James O Fraser: A life given over to God’s work
Some two months ago, on Easter early morning, I met a group of enthusiastic young believers conducting a Sunrise service in Lower Seletar Reservoir. They were from Mynamar (formerly called Burma). They reminded me of James O. Fraser, missionary to the Lisu tribe in the Burma/Yunnan border.
“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground, and dies, it remains a single seed. But when it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24)
Young Fraser took Jesus’ words seriously and applied to his young life. At age 21, after a science degree in London university, he obeyed the inward call “follow me” into the most remote parts of China: Yunnan/Burma border, where he laboured among the despised, neglected tribes and then after that some years in Gansu.
Fraser once put his calling this way:
“On the human side, evangelistic work on the mission field is like a man going about in a dark, damp valley with a lighted match in his hand, seeking to ignite anything ignitable…here a shrub, there a tree, here a few sticks, there a heap of leaves take fire and give light and warmth long after the kindling match and its bearer have passed on.
And this is what God wants to see.. little patches of fire burning all over the world.”
Fraser wrote this about a hundred years ago. Many had since started little fires, here and there, all over the world. Fraser died at the age of 52, his body laid to rest among the hills by his beloved Lisu people in Lisuland.
King Hezekiah: A life that began well too
He was a model of Godly kingship mobilizing his people to resist enemies from without (e.g. from Assyrian King Sennacherab) and rooting out idolatry within, all in total dependence on God: “When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth.” “Hezekiah received the letter (from the Assyrian King) before the Lord… and prayed to God” (2 Kings 19:1;14-15)
Then while still relatively young, Hezekiah was struck down with an incurable illness. Fraser might have begged for more years but also recognized the Sovereign God’s will and purpose in him (Psalm 57:2). Hezekiah when dying, wept bitterly and prayed: “Remember, O Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” He begged for an additional 15 years and God granted his wish.
Our hearts too agonize and empathize with a godly person whose years are somehow cut short while evil ones seem to prosper. (Job 21:7-15) But the additional 15 years were neither good nor godly years, rather faltering and regrettable ones for Hezekiah. For one thing, Hezekiah became foolish. For example, when receiving the Babylonian ambassadors, he showed off all his treasures and even his country’s defence:
“There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them” (2 Kings 20:13)
Secondly, his son and successor, the ungodly Manasseh was born during this period and “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites” (2 Kings 21:1-2)
In short, Manasseh restored all the idolatry his father had tried so hard to eliminate.
What are we doing with our allotted years, be they long or short? Are we igniting little fires here and there giving light and warmth even after when we are gone?
For some of us, Don Carson’s comments are thought provoking: “… Far better to die young after genuine godly achievements than to die old and embittered, passing, poisoning your own heritage.”
May we all finish well, eagerly awaiting the “well done my good and faithful servant” award from our Lord Jesus Himself.
By Dr Leong Chee Lu (YCKC Bulletin 28&29 May 2016)