authored.
When John left for China in 1926, he and Belle were not yet engaged. Fraser met John in China and afterward he counseled Belle to accept John’s proposal. However, since John was initially assigned to work in northwest China, Belle did not believe it was God’s will for her to marry John. After his assignment was to changed Yunnan, they were married there in 1928 and later their two children were born there. Belle left China in March 1950 after the Communist victory, and John followed a year later. They served in Thailand for two years, but Belle developed cancer and died in 1957. John married Eileen O’Rourke in 1958, and he went to be with the Lord in 1966. Over 50% of the Lisu in China are now Christians, but there is a great shortage of trained pastors for them and younger Lisu struggle with legalism in the church.
We need to worship and adore as well as to analyze and explain. Mary of Bethany learned much by just sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him and loving Him. Our generation’s greatest lack is just here.
By Searching, My Journey Through Doubt Into Faith. Isobel Kuhn. (Moody Publishers, 1959), p. 61.