What makes a story compelling? Stories are compelling when they connect us to our culture. They are compelling when they provide themes and ideas that add a rich context to our own lives. They are compelling when they resonate with our history. Our current teaching series is entitled “Stories.” The pastors at Northstar will share their stories over the next four weeks. During this series, I will be sharing some compelling stories from history that hopefully will illuminate and illustrate the story of Christianity.
The Story of Hudson Taylor
In September 1853, a small clipper slipped quietly out of an English harbor with 21 year old missionary Hudson Taylor aboard. He was headed for China, a country that was just coming into the Christian West’s consciousness; only a few dozen missionaries were stationed there. By the time Taylor died a half-century later, however, China was viewed as the most fertile and challenging of mission fields as thousands volunteered annually to serve there.
Taylor spent the years before he sailed for China in frantic preparation, learning the rudiments of medicine, studying Mandarin, and immersing himself ever deeper into the Bible and prayer. His ship arrived in Shanghai and almost immediately Taylor made a radical decision, at least what was considered proper protocol for Western missionaries. He decided to dress in Chinese clothes and grow a pigtail (as Chinese men did). Although this made him the laughing stock of both foreign and Chinese onlookers, the effects proved his point and helped people see that what he preached was not such a foreign message after all.
Most missionaries stayed on the coast and in major cities. Taylor’s goal was to take the Christian faith into the interior of China. So within months of arriving, and the native language still a challenge, Taylor, set off for the interior, setting sail down the Huangpu River distributing Chinese Bibles and tracts. There was rebellion in China at this time. He moved to a little house where he could get to know his Chinese neighbors as he learned the language. One day, however, as he watched a fire from a little balcony a cannon ball hit a wall near him showering him with tile bits and landing in the courtyard below. Hudson decided to move back to the foreigners’ compound just before his house was burned to the ground. His mother kept the five-pound ball for years as a small token of God’s great protection of her son.
“I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize the Lord is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest positions He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult, His grace is sufficient,” he once said.
In 1857, he married a woman who was the daughter of other missionaries. He continued to pour himself into his work, and his small church in Ningpo grew to 21 members. But by 1861, he became seriously ill and was forced to return to England to recover.
In England, the restless Taylor continued translating the Bible into Chinese, a work started in China, and worked to recruit more missionaries. It was at this time that Taylor became convinced that a special organization was needed to evangelize the interior of China. He made plans to recruit 24 missionaries: two for each of the 11 unreached inland provinces and two for Mongolia. It was a visionary plan that would have left veteran recruiters breathless: it would increase the number of China missionaries by 25 percent.
While he was concerned about the safety of missionaries sent to the interior of China, he was even more concerned about millions of Chinese who were dying without the hope of the gospel. Within a year Taylor, his wife and four children, and 16 young missionaries sailed from London to join five others already in China.
“China is not to be won for Christ by quiet, ease-loving men and women,” he wrote. “The stamp of men and women we need is such as will put Jesus, China, [and] souls first and foremost in everything and at every time—even life itself must be secondary.”
Taylor’s grueling work pace, both in China and abroad (to England, the United States, and Canada on speaking engagements and to recruit), was carried on despite Taylor’s poor health. The personal cost of Taylor’s vision was high on his family as well: his wife Maria died at age 33, and four of eight of their children died before they reached the age of 10.
Hudson Taylor died on June 3, 1905 and was buried in Changsha, Hunan. The OMF International was established and supported through his example and urgent requests for people to pray and go.
By 1895 there were 641 CIM missionaries in China. Through his writings and world speaking tours, Taylor’s influence extended far beyond China. Today the faith missions movement he founded includes at least fifteen thousand missionaries representing more than seventy-five different faith missions.
Next: Nicky Cruz