The fascinating memoir of James Liu, Chinese Christian leader and educator

In 1990, James Liu shared his faith story during worship services at the 12th Mennonite World Conference in Winnipeg, Canada. — MC USA Archives

One of the interesting treasures in the MC USA Historical Archives is the 60-page, typed memoir of Chinese Christian leader and educator James (Chung-Fu) Liu, June 19, 1904-Oct. 13,1991. The memoir, part of the Mennonite World Conference collection, details Liu’s experiences, including his childhood in China, his imprisonment during the Cultural Revolution and his time in North America.

Liu was born in the city of Puyang (formerly Kai Chow) in Henan (Honan) Province, China. His Buddhist parents converted to Christianity at the General Conference Mennonite Church mission station. His education began in a Confucian school and continued in the Mennonite mission school.

Some of his relatives feared the missionaries. “Therefore, I was quite scared and [quit] catechism class,” he wrote. Later, he realized there was nothing to fear and was baptized at the age of 16.

Liu attended Yenching University, before moving to the United States, where he studied at Bluffton College (now Bluffton University) in Ohio, graduated from Bethel College in Kansas, and attended the Iliff School of Theology.

He returned to China in 1932 during the Great Depression. “I decided to promote the friendship between the people of the States and the Chinese people,” he wrote.

In China, Liu served as principal of the Mennonite mission high school at Kai Chow until the spring of 1946, when, during the Chinese Civil War, he, his wife, Hazel, and young son, Timothy, fled in fear. “During the night, the Lord said to me, ‘Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward lies ahead.’ (Philippians 3:13) I heard it very plainly.”

James and Hazel worked with Mennonite Central Committee for six years, during which time they helped to manage the Hengyang Orphanage, caring for 250 children. Liu then taught in a government school but, during the Cultural Revolution, he was imprisoned for three years and tortured.

“One day, some Red Guards [made] me kneel on a bench, and they threw snowballs [at] my face. My eyes hurt very severely. It took a month to get healed,” he wrote, describing one painful incident. He and his family were also forced to burn their Bibles, for which they prayed for forgiveness. “We felt very bad about it,” he wrote.

At age 82, Liu with his son, Timothy, revisited his hometown and then traveled to the United States and Canada as a guest of Mennonite friends.

“The culture between Chinese and American peoples may be different, but we all belong to one family, that is the family of God . . .  No matter what your nationality or denomination is, it does not make any difference to God,” he wrote.

To read Liu’s memoir, visit the MC USA Historical Archives in Elkhart, Indiana, or contact the MC USA Historical Archives for a PDF.  Further information on James Liu’s life can be found in the James Liu and Stephen Wang Collection at the Mennonite Library and Archives in North Newton, Kansas, or in the book Christians True in China.

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