Isobel Miller Kuhn was born on December 17, 1901 in Toronto, Canada. Her full name is Isobel Selina Miller Kuhn. She is also known as Belle. She was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and moved with her family to Vancouver, British Columbia, when she was eleven years old.Her father was a roentgenologist and a Presbyterian lay preacher at a rescue mission and her mother was president of the Women's Missionary Society in the Canadian Presbyterian church for many years.
Later she went to the University of British Columbia. After graduating from the University of British Columbia in 1922, she spent a year teaching school while living at a boarding house in Vancouver, British Columbia. During that time, she also attended a night class at the Vancouver Bible School and formed the habit of daily Bible reading. Gradually, she had come to trust in God’s faithfulness and his willingness to answer her prayers. Isobel’s heart was moved as she listened to J.O. Fraser’s plea for workers to come and share the gospel with the Lisu people of China.
Her sense of sharing the love of Christ to the women of China came while reading the second volume of the biography of Hudson Taylor, Growth of a Work of God. Isobel’s growing sense that God wanted her to go to China to serve under Mr. Fraser with the Lisu only deepened when he stayed for a few days in their home, invited by her father. Her mother, however, could not abide the thought of her daughter becoming a missionary.
The CIM required two years of Bible school before going overseas, but Isobel did not have the funds to attend Moody Bible Institute, which she and Fraser thought would be the best place for her. Then, one of her best friends, who had saved all her money to go to Moody, found she could not become a missionary, so she offered to pay for Isobel’s training.
Her mother’s refusal to allow her to attend Moody remained an obstacle, however, until they learned that a young man whom her mother had wanted her to marry announced that he would be entering Moody that year, so she granted permission for Isobel to attend also. As it turned out, the man later changed his plans, but Isobel was already a student at MBI.
At Moody, she met a young man name John Kuhn. Their friendship grew into a deep love as they spent time together in prayer with other students committed to foreign missions and on double-dates with good friends. Still, she wasn’t sure John was the one God wanted her to marry, so she did not commit herself to him. He sailed for China in October 1926, while Isobel was still studying at Moody.
After graduating from Moody Bible Institute, Isobel went to Toronto for the CIM missionary training school. Finishing her training there, all she had to do was meet the CIM Council and be accepted by them for deployment to China. She was totally surprised when a Council member told her that one recommendation letter had described her as “proud, disobedient, and resentful,” and that they could only accept her conditionally, pending her growth in Christian character
Meanwhile, she inadvertently learned that the writer of that recommendation letter was a former teacher of hers who had asked her to spy on the other students. Isobel had refused, and this letter was the teacher’s revenge. Still, she was urged by a friend to take the letter seriously, and to ask God to cause her to grow in humility, charity, and submissiveness to his will.
Correspondence between her and John kept crossing the Pacific, until one day his letter contained a proposal of marriage. Now they prayed that he would be assigned to Yunnan, the province where Isobel was convinced God wanted her to serve among the Lisu. When his designation was changed from Gansu to Yunnan, they believed even more fully that they were meant to live and work together as missionaries.
Arriving in China, she spent the first year devoting herself to language study in Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan. John was stationed not far away in Chengchiang. They waited the year that the CIM required before new workers could marry, and then on November 14, 1929 got married. Immediately, they moved to Chengchiang, where John had found a little place for them to live..
She discovered that the women were covered with bedbugs, fleas, and lice, and she shrunk from them. She had to pray, “Lord, make these souls more important to me than anything else.” After some time, she found that she could forget the bugs and love the women.
Near the end of their first year in Tali, Isobel discovered that she was pregnant. Kathryn Alice-Ann Kuhn was born April 10, 1931; Isobel nicknamed her Rynna.
Isobel wondered why God still had not sent them to serve among the Lisu, who so desperately needed missionaries. Then they learned that Isobel was going to have another baby and realized that they couldn’t have gone to Lisu land with a new infant.
Not long afterwards, while John was away preaching, there was a flood, and Isobel had to help move some heavy trunks up to the second floor. The next day she began to feel pain in her abdomen; a few days later, she suffered a miscarriage. When John returned, he could only try to comfort her by saying that God must have something better in store for them.
In 1950, during the communist takeover of China, Belle and her family were forced to flee over the snowy mountainous pass into Burma. At the time of their escape, 16 years after the Kuhn’s began working among the Lisu, 3,400 of the 18,000 Lisu were believers and 7 other tribes had been evangelized directly by Lisu missionaries. Today, there are 200,000 Lisu Christians- part of the legacy left by Isobel and other missionaries laboring among the Lisu.
After leaving China at the age of 50, Isobel had a decision to make, whether or not to continue to work among the Lisu that were living in Northern Thailand. As she wrestled with the decision, she cried out “Lord, I’m tired! I’m 50. In the past 20 years I’ve seen wars, I’ve been separate for months and even years from my husband and children, I’ve been sick to the point of death. Going to Thailand would mean learning a new language and a new place and a new culture. I want to sit in a rocking chair on a porch somewhere and rest!”
She felt the Lord gently respond, “Belle, do you really choose ease?” That was enough to get Isobel back to the Lisu, where she labored the rest of her life.
Isobel’s life is a reminder that God has proven Himself sufficient for those who have gone before us in reaching the nations with the Gospel of Christ. Isobel was used by the Lord not because she was flawless or better trained or less apt to selfishness, but because she considered Him worthy of her life and responded in precious obedience.
“I need men. Consecrated men, men willing to live a lonely life willing to suffer and do without the comforts of civilization.”
Belle later died on March 20, 1957 in Wheaton, IL. In here lifetime she was an amazing missionary, wrote 12 books and won some awards for her work. She had 2 kids and married a wonderful husband.