J. O. FRASER---Biographical Sketch
Fraser was born in 1886 into a well-to-do and prominent
English family. His father was an
outstanding veterinary surgeon who also was involved in politics. His mother was a very godly woman who
nurtured him in the faith from childhood.
Those who knew him later in life testified to the fact that he had the
stern self-discipline of a Henry Martyn, the consuming passion for souls
similar to that of David Brainerd, and the sustained zeal of his prayer life
recalling the fervor of Praying Hyde.
He was very athletically inclined and had a good
physique. During summer holidays he and
a cousin liked to go mountain climbing in Switzerland. It was also reported that on one occasion he
rode his bicycle 199 miles without once stopping. These activities were all good preparation
for what the Lord had for him a little later on.
He did well in school, graduating with honors from a
school of engineering by the age of 21, and looked forward to what could have
been a very prosperous profession in the engineering field. But about the time of his graduation, he was
handed a little paperback book entitled Do
Not Say. Written by a missionary to China,
it challenged the reader to give his life to reach the unreached people of that
great nation. It spoke to James' heart,
and rather than going into the field for which he had prepared, he made his
preparations to go to China
under the China Inland Mission. He
arrived on the field when he was 22 years of age.
He threw himself heartily into the formidable task of
learning the Chinese language and, as did all the CIM missionaries, adapted
Chinese clothes, lived in Chinese quarters, and ate the Chinese food. He made great progress in the language, but
his heart was to reach the unreached tribal groups in the southwest province
of Yunnan in the very rugged
mountains that bordered Burma.
For some months he was confined to the lowlands where he
continued his language study, but in the market places he had occasional
contact with the tribal people who came out to the large markets of the Chinese
cities. In due time he was able to go
into the mountain areas to reach these lovable people who were bound by
demonism. His career was largely an itinerant
ministry through the mountains to the many scattered small villages where he
lived with the people, ate their fare, and shared their simple houses. These people had no written language at that
time. Living as close as he did with them and having a very quick mind, he
learned the Lisu language, devised an alphabet (and script) for it, and began
translation work of the Bible and other helps for these people. The work was very slow at first because they
were bound by demon worship. But as time
went on, ones and twos and then scores of these simple mountain people turned
to the Lord.
We at GFA have repeatedly emphasized the importance of
indigenization of a ministry from the very beginning, and a good textbook on
indigenous principles is one of the biographies of J. O. Fraser.
From the very onset, these people were encouraged to and did build their
own chapels and finance their own ministry. On Fraser's long-many times a month
to six weeks at a time-itinerations, they, without pay, traveled with him and
carried his few belongings on the difficult mountain journeys. It was entirely indigenous from the very
onset and was no doubt one of the major factors for the very rapid growth among
He also introduced to the people the systematic study of
the Bible through simple rainy-season Bible schools. At a time when they were not involved in the
farming of their hillside plots of ground, they gathered at one place or another
for a month of Bible study. At first, it
was the very simple, the very rudimentary truths of the Gospel; but as time
progressed it became a more in-depth type of study.
Because of his administrative abilities, he was on several
occasions posted at other places, even in the headquarters office
temporarily. But his heart was always
with the tribes people, and he returned to
them as soon as possible. From small
beginnings, thousands of these people came to Christ through the ministry of
this very dedicated man and later through his coworkers.
One of the secrets, along with the indigenization
principle, was the power of prayer. He
had a circle of friends in England
who prayed very specifically and diligently for him. These were prayer cells, first organized by
his mother and then expanded across Great
Britain and elsewhere, where small groups of
people would gather on a regular basis to pray specifically for his ministry. He carried on a very extensive correspondence
with these small groups of prayer friends.
He attributed much of the success to the prayers of these saints of God.
He really had no settled home. He was on the go almost all the time in an
itinerant type of ministry. Two of his
most faithful coworkers were John and Isobel Kuhn. Isobel had heard Fraser speak in Bellingham, WA, at the Firs Conference Center. She was impressed by his dedication, sincerity, and missionary stories. The Lord used that conference to deepen her desire to go as a missionary. She subsequently left the career she was pursuing and
went to Moody Bible Institute to prepare for missionary work in China. She met John Kuhn at Moody, and they served together among the Lisu people in China. Later, after having to leave because of the
Communist uprising, they served together among the tribal groups in Thailand.
In his early 40s, Fraser finally married Roxie Dymond. She was half his age, but they were a good
match. They worked well together, but
their married life was rather brief; for at the age of 52 he became ill and, in
1938, died what would seem to have been a premature death. The impact that this man left on the hill
tribes of southwest China
remains to the present.
If you wish to learn more details of this remarkable man, several
excellent biographies are available. The
first that I recommend is Behind the
Ranges by Mrs. Howard Taylor, which was first published in 1944. The second, entitled Mountain Rain, was written by Fraser's daughter, Mrs. Eileen
Crossman. Due to her father's early
death, she really did not know him well; but by utilizing CIM archives and her father's
extensive correspondence, she has written an excellent biography of him.
June, 2004 GFA Family Conference