Can all the Christians in England sit still with folded arms while these multitudes [in China] are perishing—perishing for lack of knowledge—for lack of that knowledge which England possesses so richly?
:from China: Its Spiritual Need and Claims by Hudson Taylor
In 1832 James Taylor, a British chemist, prayed that if he ever had a son, he would serve God in China. As a child, his son James Hudson Taylor always claimed that he intended to do just that – though he’d never been informed of his father’s prayer. At sixteen, the young Taylor was disillusioned and bored by the church, but as his mother prayed for his salvation, God reached him.
Three short years later, Taylor traveled to a poverty-stricken British village called Drainside to work for a doctor and minister to the poor. There he learned much; above all, he learned to trust. He witnessed to a destitute, ill mother on the street and urged her to trust the Lord’s providence – all the while carrying a coin in his pocket that would feed her! He surrendered to the conviction to give it over to her, and went home penniless. The next day, a package arrived containing a gold coin worth far more than the silver one he’d parted with. The experienced colored the rest of his life’s work. The missionary organization he founded, China Inland Mission (known today as OMF International) took up a stern policy of never soliciting money from donors, but only trusting in the Lord’s provision.
Taylor traveled in China for the first time in 1853 at the age of twenty-one. He spent a few months on the coast of China, where most other missionaries there lived and worked. He was aware of a sense of foolhardy pride in these missionaries; they esteemed themselves for the work they were doing, as if there were not millions of unreached people just beyond them.
Taylor scorned the contemporary practice of missionaries wearing their own native dress; instead, he insisted that a missionary ought to mirror the people he wished to reach in every way possible. To that end he took up Chinese dress, in the face of hardship, ridicule and criticism. In China, a person’s clothing was a symbol of their status, and Taylor and his fellow missionaries took up the visual status of lowly schoolteachers. Contemporary missionaries mocked and despised this practice, but Taylor was firm, even to the point of adopting the queue, a long braid worn by Chinese men and imposed by a corrupt dynasty. Even in China it was considered a symbol of oppression, and CIM missionaries wore it until a new dynasty abolished it.
A few months into the mission, Taylor traveled inland. He began by boating up the Huangpu River with a companion named Edkins and a bagful of Bibles and gospel tracts. Eventually, he settled in the city of Ningpo.
Seven years later, a severe illness forced him to return to England and recover. While he was there, he dictated the book China: Its Spiritual Need and Claims. Frustrated with the lack of compassion he met with back home, he became convinced a mission society and more missionaries were needed specifically to evangelize Inland China. He parted ways with his sponsors and founded his own mission society; thus was born his CIM.
Taylor walked a fine line between firmness and tyranny, as many of the missionaries who worked with him attested, but one might argue that there was no appropriate balance. He had given all to his work, and a fellow laborer who was not willing to part with just as much rightly frustrated him. Yet, how could he ask that of anyone but himself? It was a dilemma that followed Taylor all his days.
Today, at very nearly 150 years old, CIM, now OMF International, ministers to 12 Asian countries.