Lyall was born in Chester, England, the son of an itinerant evangelist who died when Lyall was five. Educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, Lyall was a leader of the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union in the period that the Inter-Varsity Fellowship of Evangelical Unions was coming into being. In 1929 he joined the China Inland Mission (CIM), teaching for a time at the Chefoo (Shantung Province) School for missionaries’ children and then working in Shansi (Shanxi) Province. He was one of several CIM missionaries who encouraged the development of Christian student fellowships in Chinese universities, where anti-Christian sentiment was often vocal.
After World War II the Christian movement among students burgeoned. Lyall and his CIM colleague David Adeney were active in support of the China inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, which for a time looked as if it would become the largest affiliate of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Unions. By 1951, however, the political situation required its formal dissolution and the withdrawal of all missionaries from China. Lyall joined the home staff of his mission (now the Overseas Missionary Fellowship), first as men candidate’s secretary, then as literature secretary. He wrote prolifically himself and promoted missionary consciousness in the British student world. He was a widely respected “China watcher” and the animator of a study group especially interested in the “unofficial” churches there. He was the main originator of the Evangelical Fellowship for Mission Studies.
Lyall was inspired by Chinese Christian leaders, many of whom he knew from his student contacts. Following Yang Shao T’ang and Watchman Nee, he stressed the place of suffering in Christian development. He also introduced the work of John Sung to Western readers.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- Leslie Lyall, John Sung (1954, ret 1961), Come Wind, Come Weather: The Present Experience of the Church in China (1961), The Church Local and Universal (1962), Urgent Harvest (1962), A Passion for the Impossible: The Continuing Story of the Mission Hudson Taylor Began (1965, ret 1976), Red Sky at Night (1969), A World to Win (1972), Three of China’s Mighty Men(1973), and New Spring in China: A Christian Appraisal (1979).
- Obituaries: The Independent, February 24, 1996; Daily Telegraph, February 19, 1996; The Guardian, February 16, 1996.
- See also Douglas Johnson, Contending for the Faith: A History of the Evangelical Movement in the Universities and Colleges (1979).