William Milton Lee, known as Milton, was born on March 9, 1915, in Shanghai, China, to pioneer missionaries Frederick and Minnie Lee. Helen Virginia Warren was born on July 22, 1914, in Shanghai, China, to Merritt and Wilma Warren, who were also missionaries to China.
Milton received his primary and secondary education in China, graduating from Far Eastern Academy in 1932 as president of his class. Helen graduated in the same class. After graduating from the academy, Milton attended Southern California Junior College in La Sierra for two years, then finished at Pacific Union College with a history major and religion minor in 1936. A year before finishing college, he filled out a questionnaire from the General Conference indicating his willingness for mission service. Before graduation, he had a call from the China Division.
Milton’s seven years of friendship with Helen, who had graduated with a nursing degree from Pacific Union College, culminated in their marriage on August 4, 1936, in the United States. Seventeen days later, on August 21, 1936, they sailed for China from San Francisco. Both had a good foundation in the Chinese language and a love for the Chinese people. They arrived in Shanghai in mid-October.
Milton and Helen were blessed with two children: Frederick M. Lee was born in 1939 in Kunming, southwestern China, and Sylvia Lee-Fillman was born in 1944 in Mount Vernon, Ohio, while they were on furlough in the United States.
In China, the Lees served the mountain tribes of Yunnan in the southwestern part of China. They began their pioneer mission work at Mojiang a 10-day journey from the mission headquarters at Kunming. With the help of a group of enthusiastic nationals, Milton kept busy raising up companies of believers while Helen established a clinic in town. Eventually, the Mojiang district grew into a thriving mission field with seven churches, 3,000 worshipers, a church school, and a nurse-operated clinic. Then war with Japan broke out leading up to World War II.
In 1944, the Lees took a furlough back to the United States. Milton studied at the Adventist Theological Seminary, after which he was assigned to pastor a five-church district in Ohio because the United States Government would not allow American civilians to return to China during the war. Soon after, Milton requested that the church allow him to go to the Voice of Prophecy in Glendale, California, to see how their successful Bible correspondence school operated. He thought that he could apply that knowledge to his work in China when he returned to the mission field. During his visit to California, he met David Lin, who was writing Chinese Bible lessons prepared for the Chinese mindset.
After World War II, the Lees returned to Shanghai on the first available civilian ship in 1946. There, Milton immediately began his ministry in radio broadcasting, started a Bible correspondence school, and began evangelism under the mentorship of seasoned national evangelists C. I. Meng and David Lin. In an account of their experiences in China, Helen recalled that it was there that something miraculous happened:
“God did an amazing thing for Milton. For eight years, he had been speaking Chinese entirely with the western tones. Almost overnight, he switched to using the northern tone, without the help of any language teacher.”
When W. H. Branson became the president of the China Division, he undertook a massive evangelistic effort with meetings starting on the same day, April 4, 1947, throughout China. Milton was asked to oversee the meetings in Peking (now known as Beijing). He invited his father to join him in a widely advertised “Father-Son Effort.” The campaign attracted considerable interest, and 86 people were baptized in the first baptism. A second series of meetings was planned, but the United States Consulate ordered all Americans to leave Peking due to the advancing Communist army.
With the People’s Republic of China firmly established in mainland China, the Lees moved to Hong Kong in 1949. There Milton taught religion at the Clear Water Bay College, which was a merger of the China Training Institute from Chiao Tou Tseng near Nanjing and the local South China Union College. On Sundays, he assisted in the evangelistic meetings at the Bible Auditorium in Kowloon with C. I. Meng, who preached in Mandarin, and Ho Wai Ye, who preached in Cantonese. After the China Training Institute relocated to Chiao Tou Tseng, Milton remained in Hong Kong and devoted most of his time to evangelism and teaching in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
In 1951, the Lees were called to Taiwan, where Milton led out in the evangelism work in the southern part of the island while Helen held talks on health and nutrition. They continued this work until 1959.
Because of his excellent Chinese language skills, Milton was appointed to the position of division evangelist for Chinese-speaking people in the entire Far Eastern Division (currently the Northern Asia-Pacific Division and Southern Asia-Pacific Division) from 1960 to 1966. With his home based in Singapore, he conducted evangelistic efforts in Mandarin throughout Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Milton returned to Taiwan in 1967 to focus on radio evangelism, broadcasting to mainland China and Taiwan and producing hundreds of recorded sermons. He also fostered the production of a weekly television program, The Voice of Signs. During his furlough year, Milton completed a master’s degree from the Adventist Theological Seminary. In total, Milton and Helen Lee served among the Chinese people for 44 years.
In 1980, the Lees retired to Angwin, California, where Milton continued to record sermons in Chinese, which Adventist World Radio broadcast from Guam deep into the China mainland. They also held several full-length Chinese evangelistic efforts in the Far East. After China opened for visitors, the Lees made 14 visits to encourage people there.
Milton had two special burdens in his heart. One was to keep the Chinese Signs of the Times from being discontinued, even in times of great financial challenge. The other was to promote an Adventist shortwave radio station in the Far East strong enough to reach all of mainland China. He was gratified to see both goals achieved during his lifetime.
While in Angwin, Helen helped translate 270 Bible stories from The Bible in Living Sound. The project was funded by donations from church members of the Loma Linda and San Francisco Chinese Seventh-day Adventist churches. The stories were professionally produced with Chinese actors and sound effects at the National Radio and Television studio in Taiwan. They were broadcast all over eastern Asia by shortwave on Adventist World Radio in Guam.
When Milton developed Parkinson’s disease, the Lees moved into a retirement village in Saint Helena, California. On December 4, 1997, his life ended abruptly in a tragic automobile accident, which also left Helen critically injured.
Helen moved to Napa Valley Retirement Estates in Yountville, California, and eventually recovered. She continued to promote the translation of The Bible in Living Sound and made three more trips to China. With significantly more donations, more than 110,000 sets of MP3 packages of the recording were distributed in China. One of the highlights of her retirement years was the report of the gospel work in China presented to nearly 100,000 people at the General Conference Session in Saint Louis, Missouri, when she was 91 years old. Helen died on April 26, 2012, at the age of 97.
Milton and Helen Lee’s influence among the Chinese community around the world continues through the hundreds of audio recordings of Milton’s radio broadcasts, the print collections of his sermon notes, and the MP3 collection of Helen’s dramatized production of The Bible in Living Sound.