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Milton and Helen Lee in Taiwan, taken around 1975.

From Adventism in China Digital Image Repository. Accessed September 26, 2019.

Lee, William Milton (1915–1997) and Helen Virginia (Warren) (1914–2012)

By Ruth S. L. Lo


Originally trained as a nurse at Sydney Adventist Hospital, Ruth Siew Lan Lo received a BA in psychology and a MSc in community health from Wollongong University, and a PhD from University of New England. She was a nursing professor and a musician, having taught at Southern Cross University for 12 years and taught piano and theory in United States for nearly 10 years. In addition, she has an interest in Adventist history.

First Published: January 29, 2020

Milton Lee, best remembered as the American missionary who could speak the Chinese Mandarin language with a perfect accent, was an evangelist, radio broadcaster, and author of Chinese Voice of Prophecy lessons. He and his wife, Helen Lee, devoted over fifty years of untiring service to the Chinese people in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia, not only when they were in active church employment but even during their retirement years.

Early Life

William Milton Lee (李嗣貴, Pinyin Li Sigui, Wade-Gile romanization Li Sze Gwei), known as Milton, was born on March 9, 1915, in Shanghai, China, to pioneer missionaries to China, Frederick and Minnie Lee. Milton Lee was their only son. His older sister, Anna, and two younger sisters, Dorothy and Mary Lou, were all born in China. 1 Frederick Lee was an evangelist and writer who served several years as editor of the Chinese Signs of the Times and, in later life, as associate editor of the Review and Herald.2

Helen Virginia Warren (李海倫, Pinyin Li Hailun) was born on July 22, 1914, in Shanghai, China, to Merritt and Wilma Warren, also missionaries to China. She was the eldest of the Warren children. Her sisters were Eleanor and Dorothy, and her brothers were Merritt C. Jr. and Don. 3

Education and Marriage

Milton Lee received all his primary and secondary education in China, graduating from the Far Eastern Academy in 1932 as president of his class. Helen Warren also graduated in the same class. After graduating from the academy, Lee 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 had filled out a questionnaire from the General Conference indicating his willingness for mission service. Before graduation, he had a call from the China Division. 4

Milton's seven years of friendship with Helen Warren 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. At the time, Milton Lee had only a BA degree and Helen Lee had an RN. Both, being born in China, had a good foundation of the Chinese language and a love for the Chinese people. They arrived at Shanghai, China, in mid-October.5

Milton and Helen Lee were blessed with two children: son, Frederick M. Lee, was born in 1939 in Kunming, southwestern China, and daughter, Sylvia Lee-Fillman, was born in 1944 in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, while they were on furlough in the United States.


With the encouragement of Merrit Warren, the couple turned down a position at the Shanghai Home Study Institute and opted to serve the mountain tribes of Yunnan in the southwestern part of China, which was under the leadership of C. B. Miller. They began their pioneer mission service at Mokiang, which was a ten-day journey from the mission headquarters at Kunming. 6 With the help of a group of enthusiastic nationals, Milton Lee was kept busy raising up companies of believers, particularly among the mountain tribes of Yunnan, while Helen Lee worked hard to establish a clinic in town. Among the national workers who helped build up the Mokiang work were the families of Lo Gwei Ih, Nun Da Deh, Lin Dzung Hsi, and Wong Wei Dzung. Eventually, the Mokiang district grew into a thriving mission field with seven churches, three thousand worshipers, a church school, and a nurse-operated clinic. 7 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 Lee studied at the Adventist 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. Lee soon requested that the Church to allow him to go to the Voice of Prophecy in Glendale, California, to see how their successful Bible Correspondence School operated, thinking that he could apply that to China when he returned to the mission field. It was in California that he met David Lin who was writing Chinese Bible lessons specially prepared for the Chinese mindset.8

After World War II, the Lees returned to Shangai, China, on the first available civilian ship in 1946, the Marine Lyns. There, Lee immediately began his ministry in radio broadcasting, Bible Correspondence School, and evangelism, under the mentorship of seasoned national evangelists C. I. Meng and David Lin. 9 In her later account of “China Missionaries,” Helen Lee 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,10 without the help of any language teacher. God must get the credit.11

When W. H. Branson became the president of the China Division, he undertook a massive evangelistic effort, dubbed the “Double Four,” with meetings starting on the same day, April 4, 1947, throughout China. Lee was asked to be in charge of the meetings in Peking (Beijing). He invited his father, Frederick Lee, then one of the associate editors of the Review and Herald in Washington, DC, to join him in a widely advertised “Father-Son Effort,” which was held inside Peking’s old imperial grounds in the Sun Yat Sun Memorial Hall (Chung San Tang). The campaign attracted considerable interest among the public, and eighty-six were baptized in the first baptism. A second series of meetings was planned, but before long into the meetings the United States Consulate ordered all Americans to leave Peking due to the advancing Communist army. While the women and children did so immediately, Milton Lee, Charles Cooper, and William Hillard headed for Kunming in a truck loaded with equipment to hold another evangelistic series. As they were heading into Yunnan, the traveling party was robbed by bandits. Though most of their possessions were taken, no one was seriously hurt.12

With the People Republic of China firmly established in mainland China, the Lees moved to Hong Kong in 1949, where Milton Lee taught religion in the Clear Water Bay College, which was a merger of the China Training Institute from Chiao Tou Djen near Nanjing and the local South China Union College. On Sundays, Lee 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. 13 After the China Training Institute relocated back to Chiao Tou Djen, Lee 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 move to Taiwan where Milton Lee led out in the evangelism work in the southern part of the island, while Helen Lee held talks on health and nutrition. They continued this work until 1959. 14

Because of his excellent Chinese language skills, Milton Lee was appointed to the position of division evangelist for Chinese-speaking people in the entire Far Eastern Division from 1960 to 1966. With his home based in Singapore, Lee conducted Mandarin-speaking evangelistic efforts throughout Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. 15

Lee returned to Taiwan in 1967 to focus on his radio evangelism, broadcasting to mainland China, as well as Taiwan, resulting in the production of hundreds of sermons recorded on tapes. He also fostered the production of a weekly television program, “The Voice of Signs,” for a number of years. During his furlough year, Leen completed an MA degree from the Adventist Seminary. In total, Milton and Helen Lee served among the Chinese people for forty-four years.16

Later Life

In 1980, the Lees retired to Angwin, California, where Milton Lee continued to record sermons in Chinese, which were broadcast by Adventist World Radio from Guam deep into the China mainland. They also held several full-length Chinese evangelistic efforts in the Far East. After China opened up for visitors, the Lees made fourteen visits back to China to encourage people there, and even baptized a few in secret. 17 In 1981, Milton Lee was named “Alumnus of The Year” by the Pacific Union College Alumni Board.18

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. It was the oldest continuous religious publication in China. 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 of these achieved within his lifetime.19

While in Angwin, Helen Lee, together with Pauline Bennett, undertook an ambitious project where they translated 270 Bible stories from the Bible in Living Sound, funded by donations from church members of the Loma Linda and San Francisco Chinese Seventh-day Adventist churches. The stories were professionally produced, complete with sound effects, at the National Radio and Television studio in Taiwan with Chinese actors. They were broadcast all over the Orient by short-wave on Adventist World Radio in Guam.20

When Milton Lee developed Parkinson’s disease, the couple moved into a retirement village in St. Helena, California. On December 4, 1997, Milton Lee’s life ended abruptly in a tragic automobile accident which also left Helen Lee critically injured.21

Helen Lee moved to Napa Valley Retirement Estates in Youngville, California, and eventually recovered. She continued to promote the Bible in Living Sound Project and made three more trips to China. With significantly more donations, over 110,000 sets of MP3 packages of the recording were distributed in China. One of the highlights of her retirement was the report of the gospel work in China to nearly 100,000 people at the Adventist World Congress in St. Louis when she was 91 years old. Helen Lee died on April 26, 2012, at the age of 97.22

Milton and Helen Lee’s influence among the Chinese community around the world continues through the hundreds of audio recordings of Milton Lee’s radio broadcasts and the print collections of his sermon notes,23 and Helen Lee’s dramatized production of Bible in Living Sound MP3 collection.


“China Pioneer Killed in California Accident.” ARH, January 8, 1998.

“Former Review Editor Dies.” ARH, November 3, 1988.

“Helen Virginia Warren Lee–Life Sketch.” St. Helena Seventh-day Adventist Church. September 27, 2012. Accessed October 4, 2013.

Milton & Helen Lee Collection. Center for Chinese Adventist Heritage, Hong Kong Adventist College, Hong Kong, China.

“Milton Lee obituary,” ARH, March 26, 1998.

Lo, Bruce W. “William Milton Lee and Helen Virginia Warren Lee.” Adventism in China, May 1, 2013. Accessed November 14, 2017.

“Missionary–Lee Named Alumnus of the Year.” Campus Chronicles [Pacific Union College], April 16, 1981.


  1. Helen Lee, Milton Lee obituary, December 1997, unpublished manuscript, Milton & Helen Lee Collection,” Center for Chinese Adventist Heritage, Hong Kong Adventist College, Hong Kong, China.

  2. “Former Review Editor Dies,” ARH, November 3, 1988, 6.

  3. “Helen Virginia Warren Lee–Life Sketch,” St. Helena Seventh-day Adventist Church, September 27, 2012, accessed October 4, 2013,

  4. Helen Lee, “Milton Lee obituary,” 1.

  5. Ibid., 1.

  6. Ibid., 2.

  7. Helen Lee, “Preface to Milton Lee Sermon Collection,” 2010, unpublished manuscript, 2; Milton & Helen Lee Collection, Center for Chinese Adventist Heritage, Hong Kong Adventist College, Hong Kong, China.

  8. Helen Lee, “Milton Lee obituary,” 2.

  9. Ibid., 2.

  10. The northern tone, also known as the Beijing tone, is the most respected Mandarin accent in China and is the basis of the common language, “Putonghua,” officially adopted throughout China today.

  11. Helen Lee, China Missionaries, 2002, unpublished manuscript, 2, Milton & Helen Lee Collection, Center for Chinese Adventist Heritage, Hong Kong Adventist College, Hong Kong, China.

  12. Ibid., 1-2.

  13. Ibid., 2.

  14. Lee, Helen, “Milton Lee obituary;” see also “Helen Virginia Warren Lee-Life Sketch,” St. Helena Seventh-day Adventist Church.

  15. Ibid., 2; See also “Helen Virginia Warren Lee-Life Sketch,” St. Helena Seventh-day Adventist Church Website.

  16. Ibid., 2.

  17. Ibid., 3.

  18. “Missionary–Lee Named Alumnus of the Year,” Campus Chronicles [Pacific Union College], April 16, 1981, 5.

  19. Helen Lee, China Missionaries, 2002 unpublished manuscript, 2, Milton & Helen Lee Collection, Center for Chinese Adventist Heritage, Hong Kong Adventist College, Hong Kong, China.

  20. “Helen Virginia Warren Lee-Life Sketch,” St. Helena Seventh-day Adventist Church.

  21. “China Pioneer Killed in California Accident,” ARH, January 8, 1998, 20-21.

  22. “Helen Virginia Warren Lee–Life Sketch,” St. Helena Seventh-day Adventist Church.

  23. Helen Lee, Preface to Milton Lee Sermon Collection, 2010, unpublished manuscript, Milton & Helen Lee Collection, Center for Chinese Adventist Heritage, Hong Kong Adventist College, Hong Kong, China.


Lo, Ruth S. L. "Lee, William Milton (1915–1997) and Helen Virginia (Warren) (1914–2012)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Accessed March 20, 2023.

Lo, Ruth S. L. "Lee, William Milton (1915–1997) and Helen Virginia (Warren) (1914–2012)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Date of access March 20, 2023,

Lo, Ruth S. L. (2020, January 29). Lee, William Milton (1915–1997) and Helen Virginia (Warren) (1914–2012). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved March 20, 2023,