In the Arena

by Isobel Kuhn

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This portion of the story shows how God began to prepare Isobel for the challenges ahead on the Chinese mission field. She had to leave in the early 1950, when the Mao and his Communist armies were torturing and slaughtering millions of Christians across the land -- and all surviving missionaries were expelled.

Out of print but might be found as a used book.





...This was my suffering on my platform of obstacles. But the fellowship of the Lord was my daily strength and bolster. And how wondrously His resurrection power had worked for me and sustained me! I was sure, now, that I was in the path of His choice for me, and the experience of the past month had taught me that final deliverance might not come until the very last split second. So I must get ready in faith to go through the door, so to speak, if it opened at the last moment.  [pages 24-25])

That meant I must allow Marjorie to buy my ticket East. I must arrange my student’s visa papers for entrance to the United States— not to speak of my application papers. Financially I was tested. Marjorie sent me my ticket across country, but after I had paid my head tax I had practically nothing left for food on the train—three nights and two days.

Well, I figured, if Moses fasted forty days, I could fast two or three. I did not know that I would be asked to pay a month’s board in advance as soon as I reached the Institute! But I was the Lord’s child. Levi received no inheritance among the Sons of Israel, for the Lord was his inheritance (Deut. 10:9).

My first encouragement came from such an unexpected source. I had gone down to the boat to see Mr. J. 0. Fraser sail for China. In a moment when other friends were looking over the ship, Mr. Fraser turned to me and said something like this: “I have been keeping two accounts, Miss Miller. One is my personal account and the other is for investing in the Lord’s work. I wish to close this second account before I leave America and I find I have a few dollars left. You are going to Moody—I do not know whether you could use it or not.”

I was astounded, but recognizing the hand of the Lord in it I said, “Thank you, I can!” This was the beginning of the Lord’s largess.

Secret Choices

As in the case of Marjorie Harrison, many earnest souls must stay at home— they are enough to minister to the home needs.... The Lord has made this rule for Himself—He will compel no man’s love or obedience. How can you know He does not want you in the far-flung battle line if you do not offer? ... [38]

There came a day when the president of our Student Volunteer band came to me exercised in soul. I was scheduled to speak at our next meeting, and he had a burden to lay upon my heart. “It is so easy, with required hours of Bible reading, to let one’s own devotional time slip. And it inevitably leads to staleness of soul. I feel that some of us are in danger of drifting into an empty form of relation- ship to Him, of missing the vital personal touch each day. Wi11 you pray, Isobel, and ask the Lord for a solution? And give us a talk on it next meeting?”  [38-39]

I accepted the burden, and waited on the Lord. I had felt that danger myself. For certain classes we had to read a book of the Bible through—perhaps several times. Why read it again ~or quiet time’? Especially when leisure hours were at a premium. But reading the Scriptures for a scholarly grasp of the general argument in a book, and reading it in the Lord’s presence, asking Him to speak a word on which to lean that day—those were two different things. One was no substitute for the other. Yet I knew also that some students were trying to let class work reading do for personal quiet time. Deadness of soul was inevitable.

As I prayed about it, I felt a need to gird up our loins and form a habit of putting the Lord first each day. Habit can be a wonderful ally, but it can also be a formidable foe. We ourselves can choose which kind of habits to form. My attention was drawn to II Chronicle 29:11: “My sons, be not now negligent: for the Lord hath chosen you [me] to stand before him, to serve him, and that ye [I] should minister unto him, and burn incense.” Using this text for exhortation, I suggested our making a covenant with the Lord to spend one hour a day (for about a year) in the Lord’s presence, in prayer or reading the Word. The purpose was to form the habit of putting God in the center 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.  39   I suggested we meet together once a month to confess any failures and to worship the Lord together.  It was a very small meeting... and the reader will be interested to know that one of the nine names was John B. Kuhn.... [See Three kinds of small GROUPS]

The Lord blessed us. Our monthly prayer meetings to testify and encourage one another became times of wonderful fellowship in the Lord. They grew and grew in numbers. ... Ten years later, on our first furlough, we visited the Institute and found that this prayer group was still going on, though no one remembered when it got started.... [40]

To keep my hour-a-day required planning. At half-past six each morning I was due in the dining room to set tables. I tried getting up at five, but my health began to fail. After various efforts I found I could maintain normal weight if I arose at half-past five. But go where to be alone? ... 41

The only place I could find where I would disturb no one was the cleaning closet! So each morning I stole down the hail, entered the closet, turned the scrubbing pail upside down, sat on it, and with mops and dust rags hanging around my head, I had a precious half-hour with the Master. The other half-hour had to be found at the end of the day.

This is the background of my platform of secret choices. It was the evening of the Junior-Senior party. ...

The week before had been so full of work and study that I had not one moment to sit down and prepare a devotional. Work in the restaurant had delayed me, and I arrived at the supper half-hour, hungry, exhausted, and without any devotional prepared. Besides this, I still had half an hour due on my quiet time!... Here was my platform of secret choices. That sup- per half-hour. [41]

(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, “0 dear Lord, I choose Thee!”

Then again, as I just lay in His presence too weary to form words, the sense of His presence filled the room. As before, 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 program. It was an unforgettable experience and an unforgettable lesson. Putting Him first always pays. ... [42]

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 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 forgotten. It is the blessing of Himself that is remembered.

This is how secret choices can become public. The choice and the struggle are not publicized—but the release of His resurrection power which comes to you on each platform is felt by others, and in that sense there is an audience. We may never know who this “audience” might be, but we do know that He gives us far more than we deserve.

Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, reigning O’er the life He died to win,

Daily shall reveal more fully His great power, without, within.

What thou never could’st accomplish Shall His Spirit work through thee

While thy soul this witness beareth: ‘Tis not I, but Christ in me.

—F. H. ALI~ 

Crossed Nature

I went to China eager and hopeful to be a soul winner. I was ridiculously, pathetically unprepared for the cost. It is true that I had expected poverty and had even tried to discipline myself for it. While teaching school I had chosen a boarding house that was drab and plain, with no rugs or carpets. Fond of chocolates, I decided not to buy any candy for a year at least. This puny “self-discipline” makes me laugh now. And makes me wonder how I could have been so unprepared for the ordinary missionary hardship. I do not know, but it was so.

The China Inland Mission, true to its name, reached out to the unworked interior of that great land, where by far the great majority of unevangelized Chinese were country peasants, poor people who toil and labor in mud hovels and know nothing of the luxuries of hot baths with soap, or frequent change to clean clothing. I had to learn that it costs money to be clean; I had always taken cleanliness for granted....

...after a happy time at language school, I found myself on a country station in a farming district, with thousands of these peasants in all directions who had never been told that Christ died for their salvation. What a wonderful opportunity! In spirit I reached out eagerly toward them and then—the flesh revolted.  [46]

As in all eastern lands, and among our own poor also, these toiling people had vermin on their persons, in their homes, and in the dust of their mud floors. Fleas jumped on me from those floors and nibbled joyfully. There are some people (my husband is one) whom insects are slow to attack. Others, like myself, seem to be an open invitation to come feast! Sitting close to a country woman, I was likely to carry away a louse. And when asked to spend a night in these homes, bedbugs walked out in regiments upon me, not to speak of the air force—flies and mosquitoes.

Their customs were different. They had no plumbing in their homes, so dogs acted as scavengers.... And the lack of privacy. I always had a room to myself at home and unconsciously was fond of being by myself—a student notion I suppose. To be thronged with people hour after hour exhausted me emotionally, and of course a woman cannot bathe  without some kind of privacy.  [47]  

My husband did not seem to mind these things; so I put it down to a different disposition. ... Brought up on strong German cheeses, he did not mind if the meat served us had spoiled. He rather liked a tangy flavor! And as for crowds, he loved them. ...

I had been well taught in the truth of identification with Christ. I knew that these daily irritations and disagreeable things were opportunities to die to the flesh and sin. I frantically reckoned myself dead (Rom. 6:11), still I was hindered. At a God- given impulse to put my arm around some poor old woman, the flesh would inwardly shriek, “Watch out! You’ll get a louse.” Everywhere selfishness and self-pity would raise their ugly heads. I knew now that the scum had risen to the surface, and only the Lord could take it away.

It was during my first term of service that Amy Carmichael’s books were sent to me. I was thrilled with them, recognized her high standards as Christ’s own, but was appalled at my own low level of living. In fact, her books discouraged me, for she never seemed to have any faults! This is the reason I am recording this chapter: to register the Lord’s patience and faithfulness to one who was not naturally heroic.  

Amy Carmichael said quite casually, “Everything personal had gone long ago”—meaning that the self- life was under her feet before she even began her work at Dohnavur [India].  She had terrific battles, but they were with Satan. the Lord’s own antagonist. Any thing so elementary as selfishness never seems to have troubled her. So I would get discouraged and put her books on the shelf saying, “You’re too high for me. I cannot attain that.” But they fascinated and lured me. Even when they were shelved, the sight of them would send a rapier-thrust into me: [48-49]

Let me not sink to be a clod; Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God!

That was really what I wanted too—I didn’t want to be a clod. I would fall on my knees and weep before the Lord, asking for His help. And never did He spurn me. He was firm in correcting me but always loving. 1 have never attained the place where one is beyond the temptations of self. But I want to testify to what God can do to change a human being, one that found she was indeed—scum.

I was delighted one day when He drew my attention to Galatians 2:8: “For he that wrought effectually in Peter . . . the same was mighty in me.” Paul is not discussing victory over self in this verse, but the Lord was when He pointed it out to me! Peter had lots of self-life to battle, and Paul was not entirely without his also. But He that wrought effectually in Peter was mighty also in me.

He had to first bring me to the place where I was so exercised in spirit over producing so little fruit for Him that nothing else mattered. Physical comforts did not matter if only souls could be born into His kingdom.   [49]

And He even tenderly showed me little ways to make it easier for the flesh....  Some of the changes He vrought in me are even funny. Here is one.

When we were first married we were invited one June day to dinner at a poor Christian’s home. The flies were innumerable, the hut as usual like junk shop, and through the open door came the odors of the nearby pigsty. Into such a setting brings nine hostess a dish of large chunks of boiled pork at! Not a bit of lean. My stomach turned over.

‘Oh, John,” I whispered, “do I have to eat this? I’ll vomit sure.”

With a gracious nodding smile of thanks to our hostess, John deliberately picked up a big white chunk and placed it in my rice bowl as if it were the dish delectable. At the same time he said in English, “When her back is turned, give it to the friend under the table.”

A mangy, mongrel dog (flea-laden for sure) had pressed up against my feet several times, so I knew whom he meant. I pushed some rice into my mouth, and at a moment when she was not looking, I tilted the chunk of fat below the table. A succulent licking of chops from below testified to the joy with which my offering was received!

But believe it or not, “He who was mighty in me” gradually gave me a real liking for pork fat—considered a choice dish among the Lisu as well as the country Chinese. It took time, of course, and cooler weather! But I found it a good lubricant for the dry rice and still drier steamed corn of Lisuland, and in time learned to welcome it eagerly! ... [50]

Across the will of nature Leads on the path of God.

But we do not need to fear. He does not desert us when our old Adam nature must be crossed. Some, like Amy Carmichael, get it under their feet early. Others, like myself, try His patience painfully, but that patience never gives way, and it never deserts. He that wrought effectually in Peter will be mighty also in you. ...  

And always He will relentlessly hold you to His highest. He wants your soul not only purged and clean, but with a bloom upon it. Oswald Chambers calls it the bloom of the touch of the Lord. He says: “The true character of the loveliness that tells for God is always unconscious...."[51-52]  

See also The Heavenly Man

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