[Feature] Centennial Course of 'A Corn of Wheat' That Has Fallen into Nujiang Grand Canyon

A church in Nujiang Grand Canyon, Yunnan
1/2A church in Nujiang Grand Canyon, Yunnan
A historical picture of James Outruam Fraser, a British missionary
2/2A historical picture of James Outruam Fraser, a British missionary
By Josiah LiFebruary 15th, 2022

“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it dies, it bringeth forth much fruit. ” (John 12: 24, NIV) This Bible verse engraved on the tombstone of Rev. James Outram Fraser witnessed his lifelong service in the Nujiang Grand Canyon at an altitude of 2000-3000 meters in Yunnan Province.

Fraser, a British missionary, graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL). Proficient in mathematics, he was an excellent engineer and pianist. On May 24th, 1909, 22-year-old Fraser came to Tengyue Town, Tengchong City of western Yunnan Province, to work with the missionary Embery and his wife, preaching the gospel to the Lisu people.

Going deep into the Nujiang Grand Canyon several times to contact the Lisu people, the "apostle to the Lisu People" found some bad habits there such as idolatry, alcoholism, and opium smoking. He prayed with faith to lead over 100 Lisu families to believe in God. He found that only when a whole family who came to Christ could help a person firmly follow the path of Jesus, with less tendency to return to those bad habits of the past.

While preaching the gospel, the western missionaries also helped the Lisu people to create their own Lisu script. Translating the Bible into the Lisu language, they also facilitated them to change their bad habits such as alcoholism and opium smoking.

The three features of Lisu believers in the Nujiang Grand Canyon are that they don’t drink, smoke, or work on Sundays, in order to worship God.

In order to help the Lisu people give up drinking, Fraser asked them several times to pour wine to pigs in order to see the consequences. This caused pigs to jump around and scream after drinking the wine. Those who supported Fraser’s prohibition movement mixed pig food into wine jars so that the drinkers could not drink it even if they wanted to.

No smoking is also the rule of the local church. Opium cultivation used to be the main source of income for the Lisu people, and many local people smoked opium. Firmly opposing these, Fraser clearly stipulated that people who grew, smoked, or sold opium could not be baptized. In order to change this situation, Fraser studied the local soil to introduce economic crops such as sugar beets.

The Lisu people have a talent for singing. The biography of Fraser, written by Eileen Crossman, his second daughter, wrote in the book Mountain Rain that when missionaries taught them the four voices, their singing surprised and mesmerized the missionaries.

But several pastors shared their worries about the situation of the church.

In his fifties with more than 30 years of serving in the local area, Pastor La said that the local people already knew that there is a God, but many refused to believe and follow Him. In addition, the congregations who regularly meet were still lacking a thirst for the truth.

A female Christian surnamed Li, who worried about the inheritance of the faith, said that some young people were stealing, drinking, and unwilling to accept the Christian faith. She called on others to pray for their faith.

"What we lack most is a leader. We need someone who really knows God to lead." Li said that some elderly believers could not read the scriptures by themselves, and they just listened to whatever the pastors said. Pastors with experience and capability were particularly important, she continued.

A male believer with the surname of Zhang, who collects and sorts out the history of the church in Nujiang Prefecture, said that the decline of local belief situation was related to the social environment. Now that the roads have been built and many things from outside have entered the region, they have more temptations compared with the past closed environment with Christianity as the mainstream. But he believed that people who grew up in the Christian atmosphere would return to the Christian faith sooner or later.

Although the local churches face many problems, there are church staff who visit the mentally ill people, serve to train orphans, and give medical treatment and medicine to needy people. They have been doing so for over ten or even twenty years, needing new co-workers to join them.

- Translated by Oliver Zuo

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