The First North American China Inland Mission Party

David Michell recounts the stirring story of God’s work through a fascinating interweaving of lives and events that birthed the missionary movement to China from Canada and New York State. The story traces back to 1885 when Jonathan Goforth received a copy of Hudson Taylor’s China’s Spiritual Need and Claims. At the conference at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Goforth’s use of charts from the book and his impassioned appeal on behalf of China impacted Henry Frost, who followed God’s call to become the first Home Director of China Inland Mission in North America.

In January of 1888, a crowd farewelled Jonathan Goforth, the first missionary appointed to China by the Canadian Presbyterian Church. Eight months later, a throng sang and waved their goodbyes to fourteen of the new missionaries that made up the first North American party to join Hudson Taylor in obedience to God to take the good news of Jesus to the provinces of inland China.

The significance of the events goes beyond the cresting wave of missionary interest and the sailing of the first North American workers for inland China in 1888. The greater significance is the impact of what God did then down through the years, felt even now. Six of those early workers who went out from North America from 1888 to 1890 together gave almost three hundred years of service in connection with the CIM. Actually God alone knows how far the ripple of those days has gone, how many people have been touched and in how many ways.

Dr. David J. Michell (1934-1997) was born in China to CIM missionaries, Walter and Reba Michell. He was at Cheefoo School in Northeast China when Japanese took students and staff captive and his experiences in those years in the Weihsien concentration camp are told in his book A Boy’s War. After his studies in Australia and London, he joined OMF in New Zealand and served in Japan with his wife Joan. The family settled in Toronto when David became Canada Director in 1975.


The First North American China Inland Mission Party

East Asia Millions (North American edition) October/November 1978: 108-111​​​​​

by David J. Michell, Canada Director

1888 was a significant year for the missionary cause in North America. Twice that year Union Station in Toronto was the scene of stirring farewells as missionaries left for China. In January, a crowd farewelled Jonathan Goforth, the first of two missionaries appointed to China by the Canadian Presbyterian Church. Eight months later, a throng sang and waved their goodbyes to fourteen of the new missionaries that made up the first North American party to join Hudson Taylor in his venture for God in inland China.

THE FIRST NORTH AMERICAN CHINA INLAND MISSION PARTY—sailed for China 2 October 1888. Back row (left to right): William Boston; William Horne; Hattie Turner; Henry Frost; Grace Irwin; J. Whitehouse, secretary to Mr. Taylor; George Duff; and W. Lawson. Middle row: Jessie Gardner; J. H. Racey; Reginald and Mrs. Radcliffe of England; Hudson Taylor; Susie Parker. Front row: Cassie Fitzsimmons; R. McKenzie; Jeannie Munro. The party included Edith Lucas; W. M. Souter; and John Mickle not present when the photo was taken.

The impact of China’s Spiritual Need and Claims 

A fascinating interweaving of lives and events marked the beginnings of the missionary movement to China from Canada and New York State in 1888. While a student at Knox College in 1885, Jonathan Goforth had received a copy of Hudson Taylor’s China’s Spiritual Need and Claims from a British missionary passing through Canada on his way to China, a Dr. Randal. Deeply impressed, the college youth was stirred to devote his life to the preaching of the Gospel in China.​​​​​​


Copies of Hudson Taylor’s book China’s Spiritual Need and Claims was first published in October 1865. The first three thousand copies had an immediate impact on the Christian public. Within three weeks the book had to be reprinted—a second edition was published two months later, followed by a third in 1866. In the book, Hudson Taylor challenged readers to consider the geographical size and population of the great Asian empire in comparison to its exceedingly small Christian witness. Many responded to the book’s integration of statistics and earnest pleading by joining the CIM and other mission agencies. More were challenged to pray for the unreached and the missionaries. Updated editions of the book were published in 1868, 1872, 1884, 1887, and 1890.

Goforth’s zeal was contagious, and missionary vision grew among his fellow students. And in that summer of 1885 two speakers at the second believers’ conference at Niagara-on-the-Lake made a strong impact for foreign missions: one was W. E. Blackstone, and the other the unknown Knox College student, Jonathan Goforth. One of those moved by Goforth’s charts and impassioned appeal on behalf of China’s millions was Henry Frost. Years later, as CIM home director for North America, Mr. Frost wrote:

It was not long after [these meetings] that I offered to the China Inland Mission for service in China. I could not go; but God gave me work to do for China while at home, and out of it has come the China Inland Mission in North America. I am constrained to say that it was Goforth who was the originator of what is now a large enterprise on behalf of the Christ-less Chinese.


Henry Frost’s call to give his life to the evangelization of China

Henry Frost left that meeting convinced that his life must be given, not to those who needed him, but to those who needed him most. On his way out he picked up a book entitled A Missionary Band, the story of “The Cambridge Seven,” seven young men who had sailed in February 1885 from England for China under the China Inland Mission.

That book opened a new world to him. Not only was he challenged with the opportunities for missionary service, but deeply moved as he read of the CIM with its simplicity and Scriptural principles by which missionaries received no promise of salary or support except the promises of the Bible and dependence upon God to supply their every need as they entered the vast interiors of China. He read on of the faith of Hudson Taylor, the founder and leader of the work, and of the intrepid pioneering that had gained a footing in ten out of the eleven provinces where previously there had been no Protestant missionaries. The call was clear that he must give his life to the evangelization of China and, if possible, within the ranks of the China Inland Mission.

As 1887 was coming to a close, twenty-nine-year-old Henry Frost left his home in New York State and sailed for Britain. His purpose was to meet Hudson Taylor and to find out more about the China Inland Mission. He was bound for disappointment. The fervency of the missionary movement in Britain had produced no fewer than a hundred new workers for China that year. The need in China could absorb that many and more. Yet CIM leaders in London felt no enthusiasm for starting a North American branch of the Mission. Henry Frost sailed back to North America in a “veritable bog of blasted hopes,” as he put it.

Invitation to Hudson Taylor to speak in North America

One ray of hope, however, was that Hudson Taylor had agreed to travel by way of America on his return to China the next year if arrangements could be made, as the young American had suggested, for him to speak at the conference at Niagara-on-the­-Lake and at D. L. Moody’s conference at Northfield. Thus in the summer of 1888 Hudson Taylor, accompanied by his son Howard, Mr. and Mrs. Reginald Radcliffe, and a party of young students, reached North America.

Though Hudson Taylor spoke at Moody’s college at Northfield and briefly at the Niagara-on-the ­Lake conference, the impact of the Spirit of God through his godly life and ministry was not felt immediately. But within days people began being moved to give towards the support of missionaries for China. When there was enough for the support of eight missionaries, the news was conveyed to Hudson Taylor. His re­ply has not been forgotten down through the years: “To have had missionaries and no money would not have caused me any anxiety. . . but to have money and no missionaries was a very serious matter.”

Birth of the North American branch of China Inland Mission

Hudson Taylor now realized he would have to appeal for North American workers. This he has so far carefully avoided doing because he had not seen the rightness of trying to establish a North American branch to what was up till then a British mission. Dr. and Mrs. Howard record in By Faith what happened:

Mr. Taylor was not a man unprepared to give up prejudice and let God have right of way. His only concern at any time was to discover the Lord’s will. After this he was ready to obey and follow whatever the cost to himself or others. The quiet town of Attica in that beautiful Wyoming Valley became for Mr. Taylor at this time a place of faith and vision much as Brighton Beach had been long years before. As a young man he had faced at Brighton Beach the call of God to go forward in the super-human task of the evangelization of inland China. Now, twenty­ three years later, with a widely open door in that great interior he saw the hand of the Lord leading to developments so unexpected that they called for new faith and courage . . . . God was manifestly working. If His time had come for a new departure in the interest of His kingdom, would He not be responsible for the results?

Hudson Taylor was invited by D. L. Moody for other meetings at Northfield, and from that point God began to call first one and then others to offer for service for China. By late September when Hudson Taylor and the fourteen accepted workers were on the verge of departure from Toronto, nearly forty young people had offered for service.

Sensing off the first North American China Inland Mission party

On September 23, a valedictory meeting was held in Association Hall, at the corner of Yonge and McGill Streets of Toronto, “for the purpose of giving the departing missionaries an opportunity to speak their farewell words before their many friends in the city.” The crowds quickly filled the auditorium, then backed up to clog the corridors and then the side walks outside.

Henry Frost wrote later:

The service in the large hall . . . proved from beginning to end to be of unusual power. . . Mr. Taylor gave an outline of how the Lord had guided since his arrival in America and how He had led up to the going out of the missionary party. Mr. Radcliffe followed with an impassioned address, pleading with those present to give themselves wholly and finally to the work of evangelizing the world. There succeeded this address the testimonies of the missionaries, Mr. Taylor calling upon them one after another to tell how the Lord had led them in giving themselves for China. Mrs. Radcliffe, in her book, Recollections of Reginald Radcliffe, remarked: ‘The proceedings of that farewell meeting of the first band of Canadian and American missionaries to inland China have, I think, been rarely equalled in solemn impressiveness and touching pathos.’ It was indeed a moving sight to see so large and promising a company of young people giving up their all for Christ and China. The meeting was long continued, and it was unusually late before it ended; but the interest of the audience did not wane. The speakers were followed to the last, not only with close attention, but also with deep emotion.

Why the events matter to us today

1888 was indeed a significant year for the missionary cause in North America. Not only because of the cresting wave of missionary interest and the sailing of the first North American workers for inland China. Nor because of the historic first meeting of the North American council of the China Inland Mission on November 22, 1888. But because of the impact of what God did then down through the years, felt even now. Six of those early workers who went out from 1888 to 1890 together gave almost three hundred years of service in connection with the CIM. One of those six was Miss Jessie Gardner, who later became Mrs. William Taylor. Two of her daughters, Isabel Taylor and Mrs. Grace Harris, later also served as missionaries in China. Actually God alone knows how far the ripple of those days has gone, how many people have been touched, and in how many ways.


Susie Parker’s father came with his daughter to one of the farewell meetings held for the new missionaries about to depart for China, this one in a Presbyterian church in Attica, N. Y. Touched by the radiance on Mr. Parker’s face, Hudson Taylor invited him to come up onto the platform to follow the testimonies of the young people with his own testimony.

“He spoke with a father’s tenderness,” Mr. Taylor used to recall, “of all that his daughter, an only child, had been to him and to her mother. He told of her helpfulness in the home and in his mission hall, and something of what it meant to part from her now. ‘But I can only feel,’ he said, ‘that I have nothing too precious for my Lord Jesus.’

“That sentence,” Mr. Taylor often testified, “was the richest thing I got in America, and has been an untold blessing to me ever since.”

Only a few months later, in an inland province of China, far from home, Susie Parker died of malignant fever. To write to the father with the numbing news was one of the hardest things Henry Frost ever had to do as home director. Yet when the dreaded reply came, it brought comfort. “I can still say,” wrote the bereaved father, “that I have nothing too precious for my Lord Jesus.”

The story of Henry Frost’s quest of faith, “a quest richly crowned with blessing to himself and others. … The story is incomplete … because faith’s rewarding goes far beyond the limits of time.”

Howard and Geraldine Taylor, in the Foreword to By Faith: Henry W. Frost and the China Inland Mission

“God, in the mystery of His divine authority and counsel, has laid upon us as Christians the sacred responsibility of interceding, in the Spirit, for all men, and particularly for those who know not Him. When you and I shall awaken to the fact that the world is unconsciously waiting for those who know God and Christ to bend the knee in its behalf, prayer will be more than a privilege to us, it will become a solemn duty. Then, there will be something lying upon our hearts so heavily, that we must pray. As the hours of day pass by one by one, even though we may be busy in our work, the fire will be upon the altar and the flame and incense of our intercession will be rising upward moment by moment … I plead with you, not only for your own soul’s sake, but also for the whole world’s sake, that as never before, weak as you may be, little as you are, absolutely nothing as you must ever be, to hide yourself in the great life of Jesus Christ, and to give yourself over with utter abandonment to the Holy Spirit, that you may learn how to plead prevailingly for those who lie in the Wicked One and thus need Christ’s touch of redeeming love.

Dr. Henry W. Frost, writing in China’s Millions, October 1904

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