Rev. CY Yan
Hudson Taylor – a name widely remembered for his love for China. But, myself an ethnically Chinese person, I have to ask a question – what is it about China that made the place and the people so loveable to Hudson Taylor? He indeed sacrificed so much while he was serving as a pioneer missionary there. But was it simply because of his love for China?
Let’s take a look at the many situations and events that he had to suffer through during his time there:
- In 1853, the Taipings rose in insurrection against the ruling Manchu government. Outwardly, they presented themselves as a Christian movement. Some in the West were led or misled to believe that this would open up the country for Gospel outreach. Hudson Taylor was one of those who fell for their claims. He aborted his medical studies halfway through, and went to China as a single missionary, only to find out that Christianity was but a banner in the hands of these political rebels. The bubble quickly burst and Hudson Taylor found out, to his dismay, that he was duped.
- In 1854, Hudson Taylor was caught in the crossfire between the Taipings and the Manchus. A bomb blew up right before his eyes while he was in his own home. On top of that, the extreme weather and the harsh living condition in China gave this unprepared young missionary eye-inflammation and severe migraines. Physical setbacks and the possible civil war coming ever closer forced him to evacuate to the International Settlement set apart for the foreign population. There, he was greeted by missionaries living in idleness who found nothing better to do than to hurl hurtful sarcastic comments at this young lad who had apparently invited trouble for himself by coming to China before finishing his medical studies.
- During his early exploration of the inland cities and towns, Hudson Taylor often met with hostility from local residents who had never seen a “foreign ghost” in their whole entire lives before. Some would run away from this evil-looking monster, while others would literally throw stones and sticks at him. It was his medical skills that finally won him a certain degree of trust and respect. The downside of that was that some local doctors saw him as a threat to their own livelihood, and went to extreme lengths to make sure he felt unwelcome.
- In Shantou, the daytime temperature could reach 40˚ Add to that the hellish stink of “night soil pails” stacked right next to residences, and you can start to imagine the challenges that Hudson Taylor had to deal with day in and day out.
- The mission Taylor was a part of at the time knew practically nothing about the local conditions and the cultures of China. Poor management on their part left him without funding support, and he had to resign from the mission and take on all the challenges as a lone soldier without recourse to corporate help.
- Bandits and con artists made a target of this unseasoned young foreigner. He didn’t have much to begin with, and what he did have were often lost through robberies, thefts and hoaxes.
- He lost his first wife, Maria Dyers, along with a total of five children in the harsh and often hostile conditions in China.
- In 1866, Hudson Taylor returned to China with 16 new recruits. Media response was anything but positive. Taylor’s methods and insistence that he and his recruits dress like the Chinese drew them much criticism and scorn.
- As the years went on, prolonged internal strife dragged the spirit and morale of the team to a dangerous low – almost to the point of split and dissolution. In the end, it was the tragic death of his eight-year-old daughter Gracie that saved the mission. Dissenters’ hearts were melted by the fact that Hudson Taylor spent more time and energy on the mission’s work than on his dying daughter.
- On August 22, 1868 – a Saturday evening, thousands rounded up and attacked the China Inland Mission compound in Yangchow. While Hudson Taylor and a friend were running to a local official for help, the compound was looted and burned. Several people were seriously injured, including Taylor’s wife Maria, who was pregnant at the time. She had to jump for safety from the fire. Because of her injuries from this incident, she could not walk unaided and ached in every bone.
- By 1900, anti-Western feelings were again at a high, this time not confined in certain localities but erupting on a national scale. What has gone down in Chinese history as the Boxer Rebellion broke out. A total of 189 Western missionaries lost their lives, along with some 2,000 local believers. China Inland Mission (now OMF) suffered the most, with 58 missionaries martyred along with 21 children. Hudson Taylor was brought to the verge of death when the terrible news reached him.
Now, which of these is something that would give him any motivation to love China the way he did? If it had merely been his love for China, he would have thrown in the towel and called it quits even during the first few years of his ministry in China.
But didn’t he say, in one of his most popular quotes: “If I had a thousand pounds China should have it; if I had a thousand lives, China should have them”?
For the answer, we have to look at the lesser known part of that quote. Did you know what he went on to say immediately after that famous line?
He said – “No, not for China, but for Christ!”
It was Christ’s love that compelled him to stay in the ring and keep fighting the good fight.
It was Christ’s love that called him back to Yangchow, even after the frightful events of the Yangchow Riot, where many were drawn to Christ because of the family’s fearless decision to return to the place where they almost lost their lives.
It was Christ’s love that inspired the China Inland Mission to resolutely refuse any share of the compensation that the Western powers demanded of China after the Boxer Rebellion had been put down.
It is here that my mind is brought to a familiar passage in the Old Testament. When the prophet Isaiah heard the Lord asking “ “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”, he gave a reply that, from our vantage point as the audience, might have been a bit too quick. He said, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8 ESV)
Nice! Let’s hear what the Lord had to tell him right after that crisp response: “Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10 ESV)
Had I been Isaiah, I would probably have said, “Are You kidding me? You are asking me to spend my entire life doing something that will give me nothing to show for it at the end?”
Perhaps that’s why Isaiah asked the Lord to “clarify” Himself: “How long, O Lord?” (Isaiah 6:11a ESV)
The Lord’s somewhat cryptic reply: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, …” (Isaiah 6:11b-13a ESV)
And I would have been like: “Okay, so help me understand this: You are giving me a task that will demand every last drop in me, only to expect failures, frustrations, more failures, and more frustrations? Leave me alone! I am not here. Do not send me. Good luck finding someone else!”
YOLO! – Do you know what that means? You Only Live Once! Every time we see that term on the internet, there are always some fancy pictures right next to it: exquisite food like caviar, black truffles, and sushi wrapped in a 24-karat gold leaf instead of seaweed, or a luxurious 6, 7 or 8 star hotel. You get the idea: You only live once – splurge on yourself… you deserve it!”
What if YOLO had been Isaiah’s slogan for his life? The history between the two testaments would probably have been tragically different; there would have been no one to step up to the plate to serve the Lord in their times because they simply had no Isaiah to look up to, and the world as we know it would have been much gloomier than it is, without these unsung heroes who silently and selflessly changed the world.
If YOLO had been Hudson Taylor’s slogan, he would have called it quits even during the first year he was in China, and the Church would not have been as resilient as it is even through the toughest and darkest days of history.
Or maybe the Lord’s will would have still gone forward, but Isaiah and Hudson Taylor themselves would have missed out on all the action.
Both Isaiah and Hudson Taylor knew that it is precisely because “You Only Live Once” that there is no time, thought or energy to be wasted pursuing the fleeting pleasures of life. They knew that there was only one thing worth the last drop of their lives – the hope of eternity that is in Christ alone.
Hudson Taylor was promoted to his Father’s house in 1905, when he was visiting ChangSha, Hunan, China. His body was shipped to Zhenjiang, and buried next to his first wife, Maria.
Chinese history in the decades after his death was littered with internal conflicts and foreign aggressions. In 1941, large areas of China were under Japanese occupation. It hadn’t been a problem for the Western missionaries until the Pearl Harbour attack, after which Japanese authorities promptly put all Westerners in China, including missionaries and their families, into internment camps. In April 2014, I had the privilege of burying a Caucasian sister in the Lord, Doris Eva Seaman, who suffered through the atrocities of those years as a teenager then. Both of her parents were Westerners although she herself was born in Gansu, China. Such was the price the early missionaries paid for the strong and vibrant church we now have in China and beyond.
Between the years 1949 and 1954, power changes in the political arena drove all Western missionaries in China into a reluctant exile, but the Lord opened up doors for the Gospel in the countries and regions around China mainland, and China Inland Mission started sending workers to new ministry fields such as Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Philippines, Taiwan and Indonesia. In the year 1964, when the mission was about to celebrate her centennial, the China Inland Mission changed its name to “Overseas Missionary Fellowship” (now OMF), responding not only to the needs of the Chinese but also the entire East Asia region with its many and varied ministries.
It has been 150 years since Hudson Taylor started the China Inland Mission, and the legacy still continues even through the most tumultuous time of history to this very day. It is a legacy that testifies to the Lord’s faithfulness and grace. Through partnership with the Church universal and local, OMF seeks to carry the call of the Great Commission forward.
Today, OMF has about 1,600 workers who come from over 30 countries, working among over 100 people groups in 18 different regions in East Asia. The year 2015 marks the 150th anniversary since the start of the mission. As we celebrate this landmark all over the world, we “remember, rejoice and renew” – not lifting up the China Inland Mission or OMF as a mission, or even Hudson Taylor as a person, but lifting up the Lord, His name and His faithfulness. May this 150-year-old legacy go on from one generation to the next, kindling hearts for Asia and bringing hope to billions!
(A note about the writer: Rev. CY Yan currently serves as Ontario Regional Director and Director for Connections East Asia at OMF Canada. He has been charged with the responsibility of giving leadership to mobilization and partnership efforts within the province of Ontario, and promoting and advancing Gospel outreach to and through East Asian communities all across the nation.)