Next to reading the Bible, reading missionary books has had the greatest impact on my Christian life. Isobel Kuhn‘s books have been among the greatest of those to me. She has a very readable style and is quite honest and open about her faults and foibles, but her books are also laced with humor.
By Searching was subtitled My Journey Through Doubt Into Faith and describes just that. She had grown up in a Christian family yet wasn’t truly saved. When a professor at college condescendingly told her she only believed because that was what her parents told her, she realized he was right, and thoroughly let herself go into the “worldly” activities she hadn’t been allowed to pursue. This book traces her journey to true faith in Christ and her first steps in her walk with Him. In the Arena is not exactly a sequel, but it highlights certain experiences in her life that showcased God’s working.
But the book of hers I want to talk about today is Whom God Has Joined. It was originally titled One Vision Only, and the main part of it was Isobel’s own writings of her relationship with her husband, John, and sandwiched in-between biographical remarks by Carolyn Canfield. It has been long out of print and was just reprinted not too long ago without Canfield’s part.
It begins with their first notices of each other and the attraction they felt despite their determination not to get “sidetracked” by the opposite sex.
As they got to know one another and grew in affection, John graduated from college first and went to China. At first they were interested in different areas of China, but the China Inland Mission assigned him to the area she was interested in. When he wrote to propose, she knew what her answer would be, yet she spread the “letter out before the Lord” with a problem. She wrote, “John and I are of very opposite dispositions, each rather strong minded. Science has never discovered what happens when the irresistible force collides with the immovable object. Whatever would happen if they married one another? ‘Lord, it must occur sooner or later. Are You sufficient even for that?’” The verse the Lord gave her was Matthew 6:33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
Isobel was assigned and sent to China where they were to be married. One of the first problems they faced was that there were two ladies with very different personalities who each took charge of “helping” the young couple with their wedding plans — and neither plan was what the young couple wanted. God enabled them to very graciously navigate that situation without offending either party.
Isobel wrote in a very engaging way that lets us know missionaries are “of like passions” as we are. We feel like we are right there with her feeling what she is feeling. She not only had the adjustments of marriage but the adjustments of a new culture. Though she was ready and willing for both, sometimes it still threw her for a short while. One example was in her natural “nesting” as a new wife. The CIM way was to live directly with the people as they did, and Isobel was willing for that. She did have a few things to pretty up her home a little bit — nothing extravagant. She was excited to receive her first women guests, and as she began to talk with them, one blew her nose and wiped the stuff on a rug; the other’s baby was allowed to wet all over another rug. Isobel knew that they were not being deliberately offensive: those were just the customs of the country people in that time and place. Yet, naturally, resentment welled up and she had a battle in her heart. She wrote, “If possessions would in any way interfere with our hospitality, it would be better to consign them to the river. In other words, if your finery hinders your testimony, throw it out. In our Lord’s own words, if thine hand offend thee, cut it off. He was not against our possessing hands, but against our using them to holds on to sinful or hindering things.”
In their early marriage they had disagreements over the couple who were their servants (in primitive cultures it was not unusual for missionaries to employ helpers for the many tasks that would have taken up so much time). They were not only lazy, but helped themselves to some of the Kuhn’s own things. John was slower to see it because he had always gotten along fine with them before he was married. At one point when Isobel brought up something the man had not done, hoping for John to correct him, John instead sided with him against her. Angry and resentful, Isobel walked out of the house, not caring where she went, just to get away from it all. Gradually she came to herself and realized she was in a little village as darkness was nearing. In that time and culture that was not done: “good women were in their homes at such an hour.” She felt as if the Lord were saying to her, “You have not considered Me and My honor in all this, have you?” and then convicting her that she had not even invited Him into the situation. She confessed that was true, asked Him to work it out, and went home. And He did.
Isobel was more artistic and exuberant by nature, and once when she was telling a story she mentioned that it was “pouring rain.” John corrected her, saying it was “merely raining.” She was indignant that her story was being interrupted by such a minor detail and said, “I didn’t stop to count the raindrops.” He replied that that was just what she should do. He felt she exaggerated and wanted to break her of it. He began “correcting” her prayer letters and stories and began to use the catch-phrase, “Did you count the raindrops?” It was discouraging and distressing to her and she felt it had a stilted effect on her writing. She tells how over time the Lord used this to help her husband appreciate his wife’s gift of imagination and expression and helped her to be more accurate. She comments,
Similar situations are not uncommon among all young couples. If we will just be patient with one another, God will work for us…Until the Lord is able to work out in us a perfect adjustment to one another, we must bear with one another, in love…With novels and movies which teach false ideals of marriage, young people are not prepared to ‘bear and forbear.’ They are not taught to forgive. They are not taught to endure. Divorce is too quickly seized upon as the only way out. It is the worst way out! To pray to God to awaken the other person to where he or she is hurting us, to endure patiently until God does it: this is God’s way out. And it molds the two opposite natures into one invincible whole. The passion for accuracy plus a sympathetic imagination which relives another’s joys and sorrows—that is double effectiveness. Either quality working unrestrained by itself would never have been so effective. But it cost mutual forgiveness and endurance to weld these two opposites into one! Let’s be willing for the cost.
With humor and poignancy Isobel tells of further challenges and adjustments in the midst of ministry and growing love for each other and growth in the Lord.