Published by

CIM - 1947

Moody - 1964


Out of print but used books are available.

Nests Above the Abyss

by Isobel Kuhn, 1947

    This short chapter shows us the difficult life of the Lisu people living in their precarious "nests" in the steep mountains that separate northern Burma from eastern China. (On the map below, you can see the Salween river flowing south from Tibet. It actually winds around the mountainous terrain on the China side of that border.)

    Apart from Christ, these precious people had no hope, few comforts, and much fear. Disease, death and demons are three of their terrifying foes. But in Christ, multitudes found a refuge!

He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life with the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand.








Chapter 1

"SATAN HAS A STRONGHOLD—isolated and unchallenged for centuries—a great mountain canyon in West China. Its river takes its source in Tibet and its banks rise to the height of eleven to fifteen thousand feet. The tiers of mountain peaks, flung around chaotically on either side as far as the eye can see, are separated from each other by deep ravines and abysmal chasms.

"Impossible as it may seem, this canyon is inhabited by human beings, for everywhere you look the canyon sides are checked like a patchwork quilt with little hamlets and villages, and these almost perpendicular mountainsides are cut up into little squares or oblongs of farmed lands. Human homes, human nests, have been built on little knolls or jutting ridges that offer a scarce foothold—even over a dizzy drop down the bank. You may see them in such precarious positions that you almost hold your breath lest, even as you watch, they slide over the edge and disappear.

"Anyone coming to this canyon must prepare to live perpendicularly as long as he stays; he must prepare to sweat and toil up and down steep mountain trails; he must prepare to live isolated from the rest of the world, from civilization with its medical, intellectual, and social comforts; he must prepare to have nature laugh at the feeble speck he is.... Surely this canyon is Satan’s place of defense; here we will find his munition of rocks.

"Are the Lisu tribespeople, who have built their nest-homes all over these mighty rocks where Satan reigns, enjoying the peace and happiness of living 'the natural life'? (For some have said, '[They] are happy; why disturb them?')

"Yes, they are just as happy and peaceful as fledglings in a nest built on a ledge of jutting rock over one of these mountain abysses, when the monsoon winds sweep like a hurricane through the canyon, and pine trees hundreds of feet tall are uprooted and hurled down into space as easily as a child knocks down a twig in his sand pile. What chance has a little nest against such a strength?

"That wind is one of the munitions of rocks, and, as it hurls itself against the little dove’s nest, with the dark gulf yawning beneath, what are the feelings of the poor little nestlings as they cling to the straw and sticks? They are a picture of the so-called 'happy heathen' when one of the sharp winds of life strikes him. These winds hit from many directions.

"There is the wind of physical nature. In the rainy season, when the soil is softened by constant drenching, an animal higher up may dislodge a boulder with his foot; that boulder is hurled down into the ravine, and woe betide all living things in its path! I had pointed out to me one such that had killed a woman standing in her doorway and had smashed her shanty home.

"A Lisu Christian had been sleeping alone in a hut in his cornfield when, some time before dawn, a rock as large as a dining table (they said) got loosened from the heights above and crashed down. It hit his hut, struck the end of his bed, and bed and occupant were shot out the door and a hundred feet down the mountainside...

"Another young man, going out early to plow after a heavy rainfall, was struck by another such rock and cut in two at the waist. His oxen ran home frightened at the sight of his mangled corpse.

"Abyss of physical destruction! When will the sharp wind not only do landslides terrify the little nest, but earthquakes come just as unannounced. In May, 1941 we were eating the midday meal in a Lisu shanty, when suddenly the shanty shook violently, and we heard a great roar....

"No airplane was visible, but before us lay a sight such as I had never seen in all my life. The whole opposite mountain range seemed to be belching smoke and clouds of dust everywhere. My first thought was that it had turned into a hundred-headed volcano. Then, however,
I noticed that the fires were probably caused by the friction of the earthquake. Soon the whole opposite mountain range was hidden by a barrage of smoke and dust. It was a literal picture of Psalm 104:32: “He looks on the earth, and it trembles: he touches the hills, and they smoke.”

"It did not clear until the next morning, for through the afternoon and long into the night again and again we heard the ominous roar of land sliding. Later we learned the sad details of much of that terror. Just one will illustrate. Forty Lisu were planting corn on a perpendicular field. The survivors said that all the intimation of danger they heard was when the earth shook; they heard a roar, looked up and saw the top of the mountain descending on them! When the dust and shock were over, of the forty persons only seventeen were to be found, but none of those lost was a Christian.

"Poor little nests—swept in one appalling moment into an eternity without Christ. What an awful, awful gulf!

"Sharp winds from a bitter height! There is the wind of merciless heathendom. In 1938, just thirty or forty miles to the south of us, a young girl killed her husband and eloped with her lover. According to Chinese custom, she had been married (I suppose) against her own will, and when her true love came she eloped with him. They were caught and she was punished by being skinned alive. The Lisu who told me said that when they had skinned her to the waist she was still alive. They could see her heart beating. She was only eighteen years old. Poor little wind-torn nest! What a horrible abyss that is!

"Contrast with that this other little nest, hit by the very same wind. Going out along Sunset Trail one evening, I met a fellow villager climbing up laboriously. She was carrying a babe tied in a sling in front of her bosom so that it could nurse easily. On the mother’s back was a tall basket full of corn on the cob. The basket was so tall that it towered above her head. As she saw me descending, she rested her load against the hillside and her face lit up with a smile.

“Ma-Ma,” she said softly, calling me by my Lisu name. “S—!” I replied, greeting her by name. I was deeply moved and said, “How do you come to be carrying such a load? Don’t you know that your body is not back to normal yet? ...  Where is your husband?”

“Oh, he’s at home. But Ma-Ma, you know him. He never does any work—just lives for the opium pipe. There was no food in the house, and the little ones were hungry, so my mother gave me this load, but I have to carry it myself from Pine Mountain.” (five miles away.)

"I was very indignant, for her husband is a big husky young fellow. “How did you ever come to marry such a man?” I asked.

“'Why Ma-Ma, it was arranged for me. You know our old heathen custom.' She went on to tell me of the disappointment to find that the husband chosen for her ... was an opium smoker, a thief....

"Yet in the telling of this her face was not bitter. There was a sweet peace upon it. As we parted she again thanked the Lord for meeting me and said, 'Ma-Ma, take some corn out of my basket; they taste good roasted by the fire. I’d like to give some to you!'

But I could no more accept that corn on the cob than David could drink of the water from the well of Bethlehem. As I left her I thanked my
Lord that He can bring an inward peace that passeth understanding, that though the body is suffering, the spirit may dwell with Him in Heaven.

"This little nest had found the Cleft of the Rock hewn out for her, and when the sharp winds blowing upon her were too awful to bear, she could find peace in that Cleft."

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
A wonderful Savior to me;
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
Where rivers of pleasure I see.

He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life with the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.

The melody:

"When a really dreaded disease like smallpox comes, they often desert their sick and flee into the, fields. The needless sufferings of the sick are indeed a raw wind. This very thing is one reason why they vie with one another to have the white man establish his home in their villages, for he brings his medicine and 'unthinkable'ways of easing pain. Who can dare say, 'The heathen are happy; leave them alone'?'. ..

"Until the missionary came and reduced their language to writing they had no books and could not of course not write letters..."  (Pages 9-14)

See also In the Arena

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