Belle the Beloved: Living Legend of the Lisu

Belle the Beloved: Living Legend of the Lisu

In March of 1901, a tiny girl-child was born to a Presbyterian lay preacher and his wife in Toronto, Canada. Her grandfather had been an ordained Presbyterian minister. Even so, with all of these generations of good models and devout home life, Belle did not know Jesus personally. She entered college, and her professor sneered at her belief in God and the Bible, proclaiming that no enlightened person still believed in those old myths! Belle then turned from her family’s faith and became a self-proclaimed agnostic.

Belle was pretty, vivacious, and popular. Her “good” life made others think she was a Christian, even when she said she was not so at this time. In fact, she found herself in the “misty flats,” as she called them, "The in-between place... where men walk in the mist telling each other that no one can see these things clearly... life has no end but amusement and no purpose. It was a popular thing to be on the misty flats, for you had plenty of company."

Belle soon experienced a bitter heartbreak when she found that the man to whom she had become engaged was not only unfaithful to her, but informed her that she should expect the same treatment after marriage. Belle considered committing suicide, wild with grief. Her only hesitation was that she did not wish to hurt her parents. Up in her dorm room one night she turned to her books and read Dante, who said, “In His will is our peace.” Considering this thought, Belle sat down on her bed, realizing that she was not in God's will and that she had no peace. At her rope's end, she raised her arms to God and asked for Him, if He were truly real, to reveal Himself to her. If He gave her peace, she pledged, she would give her whole life to Him. This began a process of turning in Belle’s life.

In May of 1922, Belle graduated with honors from the University of British Columbia with a major in literature. She began attending summer missions conferences in Bellingham, Washington, and soon enrolled at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. While studying at Moody, Belle’s heart was captured by the Tibeto-Burman Lisu people on the border of Myanmar. She graduated valedictorian in December of 1926, about the time she met her future husband, John Becker Kuhn, who had been called to missions in China. Three years later, Belle and John married in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, where they had both been appointed and sent by the China Inland Mission.

For the first five years, John and Belle served together in several locations. From 1934 until 1950, they lived with and ministered to the Lisu in Yunnan. Belle and John had a daughter and a son. At the end of their lives, with China closed to them, they moved to northern Thailand, where they continued to serve among the Lisu people there. Belle was diagnosed with cancer in 1954 and died on March 20, 1957, with her husband at her side in Wheaton. Her funeral was held at Wheaton College Church.

During the next half-century, in the Salween River valley where the Lisu people live in China, Christianity thrived. Of the 18,000 Lisu who lived in Fugong, Yunnan in 1950, more than 3,400 professed Christ as Lord. In 2007, 80-90% of the 70,000 population made the same profession. In the Yunnan Province, it is estimated that more than 200,000 believers follow Christ today.

This strong Christian presence may be attributed, at least in part, to Belle Kuhn and her idea to start what she called the "Rainy Season Bible Schools." During each year, the rain poured in sheets for weeks at a time. Belle would gather the children and their working parents into the communal halls and preach the historic gospel of Jesus Christ, and teach the basics of the Christian faith. From these classes children grew to become mature believers, and countless men and women were called to become evangelists and pastors. The Christian message was spread to nationals and travelers throughout China.

Kuhn's autobiographical missionary writings are still in print more than fifty years after they were first published. Here is a glimpse into the heart and mind of this dedicated woman of God who took her heartache to God and found both earthly and eternal peace for herself and gave her life offering that same glorious peace to others.

Quotes by Belle Kuhn:

“I believe that in each generation God has called enough men and women to evangelize all the yet unreached tribes of the earth. It is not God who does not call. It is mankind who will not respond!”

“We need to look resolutely away from the impossibilities and to the Lord. His help will come.”

“Part of the heartache of all missionary work is the bright promising convert who turns out to be a mere puffball, crumbling like a macaroon under the least pressure.”

“Did you think that the missionary path was all glory? Than you have not read of God's greatest Messenger to earth, who sat and wept over Jerusalem, crying out, ʻI would... but ye would not.ʼ”

“When I get to Heaven they aren't going to see much of me but my heels, for I'll be hanging over the golden wall keeping an eye on the Lisu Church!”
-Karen O’Dell Bullock
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