Obituary: Leslie Lyall

On 1 October 1949, Chairman Mao Tse-tung proclaimed the People's Republic of China from the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen Square), in Peking. An onslaught began against the Christian Church in China. All foreign missionaries were regarded as agents of imperialist powers, and one of the very last to be expelled in March 1951 was Leslie Lyall.

As with his contemporaries Eric Liddell and Gladys Aylward, Lyall's true contribution to the history of the Chinese Church can only be measured by his influence on individual lives. For Lyall, that influence was mutual, for he himself was profoundly inspired by the teachings of the leaders of the Christian church in China, like Yang Shao-T'ang and Nee Duo-Sheng, above all by their prophetic warning in the 1930s that the way of spiritual maturity inevitably lies through suffering. Working alongside such figures, he will be remembered as one of those who prepared the Chinese churches to survive the terrible events that lay ahead - a "fiery ordeal" that put Chinese Christianity closer to the world of the New Testament.

Leslie Lyall was born in Chester in 1905, the son of a Scottish evangelist. He spent his early years travelling to India, America, and Australia in a whirlwind of revivalist meetings, breathing an atmosphere of dramatic conversions, crises, remarkable answers to prayer. But, by the time he was five, his father was dead and he was separated from his mother for many months. It was a severe trauma, and his life was to be marked by depression as well as extraordinary faith, and the constant anguish of separations as well as a pioneering courage.

His mother married again - to Arthur Watts, the founder of Kingsmead School, Hoylake. The school became like a base-camp to Lyall for at least half a century. From Kingsmead, he went on to St Lawrence College, Ramsgate, and then to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he led the Christian Union with J.B. Phillips, who was later famous for his paraphrase of the New Testament. In 1928, Lyall played a vital role in establishing the Inter- Varsity Fellowship (now UCCF), which had a powerful effect on Christianity in the universities and colleges of Britain.

In 1929, the China Inland Mission, founded more than 60 years earlier by Hudson Taylor, appealed for 200 new workers, and Lyall answered the call. He arrived in a China that was riven by civil war. The forces of Chiang Kai-shek were pitted against the Communist armies of Chou En-lai and Mao Tse-tung. It was in this increasingly unstable environment that he lived and worked for more than 20 years.

After a brief spell teaching missionary children at Cheefoo, he was sent to the Shansi province. During this period, he met Kathleen Judd, granddaughter of one of Hudson Taylor's closest colleagues. Her love, shrewdness and insight into people was second only to his faith in God as the source of his strength. One example of this combined courage was Lyall's reaction to hearing that the invading Japanese had commandeered a chapel and turned it into a brothel with Korean prostitutes. After praying with his wife, Lyall cycled out and demanded to see the commanding officer. With the help of an interpreter, he protested so forcefully that the officer reassured him that the chapel would be returned immediately.

Leslie Lyall always kept hope alive even when circumstances were extremely adverse, and in spite of his own temperament, which tended towards pessimism. When the Communist forces crossed the Yellow River, threatening the Japanese forces around Manchuria and Peking, it looked as if further work would become impossible. He had already faced the near-death of his first daughter from disease, and the birth of his second had taken place with bombs exploding all around and shrapnel littering the floor. Now he wrote: "For a few days I was in the depth of despondency. And yet, faced with possible evacuation, we were still planting seeds in the Kiangchow garden and the spring blossoms were in bloom. Somehow, there was a strong hope."

The Second World War years were spent in the town of Anshun, centre of the opium trade. Spiralling inflation saw them selling carpets, Lyall's dressing-gown, anything to make ends meet. But the little church there grew steadily until the enforced evacuation of all missionaries by the British authorities.

By 1947 the Lyalls were back, working in both Peking and Shanghai. The days of Christian missions were already numbered and many Westerners had already fled, but, as the chaos increased, Kathie ran a soup kitchen for student refugees from their home and Leslie often preached to huge crowds of them in the Temple of Heaven. The Lyalls were expelled finally in 1951. The student movement dispersed and went underground.

Lyall wrote many books about the Church in China. The titles of these works - Come Wind, Come Weather (1960), Urgent Harvest (1963), A Passion for the Impossible (1965) - spoke of his own intense yearnings and prayers for the Chinese brothers and sisters who had welcomed him into their own families. He never forgot them.

In the province of Shansi, he had sowed seeds in his Kiangchow garden at a time of apparent hopelessness. Forty years later, he began to receive news from China. In the Wenchow province alone, he heard that out of 400,000 in the prefecture, there were 50,000 Christians - a proportion of 1 in 8. There were about 500 meeting-places. By 1981, he heard of one area where 90 per cent of the people were Christians. In his last years friends brought news that many of his students were now elders leading the churches.

Murray Watts

Leslie Lyall, missionary and writer: born Chester 14 November 1905; married 1936 Kathleen Judd (one son, three daughters); died Pembury, Kent 14 February 1996.

News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
art

The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs

News
people
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Mentor for people who have offended

This is an unpaid volunteer role. : Belong: We are looking for volunteers who ...

Business StudiesTeacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Supply Business Studies Teacher...

English Teacher

£110 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: English Teacher - CaerphillyT...

Cover Supervisor, Folkestone School - full time and part time

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: We have urgent and multiple vaca...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?