I came across the following extract by Dan Henrich recently about the Morse Family who have been operating as missionaries for 4 generations in the Burma-Tibet Region since the 1920’s. It is well worth the effort of reading and it teaches us in the Western Church so much about the salvation we so often take for granted.
“Russell Morse talked of being a missionary since boyhood days. The teachings of Scripture and the prayers of his mother were a great and mighty influence on his life.
“Tonight I am curled up in a Pullman upper berth, in the train which at 11:45 will bear us away to Vancouver, from where we leave for Tibet. There is a strange feeling of solemnity and yearning. Satan tries us so, and there are so many new and strange problems. But there is the blessed comfort in Christ’s promise, “Go ye…and I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” – J.Russell Morse, 1921.
In 1920, Russell and Gertrude Morse committed their lives to serve as missionaries to Tibet. A year later, they had completed their preparations and on August 13, 1921, they set sail for China as new recruits of Dr. Albert Shelton. Landing in Vietnam, they boarded a train for Kunming, China. From there they joined a mule caravan for the final leg of the journey. On December 23, they arrived at their new home and mission station in Batang, a remote border town straddling the Yangtze River on the Tibetan border. Six months after they arrived on the field, Dr. Shelton was accidentally killed by Tibetan bandits and died in Russell’s arms. Stuck on the roof of the world with little experience they could do nothing but put their trust in God and continue their work with the Tibetans and Chinese.
This marked the beginning of a lifelong ministry in pioneer missionary work for the Morse family. China at the time was experiencing much political turmoil. In 1927 Russell, Gertrude and others were ordered by the US Consul to leave China because of the danger for foreigners. The usual travel routes were blocked by fighting, however, so the Morse family had to walk 70 days through trackless jungles, flooded rivers, and over the 10,000-12,000-foot high mountain passes of northern Burma, down into Myitkyina. During their gruelling trek, they encountered numerous new and different people groups and were able to see firsthand the territory which would eventually encompass their life’s work and ministry for God.
During the period of 1942 to 1945, the whole family found themselves in the unique position of being able to serve their country while at the same time continuing in missionary work. Because of their knowledge of the people, languages and geography of the “Hump” area, the Morse men were summoned by the Allied armed forces. They walked 21 days through the jungles to Fort Hertz, later known as Putao. Their assignment was to organize and supervise ground search and rescue operations for crews of downed aircraft flying over that area.
The search and rescue efforts indirectly contributed to the expansion of the church. Since many of the native search and rescue teams consisted of Christians, they naturally carried the gospel with them as they fanned out over the mountains in search of surviving pilots. They came into increasing contact with new people groups such as the Rawang tribe of northern Burma who would later become a major force, along with the Lisu, in cross-cultural evangelism and church planting.
At the end of the war, they received commendations from General Arnold, General George and General Stratemeyer. And in February 10, 1987, at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, J. Russell Morse, Eugene R. Morse, and Robert H. Morse were each awarded the Bronze Star Medal by the U.S. Air Force for outstanding service during World War II.
In December, 1946, after an absence of nine and a half years from the U.S, the Morses returned for a much-needed furlough. Both Eugene and Robert married in 1948, and took their brides, Helen Meyers and Betty Meriwether, with them to China in early 1949. The Communist takeover of China in late 1949 was a major disruption for all Christian work. The mission had to evacuate all personnel from their stations. The Morses, along with thousands of Lisu Christians and tens of thousands of non-Christian Lisu, were forced to flee to North Burma and settle in the Putao plains. This was a large valley which previously was almost completely unpopulated due to the high incidence of deadly malaria. The refugees, with the permission of the government and the help of the missionary families, worked hard to develop this valley and transform it into their new home.
In the late 1950’s and 60’s, the local churches began sending out their own people as missionaries to reach new tribes. The unity among the Christians which made all these things possible was a source of wonder and amazement to non-Christian government officials, as well as nearby non-Christian tribal neighbors. Outside of Christ this unity would have been impossible.
Between the years of 1965 to 1972, the Morse family was again forced to pull up stakes and move out of its field of ministry. This time, the marching orders came from the Burmese military dictatorship. The family was ordered to leave the country by midnight December 31, 1965. When it became apparent that they were not going to be able to meet the deadline, the group made the decision to walk out overland to India. Permission to cross the border into India was refused, and the resulting six-year stay in the jungle is described in detail in the book, Exodus to a Hidden Valley, by Eugene R. Morse.
This began a six year jungle wilderness experience as the Morse family became completely cut off from the outside world. Hidden Valley was an area that was previously uninhabited and unexplored except by hunters. It was an area of northern Burma that was un-demarcated and un-administered by any government. During the six years in the jungle, the Morses and thousands of native Christians struggled to live off the land while waiting for definitive word from the Indian border officials for permission to cross over. The group eventually carved out self-sustaining villages in the wilds, where community life was allowed to be guided by Christian principles. During this prolonged time of waiting, the Morse family was able to continue Christian teaching and training of national leaders.
A real sense of peace and harmony prevailed throughout this new community for the entire 6-year period, right up to the time when a border patrol commission from the Burmese government stumbled across the lost villages in early 1972. The missionaries were called together and plans were put in place to escort them to lower Burma. The Morses now became guests of the military government and spent the next three months at the Mandalay Central Prison. After giving their reasons for the prolonged stay in the jungle, they were allowed to leave the country. Needless to say, the government did all it could to dislodge and disrupt the peaceful communities which had been created deep in the jungles without their knowledge. Most of the people were forced to move out of the area and made to relocate near military outposts. Many were forced to serve as porters for the military and some were killed.
The Morse family left Burma on June 17, 1972. They flew from Rangoon to Bangkok, Thailand and then returned to the United States to rest, get reacquainted with their homeland after an absence of eleven years, and to seek the Lord’s will as to future work. That same year, plans were made to begin a new base of operation and outreach in Thailand.
Today, a fourth generation of the Morses is serving God. As a family, God has used the Morses to impact more than a million people from over 30 nationalities and people groups. Countries served include China, Tibet, Burma, Thailand, India, Nepal, Cambodia, Laos, and Uzbekistan as well as other regions of the world. Many members of the Morse family are still based in Thailand with ministries throughout Asia. Other members of the family are based in North America but continue to be involved in missions, reaching the unreached for the Lord and raising up new disciples of Jesus. Areas of work still include evangelism and church planting, Bible schools and Bible Colleges, Bible translation and literacy work, village and community development work, youth hostel/homes for disadvantaged children, Christian literature production, radio broadcasting, multi-media movies, visual and audio material production, promoting preventive health and sanitation, introducing alternative crops and agricultural techniques, nutrition, medical clinics, women and children’s education, leadership training, prison ministry, deaf ministry, income generation projects and more. Synergistic partnerships with other missions, not-for-profit entities and even governmental organizations have resulted in incredible benefits for those we serve.
Mr. and Mrs. J. Russell Morse, their children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren, along with their co-workers throughout the years have proved that pioneering for Christ continues to require the same kind of adventurous living that characterized pioneering in any past generation. But underneath all of the interesting adventure is a deep, spiritual purpose – to bring Christ’s message of love and salvation to those who have not yet heard and to establish churches so that believers can grow strong in their faith.”