Isobel Selina Miller Kuhn was born on December 17, 1901, in Toronto, Canada, to a Presbyterian
home, where her father was a lay-preacher and her grandfather a Presbyterian minister.
Yet when her English professor at University of British Columbia sneered at her faith she quickly became agnostic, to avoid the shame of Christ. However, she was distressed to find that the man she planned to marry was not only cheating on her but intended to do so once they were wed. This led her to thoughts of suicide, but also to reaching out to God. She found peace through prayer and thus began a slow journey into a dynamic faith.
In the summer of 1924 she met a missionary conference speaker who became her mentor and friend, James O Fraser. Thus Isobel ended up at Moody Bible Institute, where she met her future husband, John Kuhn, and from there she went to China.
For 27 years she worked in Asia with the China Inland Mission. Her experiences are told in a series of eight best-selling autobiographical volumes.
By Searching tells of her early life in Canada, the clash with the English professor during her university days, her studies at Moody Bible Institute, and subsequent application to C.I.M. And their rejection of her application: “You are proud, disobedient and likely to be a trouble-maker” (page 98).
But the book concludes with her sailing for China, on 11 October, 1928.
China Inland Mission is a mission organisation set up by English missionary Hudson Taylor on 25 June 1865 in Brighton, while he was on leave from his own exploits in China. Isobel worked among the Lisu people of Yunnan Province, China.
Her second volume, Vistas, takes up the story of her missionary adventures, her marriage on 4 November, 1929, to John Kuhn (an “irresistible force collides with an immovable object” is how she described it!) More than once she “put on her hat and coat” and walked out on him! But she always came back.
“Without God’s help,” wrote her biographer, “most marriages would not have endured the shattering experiences she and John shared” (One Vision Only, by C. Canfield. Vistas, by I. Kuhn is included in this volume).
Isobel made a significant impact in China, especially through her innovative “Rainy Season Bible School”, which taught the locals who were inactive during the wet season. From these classes evangelists were raised up who took the gospel across China. Of the 18,000 Lisu who lived in Fugong in 1950 – 3,400 professed faith in Christ. As of 2007, there are estimated to be 80-90 percent of the 70,000 making the same profession.
Forced to leave China around 1950 due to “violent guerrilla warfare”, the Kuhns continued their missionary work in Thailand. The story is told in Ascent to the Tribes.
But in 1955 Isobel was flown home to the United States, where she died of cancer in March, 1957.
This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com