Daniel wrote this for a Wheaton mission home reunion in June 2013.
With the help of Google Maps one can zoom in on southwestern China to an area along the Chinese border with northern Myanmar (Burma) and follow the course of the Salween river northwards until the river almost converges with the border. A few miles further north on the east side of the river lies a small Lisu village named Maliping, or Oak Flat.
I was born in Oak Flat on August 1, 1943 to missionary parents, John and Isobel Kuhn. World War II was at its height. The Japanese Forces controlled most of Burma just a few miles to the west.
In October 1944 my parents traveled east to the Chinese city of Kunming and caught a military transport plane to northern India with me cradled in their arms. From there they were able to catch flights that conveyed them back to the U.S.A. and to Philadelphia, Pa. where the CIM had its headquarters. My sister Kathryn was waiting there for us after spending almost six years in a Japanese detention camp in eastern China. She had been returned to the US in a prisoner of war exchange in late 1943.
From Philadelphia the Kuhn family moved to Dallas, Texas where my father enrolled in Dallas Theological Seminary. He qualified for ordination after two years; and then informed the CIM that he, my mother and I would return to Maliping to continue their work with the Lisu people.
It was early summer, 1947, when my father returned to China by airplane. My mother and I followed by sea to Shanghai and from Shanghai to Kunming by plane.
I remember throwing up on that flight – one of my earliest unpleasant memories. By late summer, 1947, we were back together in Maliping. I think it was just a few months later that I remember speaking to the Lisu in their language and to my parents in English.
After almost a year in Maliping my parents moved us across the Salween river and north a short ways to the village of Olives, a larger Lisu community. The Lisu church there built a large adobe house for us to live in and a spacious adobe church nearby. It was in this village that my first instruction in the Christian faith took place, and also where my mother tutored me in the rudiments of reading.
The two and one half years I spent in the village of Olives were the happiest of my childhood. My father during this time was constantly traveling about visiting, teaching and preaching in neighboring Lisu communities. I was included in his travels only once or twice; so I bonded with my mother very deeply and hardly knew my Dad.
By 1949 the Chinese Communists under Mao-Tse-Tung reached Beijing and took control of all of western China. My mother was terrified by the possibility that the communists might kill or imprison all western missionaries. She began to make preparations to leave China as quickly and quietly as possible. By March of 1950 she was ready. We hiked over the border with a few Lisu Christian men, hired to escort us, into Burma. Once in Burma we hiked dirt roads to the nearest city with an airfield; and then, by plane to Rangoon.
In Rangoon we registered with the authorities as refugees. After about two weeks of red tape and required inoculations they agreed to allow us to fly on to Hong Kong where we were able to book passage on a Norwegian merchant ship across the Pacific to Vancouver, B.C. In the meantime my father had remained in China because he felt responsible for helping other fellow missionaries to succeed in leaving the country. He was detained by the Chinese Communist regime for about fifteen months. It was June of 1951 before I saw him again.
My mother and I reunited again with my sister Kathryn in late April, 1950. I was quickly enrolled for the last month of my first grade year at Holmes Elementary School in Wheaton, Illinois. My sister was a student at Wheaton College. Mother decided to settle in Wheaton to await my father’s return and allow me to attend Holmes school.
She pooled resources with two missionary widows and purchased a triplex at 123 Scott St. (no longer there).
My father was released by the Chinese Communist regime in the Spring of 1951. He arrived in Wheaton in mid-June, 1951. We enjoyed the ’51-’52 school year as a re-united family with my sister, Kathy, visiting frequently from Wheaton College. It was our last year together for by the Spring of 1952 the CIM had reorganized as the Overseas Missionary Fellowship. The OMF leadership requested my parents to open up a new ministry among the indigenous tribes of north Thailand which included some Lisu communities. They agreed to do this; but then came the question of where to put me in school. They decided to place me with a good Christian family the Willard Aldrich family of Vancouver, Wash. The Aldriches were long time friends of my mother’s.
In June of 1952 my father took me by train to the Aldrich home in Vancouver, Wash.
The Aldriches had nine children of their own: two of whom (fraternal twins) were my age and in the same grade. My Dad assured me that God would take care of me and that he and Mom would pray for me daily and write to me weekly. He left two days later. The pain of separation was almost completely anesthetized by the complexities I faced trying to fit into a new foster family with nine siblings. I lived with the Aldriches for two and one half years. They treated me well, disciplined me when necessary, and made sure that my Christian upbringing was orthodox and Bible centered. There were, however, many occasions when I could feel that I was an additional burden on the family.
Everything seemed to me to be going famously well when I suddenly got word that my mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer and would be returning to the United States to have a radical mastectomy with followup radiation treatments.
It was November, 1954. By this time the OMF had established a foster home for missionary children in Wheaton, III. My mother wrote and told me that I would be leaving the Aldrich home, flying to Philadelphia, Pa to meet her after her surgery, and then returning to Wheaton with her to live in our old apartment at 123 Scott St.
I was both thrilled to be reunited with her and terrified that she might again be taken from me.
My seventh grade year ’55-’56, was a wonderful year with my mother in remission. We lived an almost normal life. My father was absent until November, but was able to make it home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. In true missionary fashion, however, he was soon making trips around the country visiting and preaching in churches that supported the CIM-OMF. I remember going with him only once.
During the summer of 1956 my mother’s cancer returned. As I began my eighth grade year she began to prepare me for life without her. She assured me she would always be loving me from her heavenly perspective and doing all she could to protect me. By Christmas it was all she could do to cook a meal. Her slow demise was painful to watch. My father decided to have me move into the new OMF Home for missionary children. The children already there were good friends of mine by this time and I rather liked having so many companions to share life with.
Mother passed away in March of ’57. Father did his best to console me; but, he himself was heart-broken. He needed his work for therapy, so after two months or so of soul-searching, he decided to accept an OMF offer to open a new missionary work in the southeast Asian nation of Laos. By June of ’57 he was on his way to Laos and I was with my second foster family in three years.
To be continued…
The Accelerated Version
Lived at 416 Ellis Ave. in Wheaton, Ill. Attended Wheaton Community High School. Graduated June 1961.
Attended Wheaton College. Majored in English and American Literature. Somehow managed to graduate with High Honor and a 2nd Lieutenant’s Commission in the U.S. Army.
-Traveled through western Europe with Larry Stark, a Mission Home brother from Wheaton.
Entered Claremont Grad. School in the Fall, burned out quickly and dropped out in December.
Entered active duty. Assigned to the 9th Infantry Division, Ft. Riley, Kansas.
-My Father died in March. He had remarried. Eileen O’Rourke Kuhn, now my stepmother, was a great comfort to me. We became lifelong friends.
Shipped to Viet Nam with the 9th Infantry Division as a personnel Officer.
-Wounded from Viet Cong artillery bombardment, March 5th 1968. Later awarded the Purple Heart.
-Married Mary Blocksma in Honolulu, Hi in April 1968.
-Honorably discharged from active duty, Aug.8, 1968.
-Studied German through the Fall with the Goethe Institute, Bad Aibling, Germany.
Studied Humanities as an interdisciplinary scholar at the University of Chicago.
-Moved to Ft. Collins, Co. in September- job hunting for Mary.
-Moved to Laramie, Wyoming in November. Mary became a County Librarian.
I hired on with the U.S. Postal Service in March, hoping to earn enough to return to graduate school at Univ. of Wyoming. I would retire from the Postal Service thirty-three years later.
My son, Dylan, was born July 19. Becoming a father was a turning point.
Mary and I were divorced in September.
-I visited my Uncle Murray, my Mom’s brother, in Vancouver B.C. He died three year’s later of a stroke.
I bought a house in November with some help from my stepmom, Eileen. I would live there for the next twenty-eight years embracing my role as a single father. It turned out to be my life’s single most important work.
My path lead me away from human society and into the great American West. I loved the Rockies! Summer weekends and vacations it was hiking, climbing and backpacking. In the winter it was back country skiing. My friendships and relationships mostly revolved around these activities. My son, Dylan, has continued the tradition adding rock climbing and long distance trekking to the list. We continue to try and do one or two excursions a year together even though he lives in Reno, NV – about one thousand miles from here.
The early nineties saw the gradual ending of my parental responsibilities as Dylan graduated from High School and went on to College, first at Lewis and Clark in Portland, Ore., then back to the Univ. of Wyoming; and, finally on to DePaul Univ. in Chicago where he graduated in 1999 with a B.A. in Computer Science.
The empty nest syndrome spurred an interest in social and recreational dancing. I learned some of the fine art and had some very good times doing it. It lead me in 1996 to a dance in Denver where I met my future wife, Sarah. It wasn’t until the Y2K New Year’s Eve, however, that our friendship became a serious romance. And, then, of course, another four years before I joined forces with her both as a business partner and life partner. Anyone who knows the meaning of pathological shyness will appreciate that it sometimes takes a lot of time to achieve such a degree of commitment.
One note of genuine sorrow: my sister, Kathryn, died of Ovarian cancer in June of 2000. She was the sweetest and kindest of siblings, twelve years older than me; yet I hardly knew her. I feel keen remorse that I failed to communicate with her more frequently.
On June 4, 2004 I moved to Indian Hills, Co. to start my retirement with my beloved Sarah. It was the time of easy borrowing and we made the best of it, stretching our assets to the limit we purchased rental properties in the greater Evergreen area. I ended up with five mortgages, Sarah with six and a couple of second mortgages. We’ve been pretty much remodeling ever since. The rental business has slowly grown to the point where I finally had to pay some income tax this past year. Previously, business deductions always had the IRS sending me back money.
While my retirement has meant a lot of hard work, we’ve learned the meaning of teamwork with love, and that has made it the most rewarding time of my life. Many things have come together for me in a beautiful way. We’ve been able to do some great trips: the Caribbean, Italy twice, Mexico twice and three or four long trips across the U.S
In 2008 I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease: a very sobering setback. But, to date the medications allow me to continue functioning fairly normally. The prospects for a cure in the next ten years are very good. The condition is certainly not pleasant to live with; but, it has truly helped me appreciate the many beautiful and fascinating experiences that come my way.
This reunion is one of them.