Coping and Ministering in Isolation

Blessed is the man who trusts the Lord, floruishing even in droughtAs soon as Arthur and Wilda Mathews arrived, they knew something was wrong. The Chinese church in Hwangyuan, China, had asked them to come and minister in 1950. But now the church leaders seemed strained. The Mathews soon learned that the area had fallen to Communism, and association with white missionaries was a detriment to the Chinese Christians.

The Mathews thought it best, then, to leave. But a capricious Chinese official would not grant their exit visas. The money from the Mathews’ mission came through this official, who then made Arthur wait, grovel, and ask repeatedly for the needed funds. The official only gave them a fraction of what they were due. He also slowly tightened the restraints on the Mathews. First, they could not have the building belonging to the mission. Then they could not evangelize or participate in ministry. Then, a short while later, they could not leave their premises except to draw water, buy food, and gather materials for a fire. And finally, they were not allowed to speak to other Chinese.

The Matthews’ story is told in the book Green Leaf in Drought by Isobel Kuhn, which I reviewed a few years ago here. Their story came back to mind in our current situation. They were isolated for different reasons than we are. We’re not suffering persecution, being spied on by people who would benefit from betraying us, or starved out by petty power-mongers. But they did wonder: how in the world could they be a testimony when they couldn’t even speak to people?

What was there inside these walls to do? It just seemed as if every time they tried to engage in any Christian service, they were knocked flat! Life’s accustomed joys were slowly drying up; but the trees of the Lord have a secret supply.

The title and theme of the book come from Jeremiah 17:8:

But most amazing of all was their spiritual vigor. Whence came it? Not from themselves: no human being could go through such sufferings and come out so sweet and cheerful.

As I was in a small prayer meeting one morning one prayed thus: “O Lord, keep their leaf green in times of drought!”

I knew in a moment that this was the answer. Jeremiah 17: 8: He shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.

That was it! There was an unseen Source of secret nourishment, which the communists could not find and from which they could not cut them off.

This is the story of that secret Source. To add another book to the many telling of trials under communist pressure is not necessary and is not our purpose.
But to tell of the secret Source by which a tree can put forth green leaves when all others around are dried up and dying from the drought—that is timeless. That is needed by all of us. Your drought may not be caused by communism, but the cause of the drying up of life’s joys is incidental. When they dry up—is there, can we find, a secret Source of nourishment that the deadly drought cannot reach?

Here are a few ways that Source helped them cope:

Resting in God’s sovereignty. They wrestled with “Ifs”—if the Chinese church had not asked them to come, if they could have gotten word to them before they came, if this or that had or hadn’t happened. They kept coming back to the fact that God orchestrates our steps.

They fed their souls truth. They regularly read God’s Word and Christian authors. They found help in something Andrew Murray had written (though Isobel doesn’t quote the source):

1. Say, He brought me here. It is by His will I am in this strait place and in that fact I will rest.
2. He will keep me here in His love and give me grace to behave as His child.
3. Then He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends for me to learn.
4. In His good time He can bring me out again—how and when He knows.
So let me say, I am (1) here by God’s appointment; (2) in His keeping; (3) under His training; (4) for His time.

Before Easter, 1952, Wilda

set herself to study the resurrection story and the resurrection life. As she came to the part that Peter played in the courtyard of the high priest’s palace she suddenly felt heart-condemned. She had not said, I know Him not, but she had no joy. She was not bitter, but she was frustrated and restless. Her opportunity to witness to the Chinese eyes around them that she did know the Lord and that He was satisfying her drought—had she shown that? If not, wasn’t that denying the Lord before man? On her knees before Him she confessed it as such, and the result was a glorious Easter.

They learned to delight in God’s will. While studying Ephesians 5:10, Arthur was arrested by the phrase “learn in your own experience what is fully pleasing to the Lord.”

A few nights later it came to Arthur like a flash: the Son had left heaven, not [just] submitting to the will of God, but delighting in it. Up to now they had been submitting; rather feverishly submitting because they felt they should press His promises. “Lord, why dost thou delay? We could be out spear-heading advance into new mission fields! Open the door now, Lord!” They had been acting like servants who don’t want to do it but have to, because they can’t get out of it. What a different attitude was the Son’s! There came a day in June when together Arthur and Wilda knelt before the Lord and abandoned themselves to live on in that stinted little kitchen as long as He wished them to. And the peace of God poured in like a flood bringing such joy as they had not known before.

Arthur later wrote of this experience to supporters and concluded:

So we came to see that God wanted us to will with Him to stay put; not to desire to run away as quickly as we could persuade Him to let us … It was natural that we should go from there to cry with David, I Delight to do thy will, O my God (Psalm 40: 8)…So we are no longer stupid bullocks being driven or dragged unwillingly along a distasteful road; but sons, cooperating wholeheartedly with our Father…

They endured, trusting God was working through their trials. Arthur wrote, “These trials of faith are to give us patience, for patience can only be worked as faith goes into the Pressure Chamber. To pull out because the pressure is laid on, and to start fretting would be to lose all the good He has in this for us.”

And these are ways God worked through their ministry and testimony even when they were silenced:

The words, actions, and touch expressed earlier were remembered. Their first few weeks in Hwangyuan, Arthur had been able to preach and Wilda had been able to go with the pastor’s wife to minister to the women.

Little did she guess that her loving words and smiles those days were to be the only direct ministry she was to have among them. But it was enough to show the women and girls of Hwangyuan that the white woman in their midst was there to love them.

Those were the days of the touch of the hand, the loving concern in the eyes, the simple testimony of the voice. They would not be forgotten later on when the government forbade it.

People saw God’s provision in their need. Isobel refers often to what she called the Feather Curtain of God, based on Psalm 91:4a: “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust.” Story after story relates God’s perfect timing and loving care in supplying their needs.

All the courtyard had heard when the father ordered the milk for the little one to be discontinued for lack of funds; yet that very evening, they not only sang, but the song of praise had an exultant ring in it! (No one knew of Ben’s secret gift.) And the next day the old Tibetan lady was recalled and the milk money was there! Had it fallen from heaven? It most certainly had not come in by the door—that they knew. Did the God of Elijah really live? What more potent message could God have given these people?

People saw them endure the same trials they were experiencing. “The message above all others which the Chinese church needed was to see that truth lived out under circumstances equally harrowing as their own.”

[Arthur wrote} “Then Christmas night, another kind of gift, from the One whose birthday it was. This is what happened. Timothy [the spy] away, the local shepherd voluntarily came to the door to wish us Merry Christmas, and to tell us that the church was packed with outsiders and the few believers, who were met together for singing and the Christmas message.”

What had packed that church with heathen, living under communism? What we lack and lose and suffer are our most prized facilities for bringing home to the hearts of this people the glorious gospel of the grace of God. They had seen green leaves in a time of drought; they themselves were dried up to the point of cracking. What made these Christians able to stay uncomplaining, smiling above their patched clothes, and despite their growing thinness? How did they stay alive when Felix had done his best to starve them? They knew the power of Felix. This was the service which God had planned for His children when He deliberately brought their feet into the net.

In another section:

Was the Chinese Christian falsely accused? So were Arthur and Wilda Mathews. Was he persecuted? So were they. Was he attacked by sickness and bereavement without much medical aid? So were they. Was he laughed at? jeered at? constantly humiliated? So were they. Was he tantalized by specious promises of release? So were they. Was he forced to do menial work, thought very degrading? Much more Arthur Mathews…

And yet as trial piled upon trial; as the ground (their human comforts) grew so parched with drought that it threatened to crack open, their leaf was still green. Every evening the sound of singing and praise to their Lord ascended…Their clothes grew ragged, and their food became so poor that the Chinese themselves were moved with pity. Yet still these missionaries sang on and taught their patched-clothes baby: “In heavenly love abiding, No change my heart shall fear,” until she could sing it too.

Eventually Arthur and a coworker were the very last China Inland Mission members to be evacuated out of China after the Bamboo Curtain fell. Wilda and their little daughter, Lilah, had been sent out a short time earlier. But they all left behind with the Chinese church, the CIM family, and everyone who has read their story a testimony of God’s grace and provision.

Isobel concludes: “But who knows when the drought is going to strike us also? Is it possible for any Christian to put forth green leaves when all he enjoys in this life is drying up around him?” Yes. God’s promises are still true. May He keep our leaves green and flourishing for His glory.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul,
Tell His Story, Purposeful Faith, Happy Now, InstaEncouragement,
Anchored Abode, Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies,
Share a Link Wednesdays, Heart Encouragement, Let’s Have Coffee,
Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Blogger Voices Network,
Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

31 Days of Inspirational Biography: A Sense of Him

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For the 31 Days writing challenge, I am sharing 31 Days of Inspirational Biography.
You can find others in the series here.

I’ve written often of Isobel Kuhn and have benefited so much from her books. One is called Second Mile People, in which she writes of several who have influenced her life in a major way. In Jesus’s instruction about going the second mile, she says, the first one is compulsory, but the second is an offering “for the good and peace of His kingdom.” All of the people she writes of in this book have gone the extra mile and “have cried out, not ‘How much will He ask?’ but ‘How much can I give Him?'”

One such is Dorothy. She begins her chapter with this poem:


Not merely in the words you say,
Not only in your deeds confessed,
But in the most unconscious way
Is Christ expressed.

Is it a beatific smile,
A holy light upon your brow;
Oh no, I felt His Presence while
You laughed just now.

For me ‘twas not the truth you taught
To you so clear, to me still dim
But when you came to me you brought
A sense of Him.

And from your eyes He beckons me,
And from your heart His love is shed,
Til I lose sight of you and see
The Christ instead.

—by A. S. Wilson

Isobel then tells of meeting a young woman named Dorothy at a conference. Isobel had not been saved very long. “My ideas of the Christian life were still in a crude, unmoulded state.” Dorothy seemed attractive, winsome and sweet, and Isobel was pleased when she asked her to go for a walk. Dorothy had in mind to “speak just a word for Jesus” while on this walk, but as it happened, their conversation centered on happy, funny things. “When we parted Dorothy felt she had been a failure, unconscious that the one she had hoped to help was going away enchanted with this glimpse into the very human sweetness of this Christlike girl. ‘…I felt His Presence when you laughed just now….’ The Spirit-filled life cannot ‘fail’, it is fruitful even when it may seem least to have done anything. That walk gave Dorothy ‘influence’ over me when a ‘sermon’ would have created a permanent barrier. In fact at that time I carried a mental suit of armour all ready to slip on quietly the moment any ‘old fogey’ tried to ‘preach’ at me!”

“Oswald Chambers says, ‘The people who influence us most are not those who buttonhole us and talk to us, but those who live their lives like the stars in heaven and the lilies of the field, perfectly simply and unaffectedly.’ A great mistake is to think that a Spirit-filled man or woman must always be casting sermons at people. Being ‘filled with the Spirit’ (which is a first qualification of Second Mile People) is merely a refusing of self and a taking by faith of the life of Christ as wrought in us by His Holy Spirit.” “We must take the Spirit’s fullness, as we take our salvation, by faith in God’s promise that He is given to us.”

Some weeks later when Dorothy and Isobel met again, Dorothy’s “time had come” to “get in a ‘preach,’” for Isobel then was in a frame of mind and heart to receive it. “The Holy Spirit is never too early and never too late.” Though Isobel did not understand as yet all Dorothy was trying to say, her words did lay the groundwork for future understanding, and “from Dorothy I just drank in the inspiration of herself, the ‘sense of Him’, and the fact that this life of undisturbed peace was no mystic dream but a possible reality who sat before me with earnest sweet eyes and soft pink cheeks.”

Please don’t misunderstand — I don’t mean any of this in any kind of a mystic way. I have written much on being grounded in Scripture and not feeling. But I have known some people who seem to reflect Christ and carry a “sense of Him” in everything they do, every word, action, and attitude. May I live so close to Him that people always sense His presence.

31 Days of Missionary Stories: Whom God Has Joined

kuhn.jpgI mentioned Isobel Kuhn yesterday. her books By Searching and In the Arena are primarily autobiographical and contain some details about her marriage, but Whom God Has Joined focuses entirely on her relationship with her husband. It was originally titled One Vision Only, and the main part of it was Isobel’s own writings 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 at Moody Bible Institute 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.

(You can see a list of other posts in the 31 Days of Missionary Stories here.)

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

31 Days of Missionary Stories: Isobel Kuhn Learns to Put God First

isobelkuhnIsobel Kuhn was a missionary to China in the early to mid- 1900s, alongside her husband, John. She has written a number of books about the Lord’s working in their lives and ministry, all very readable and enjoyable. 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 many decisions, experiences, and trials in which God manifested Himself. I reviewed both books together here.

One incident that had lasting effects occurred during Isobel’s training at Bible college. Many students did not have a quiet time or devotional time with the Lord, because they spent so much time studying the Bible. “But,” Isobel wrote in In The Arena, “reading the Scriptures for a technical grasp of the general argument in a book, and reading it as in the Lord’s presence, asking Him to speak a word on which to lean that day — those were two very different things. One was no substitute for the other. Yet I knew also that some students were trying to let classwork reading do for personal quiet time. Deadness of souls was inevitable.”

As she prayed about it, she felt led to form a habit of spending one hour a day, sometimes in two half-hour segments twice a day, “in the Lord’s presence, in prayer or reading the Word. The purpose was to form the habit of putting God in the centre of our day and fitting the work of life around Him rather than letting the day’s business occupy the central place and trying to fix a quiet time with the Lord somewhere shoved into the odd corner or leisure moment.”

She and nine others covenanted to do this for about a year and meet together monthly to worship together, confess failure, and encourage each other. She wrote, “It was never my thought that this covenant should become law. My thought was merely deliberately to form a habit which would allow the Lord to speak personally to us all the days of our lives….somehow news of [this covenant] spread, and others began to join. Then—it seems as if some human beings always have to go to extremes—some signed a covenant binding them to this hour a day for life. I did not sign it. What about days of illness or emergency, when it might be impossible to keep an hour quietly? There was no need to vow; there was only need to form a habit of putting God first.”

The following is from In the Arena and tells of how this decision was tested.

This is the background of my platform of secret choices. It was the evening of the Junior-Senior party. I was a junior and had been asked to lead the devotional with which all such parties closed. I was also on the programme as Grandma in a Dutch scene, off and on all through the banquet. The week before had been so full of work and study that I had not had one moment to sit down and prepare a devotional.  Work…had delayed me, and I arrived at the supper half-hour, hungry,  exhausted, and without any devotion prepared. Besides this, I still had half an hour due on my quiet time! After the party we juniors had to clean up and I would not get to my room til midnight — the day would be gone.

Here was my platform of secret choices. That supper half-hour. (1) Should I go down and eat my supper? (2) Should I skip supper and try to prepare the devotional message? (3) Should I put God first and give that half-hour to him? The supper bell rang, and my roommate left for the dining room. I stood for a moment irresolute; then, throwing myself on my knees by my bedside I sobbed out in a whisper, “Oh, Lord, I choose you!” As I just lay in His presence too weary to form words, the sense of His presence filled the room. The weariness and faintness all left me. I felt relaxed, refreshed, bathed in His love. And as I half knelt, half lay there, saying nothing, but just loving Him, drinking in His tenderness, He spoke to me. Quietly, but point by point, He outlined for me the devotional  message I needed to close that evening’s programme. It was an unforgettable experience and an unforgettable lesson. Putting Him first always pays.

In the exhilaration of that wonder I ran down to the banquet hall, slipped into my costume, and went through the programme. At the end, when the devotional message was needed, I gave very simply what He had told me during the supper hour. Such a quiet hush came over that festive scene, I knew He had spoken, and I was content.

More than twenty years passed. I was home on furlough and visiting the Institute. It was the day of the Junior-Senior party and a group of us were reminiscing. “One Junior-Senior party a always stands out in my memory,” said one. “I forget who led it but it was a Dutch scene and the devotional blessed my soul. I’ve never forgotten it.” She had indicated the date, so I knew. I was thrilled through and through. Of course I did not spoil it by telling  her who led that devotional. In God’s perfect workings, the instrument is [often] forgotten. It is the blessing of Himself that is remembered.

 (You can see other posts in the 31 Days of Missionary Stories here.)