James Fraser
Praying Missionary to
the Lisu (Chinese) People

"Can it be that a great work for God involving thousands of souls
devolves upon our prayer life-half a world away?"


James Outram Fraser (1886-1938) was a British Protestant Christian missionary to China with the China Inland Mission. He pioneered work among the Lisu people of Southwestern China in the early part of the 20th century

A few Journal Entries of James Fraser

January 1, 1916. Must watch against getting up too late these intensely cold mornings. The indwelling Christ is my successful weapon against all sin these days-praise Him!

Sunday, Jan. 2. An earnest desire to save souls is on me, but prayer is rather unstable. I must regain my equilibrium in the prayer life. I must maintain, also, my abiding in Christ, by prayer without ceasing (silent), which I am now finding blessedly possible. Romans 6 is not now my weapon so much as John 15.

Tuesday, Jan. 4. Finished Finney’s autobiography; much help received from it. Finney’s strong point is the using of means to an end. My own leading is not a little along that line also. I do not intend to be one of those who bemoan little results, while “resting in the faithfulness of God.” My cue is to take hold of the faithfulness of God and use the means necessary to secure big results.

Sunday, Jan. 16. Not a single person at service in the morning …. The walls of Jericho fell down “by faith.” Of all the instances of faith in Hebrews 11, this corresponds most nearly to my case. But not faith only was necessary; the wall fell down after it had been compassed about for seven days. Seven days’ patience was required, and diligent compassing of the city every day-which seems to typify encompassing the situation by regular, systematic prayer. Here then we see God’s way of success in our work, whatever it may be-a trinity of prayer, faith and patience.

Jan. 18. Prayer, today, rather on general than particular lines; patience the chief thought. Abraham was called out by God and went in blind faith. When he got to the land of promise, he found nothing but a famine-much like me with the Lisu, these two years. But Abraham, or his seed, later on possessed the milk and honey of the whole land. God’s time had come for Abraham but not for the Amorites. God’s time has come for me, but not perhaps, just this month or this year, for the Lisu.

Am impressed, too, that I do not yet know the channels which the grace of God is going to cut out among the people here. Hence general prayer has its place, until God’s plan is revealed a little more fully.

There have been a few souls who had professed Christ, but in temptation they had fallen back into the ways of their old life. Fraser was brought more and more to a keen realization of the forces arrayed against him, and also of his need for believers in the homeland who would cooperate with him in prayer.

Feb. 4. No meal till 2 p.m. Thoroughly depressed about state of work at Tantsah. Feel much inclined to “let Ephraim alone,” but I am torn between two alternatives, for I seem to have no leading to leave Tantsah. My prayer is not so much, “Lord lead me somewhere else,” as “Lord, give me a solid church here at Tantsah.”

Feb. 5. I am not taking the black, despondent view I took yesterday. The opposition will not be overcome by reasoning or by pleading, but (chiefly) by steady, persistent prayer. The men need not be dealt with (it is a heart-breaking job, trying to deal with a Lisu possessed by a spirit of fear) but the powers of darkness need to be fought. I am now setting my face like a flint: if the work seems to fail, then pray; if services, etc., fall flat, then pray still more; if months slip by with little or no result, then pray still more and get others to help you.

Mar. 13. Cloud seems to have lifted considerably-perhaps because prayer burden fought right through …. After much pressure, even agony, in prayer for Lisu souls, enabled to break through into liberty, and to pray the definite prayer of faith for signal blessing among the Lisu during the next few months …. Real, prevailing prayer, for the first time for a week or more, and well worth the travail that led up to it …. Much peace and rest of soul after making that definite prayer, and almost ecstatic joy to think of the Lisu Christian families I am going to get.

Aug. 27. The Cross is going to hurt-let it hurt! I am going to work hard and pray hard too, by God’s grace.

Some Quotations of James Fraser

On Prayer
His Burden in Prayer: "The first missionary to the Lisu people of the Upper Salween was going through a deep testing. It was not the privation, nor the loneliness of this isolated outpost, nor the rigors of scaling the steep mountain walls to find tribal settlements, nor even the difficulty of making himself at home with these utterly primitive folk-no, none of these things troubled him. But the lack of abiding fruit in the hearts of the Lisu people-this was his constant burden. "Give me Lisu converts," he cried from the heart, "and I can truly say I will be happy even in a pigsty."

On Intercessory Prayer:

"Can it be that a great work for God involving thousands of souls devolves upon our prayer life-half a world away?"

"I cannot insist too strongly on my own helplessness among these people apart from the grace of God. Although I have been now ten years in China and have had considerable experience with both Chinese and Lisu, I find myself able to do little or nothing apart from God’s going before me and working among men. Without this I feel like a man who has his boat grounded in shallow water. Pull or push as he may, he will not be able to make his boat move more than a few inches. But let the tide come in and lift his boat off the bottom-then he will be able to move it as far as he pleases, quite easily and without friction. It is indeed necessary for me to go around among our Lisu, preaching, teaching, exhorting, rebuking, but the amount of progress made thereby depends almost entirely on the state of the Spiritual Tide in the village-a condition which you can control upon your knees as well as I can. . . ."

On Resisting Satan

The Overcome magazine “showed me that deliverance from the power of the evil one comes through definite resistance on the ground of the Cross. I am an engineer and believe in things working. I want to see them work. I found that much of the spiritual teaching one hears does not seem to work. My apprehension at any rate of other aspects of truth had broken down. The passive side of leaving everything to the Lord Jesus as our life, while blessedly true, was not all that was needed just then. Definite resistance on the ground of the Cross was what brought me light. For I found that it worked. I felt like a man perishing of thirst, to whom some beautiful, clear cold water had begun to flow.

People will tell you after a helpful meeting perhaps, that such and such a truth is the secret of victory. No, we need different truths at different times. ‘Look to the Lord,’ some will say. ‘Resist the devil,’ is also Scripture (James 4:7). And I found it worked! The cloud of depression dispersed. I found that I could have victory in the spiritual realm whenever I wanted it. The Lord Himself resisted the devil vocally: ‘Get thee behind me, Satan!’ I, in humble dependence on Him, did the same. I talked to Satan at that time, using the promises of Scripture as weapons. And they worked. Right then, the terrible oppression began to pass away. One had to learn, gradually, however to use the new-found weapon of resistance. I had so much to learn! It seem as if God was saying: “You are crying to me to do a big work among the Lisu; I am wanting to do a big work in you yourself.’

Sometimes James Fraser found himself struggling with evil thoughts. At such a time he speaks of going “out of the city to a hidden gully on the hill-side, one of my prayer haunts, and there voiced my determined resistance to Satan in the matter. I claimed deliverance on the ground of my Redeemer’s victory on the Cross. I even shouted my resistance to Satan and all his thoughts. The obsession collapsed then and there, like a pack of cards, to return no more! James 4:7 is still in the Bible. Our Lord cried we are told ‘with a loud voice’ at the grave of Lazarus. He cried ‘with a loud voice’ from the Cross. In times of conflict I still find deliverance, through repeating Scripture out loud, appropriate Scripture, brought to my mind through the Holy Spirit. It is like crashing through opposition. ‘Resist the devil and he will flee from you.’

Prayer and Faith

Praying without faith is like trying to cut with a blunt knife-much labor expended to little purpose. For the work accomplished by labor in prayer depends on our faith: "According to your faith [not labor] be it unto you."

I have been impressed lately with the thought that people fail in praying the prayer of faith because they do not believe that God has already answered, but only that He will some time or other answer their petitions. This is not the faith that makes prayer effective. True faith glories in the present tense, and does not trouble itself about the future. God’s promises are in the present tense and are quite secure enough to set our hearts at rest. Their full outworking is often in the future, but God’s word is as good as His bond and we need have no anxiety. Sometimes He gives at once what we ask, but more often He just gives His promise (Mark 11:24). Perhaps He is more glorified in this latter case, for it means that our faith is tried and strengthened. I do earnestly covet a volume of prayer for my Lisu work-but oh! for a volume of faith too. Will you give this?

James Fraser and Prayer Solidarity

"I am an engineer and believe in things working. I want to see them work," Fraser used to say. And because he believed that prayer works-"If ye shall ask ... I will do" (John 14:14), and that God means it when He guarantees results from energy spent in prayer (James 5:16-18). Fraser determined to provide prayer material for more prayer supporters so that the volume of prayer rising for the Lisu work would constantly increase.

I know you will never fail me in the matter of intercession [he wrote to his mother], but will you think and pray about getting a group of like-minded friends, whether few or many, whether in one place or scattered, to join in the same petitions? If you could form a small prayer circle I would write regularly to the members. . . .

What a number of earnest, spiritually-minded Christians there are at home [Fraser wrote on his return to Tengyueh after an arduous survey trip] and how correspondingly rich are the prayer forces of the church! How I long for some of this wealth for myself and the Lisu here. I have had it in measure already, but I should very, very much like a wider circle of intercessors. Our work among the Lisu is not going to be a bed of roses, spiritually. I know enough about Satan to realize that he will have all his weapons ready for determined opposition. He would be a missionary simpleton who expected plain sailing in any work of God. I will not, by God’s grace, let anything deter me from going straight ahead in the path to which He leads, but I shall feel greatly strengthened if I know of a definite company of pray-ers holding me up. I am confident that the Lord is going to do a work, sooner or later, among the Lisu here.. . . .

[About three years later]: Knowing as I do the conditions of the work, its magnitude (potentially), its difficulties and the opposition it meets with, I have definitely resolved, with God’s help, to enlarge the place of my tent, to lengthen my prayer cords and strengthen my intercessory stakes, to make a forward movement with regard to the Prayer Circle. I am persuaded that the homeland is rich in godly, quiet, praying people, in every denomination. They may not be a great multitude as far as numbers are concerned, but they are "rich in faith," even if many of them be poor and of humble station. It is the prayers of such that I covet more than gold of Ophir-those good men and women who know what it is to have power with God and prevail. Will you help me, prayerfully and judiciously, to get some of these to join the circle? The work for which I am asking prayer is preaching and teaching the Word of God, pure and simple. I have no confidence in anything but the gospel of Calvary to uplift these needy people. . . .

[After the work had begun to show the shape of things to come]: The Lisu and Kachin converts would be easily able to support their own pastors, teachers and evangelists by well-advised cultivation of their own ample hillsides, and it is fitting that the mountains should bring forth supplies for the needs of those whose feet are beautiful upon them. But spiritually they are babes, and as dependent upon us as a child upon his mother. They are dependent on us out here for instruction, guidance, organization; but they are dependent on the home churches in England and America in a deeper sense, for spiritual life and power. I really believe that if every particle of prayer put up by the home churches on behalf of the infant churches of the mission field were removed, the latter would be swamped by an incoming flood of the powers of darkness. This seems actually to have happened in church history-churches losing all their power and life, becoming a mere empty name, or else flickering out altogether. Just as a plant may die for lack of watering, so may a genuine work of God die and rot for lack of prayer.

One might compare heathenism with a great mountain threatening to crush the infant church, or a great pool of stagnant water always threatening to quench the flames of Holy Ghost life and power in the native churches, and only kept dammed up by the power of God. God is able to do this and much more, but He will not do it, if all of us out here and you at home sit in our easy chairs with arms folded. Why prayer is so indispensable we cannot say, but we had better recognize the fact even if we cannot explain it. Do you believe that the church of God would be alive today but for the high priestly intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Throne? I do not: I believe it would have been dead and buried long ago. Viewing the Bible as a record of God’s work on this earth, I believe that it gives a clear, ringing message to His people-from Genesis to Revelation-you must do your part.

The church of Protestant countries is well able to nourish the infant church of the Orient by a steady and powerful volume of intercessory prayer. Applying this to the work among the Tengyueh tribes people, I feel I can say that you, and those God will yet call to join you in this prayer work, are well able to sustain the spiritual life of the Lisu and Kachin converts, as well as to increase their number many fold. It may be He has been preparing you for the unseen and spiritual parenthood of these infant Lisu converts here, however many thousand miles separate you from them.

I am not asking you just to give "help" in prayer as a sort of sideline, but I am trying to roll the main responsibility of this prayer warfare on you. I want you to take the burden of these people upon your shoulders. I want you to wrestle with God for them. I do not want so much to be a regimental commander in this matter as an intelligence officer. I shall feel more and more that a big responsibility rests upon me to keep you well informed. The Lord Jesus looks down from heaven and sees these poor, degraded, neglected tribes people. "The travail of His soul" was for them, too. He has waited long. Will you not do your part to bring in the day when He shall "be satisfied"? Anything must be done rather than let this prayer-service be dropped or even allowed to stagnate. We often speak of intercessory work as being of vital importance. I want to prove that I believe this in actual fact by giving my first and best energies to it, as God may lead. I feel like a businessman who perceives that a certain line of goods pays better than any other in his store, and who purposes making it his chief investment; who, in fact sees an inexhaustible supply and an almost unlimited demand for a profitable article and intends to go in for it more than for anything else. The demand is the lost state of these tens of thousands of Lisu and Kachin - their ignorance, their superstition, their sinfulness; their bodies, their minds, their souls; the supply is the grace of God to meet this need-to be brought down to them by the persevering prayers of a considerable company of God’s people. All I want to do is, as a kind of middleman, to bring the supply and the demand together.

On James Fraser's Method of Praying

It was his own daily contact with the "darkness that can be felt" in the battle for souls that led Fraser to share with his prayer constituency some thoughts on the heart attitude which leads to effective prayer.

I felt, even when praying alone, that there are two concerned in the prayer, God and myself .... I do not think that a petition which misses the mind of God will ever be answered (1 John 5:14). Personally, I feel the need of trusting Him to lead me in prayer as well as in other matters. I find it well to preface prayer not only by meditation but by the definite request that I may be directed into the channels of prayer to which the Holy Spirit is beckoning me. I also find it helpful to make a short list, like notes prepared for a sermon, before every season of prayer. The mind needs to be guided as well as the spirit attuned. I can thus get my thoughts in order, and having prepared my prayer can put the notes on the table or chair before me, kneel down and get to business. . . .

Always remember, "I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also" (1 Cor. 14:15). Let the spirit and the understanding work in about equal proportions. First, think over the needs, taking into account any consciousness of spirit-burden. Pray, tentatively, along that line, asking God continually to focus your prayers. If, after covering such ground in prayer, no "grip" comes anywhere, it is probably best to close down at once. Do not be in a hurry to do this, but don’t press on in the energy of the flesh. . . .

On Hannah's Prayer

I was very severely disappointed about the attitude of the Lisu of that district [near Tantsah] to the gospel. They received the Word with joy at first, as they so often do. Several announced that they were going to turn Christian, and one old man and his son seemed specially earnest. Then the spirit of fear seemed to possess them, and one by one they dropped off, until no one would take a stand at all. We had to leave them as heathen as I first found them. It was a very painful experience and seemed almost to stun me for a while. How much of our prayer is of the quality we find in Hannah’s "bitterness of soul," when she "prayed unto the Lord"? How many times have we ever "wept sore" before the Lord? We have prayed much, perhaps, but our longings have not been deep as compared with hers. We have spent much time upon our knees, it may be, without our hearts going out in an agony of desire. But real supplication is the child of heartfelt desire, and cannot prevail without it; a desire not of earth nor issuing from our own sinful hearts, but wrought into us by God Himself. Oh, for such desires! Oh, for Hannah’s earnestness, not in myself only but in all who are joining me in prayer for these poor heathen aborigines! And is there not sufficient reason for such earnestness? We have our Peninnahs as surely as ever Hannah had and as God’s saints have had all down the ages. David’s eyes ran down with rivers of water, because the ungodly observed not God’s law (Ps. 119:136). Jeremiah wept with bitter lamentation, because of the destruction of the holy city. Nehemiah fasted, mourned, and wept when he heard of the fresh calamities which had befallen Jerusalem. Our Lord wept before it, because of its hardness of heart. The Apostle Paul had "great sorrow and unceasing pain" in his heart on account of his brethren according to the flesh (Romans 9:2).

Yes, and we have our "sore provocations," or should have. How else ought we to feel when we see all the ungodliness and unbelief round us on every hand? Would a light-hearted apathy become us under such circumstances? No, indeed! And I want you, please, to join me - or, rather, share with me-in the "provocation" which is daily with me in my work among the Lisu. Let the terrible power of evil spirits among them be a provocation to you. Let their sinfulness, their fears, their pitiful weakness and instability be a provocation to you. Ask God to lay the burden upon you, and that heavily - that it may press you down upon your knees. My prayer for you is that God will work such sorrow within you that you will have no alternative but to pray. I want you to be "sore provoked" as I am. Such a state of mind and heart is only of avail, however, as it is turned into prayer. Desire, however deep, does nothing in itself, any more than steam pressure in a boiler is of use unless it is allowed to drive machinery. There is a spiritual law here. A strong spiritual desire does harm rather than good, if it is neglected. An earnest desire in spiritual things is a bell ringing for prayer. Not that we should wait for such desires. We should pray at all seasons, whether we are prayer-hungry or not. If we have a healthy prayer-appetite, so much the better. But if this appetite be unnoticed or unappeased, a dullness will come over us and we shall be weakened in spirit, just as lack of sufficient food weakens us in body. See, in 1 Sam. 1:15, the way in which Hannah dealt with her God-given desire. Her soul was bitter, and she "poured it out" before the Lord. Blessed bitterness! but it must be poured out.

James Fraser and the Prayer of Faith

In general prayer I am limited by my ignorance. But this kind of prayer is the duty of us all (1 Tim. 2:1, 2), however vague it has to be. I may know very little, in detail, about the object of my prayer, but I can at any rate commend it to God and leave it with Him. It is good and right to pray, vaguely, for all people, all lands, all things, at all times. But definite prayer is a very different matter. It is in a special sense "the prayer of faith." A definite request is made in definite faith for a definite answer. (Read the rest of Fraser's thoughts on the prayer of faith)