The Story Behind the Song ‘Facing a Task Unfinished’

In March 1929, the China Inland Mission led by General Director D.E Hoste, issued a call for 200 new workers within a two year period. It followed a very difficult period in China’s history. Due to the civil war, missionaries had been withdrawn from their stations in 1927. 12 CIM workers had been martyred along with five associates.

The UK Director Rev W H Aldis wrote in Millions:
“THIS Call of need, of urgency, has come for two hundred men and women in two years, and it must be met ~ two hundred men and women who know and love the LORD JESUS CHRIST as their personal Saviour and who share the LORD’s passion for souls  … men and women who believe that the gospel of CHRIST is still the power of GOD unto salvation to everyone that believeth”

Facing a Task Unfinished, ‘A hymn for the forward movement’ was written by Frank Houghton for the Annual Meeting in May 1931 in support of the appeal for the two hundred. It appeared in the January 1931 Issue of China’s Millions.

By 31 December 1931, the Two Hundred had left for China. From W H Aldis’ article in China’s Millions January 1932:
‘The story of how God has answered this prayer will be told in detail later on, but all that shall be said now is that your prayer has been answered, and by December 31st, 1931, the Two Hundred will have sailed for China.
All the money needed for passages and outfits has been fully supplied, and the Mission finishes the year with the encouraging knowledge that full normal remittances have been sent out to every member of the Mission for the whole year, and all our needs have been supplied.
In a very real heartfelt sense we take to ourselves the language of the Psalmist:—
‘ Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, Who only doeth wondrous things, and blessed be His glorious name for ever.’

About Rt, Rev, Frank Houghton
Frank was born on 24 April 1894, at Stafford, where his father, the Rev. Thomas Houghton, was a curate. He was the fourth of eight children. Four of his siblings also became mission workers: Eileen and Alfred (Canon A.T Houghton) in Myanmar with BCMS (now Crosslinks) and Stanley and Freda with the China Inland Mission.
Rt. Rev. Frank Houghton, was Bishop in East Szechwan 1937-40, and General Director of the China Inland Mission 1940-51, died on 25 January 1972.
He was earlier the Editor of China’s Millions 1928-36. As General Director he was known for leadership that was as strongly spiritual as it was administrative.
As General Director, he worked alongside J. R. Sinton, Deputy General Director, and bore the great stresses of World War II and the subsequent Communist takeover which led to the evacuation of all missionaries from China. It taxed his health almost to breaking point.
He went on to preside at the Conference of Directors which affirmed:
‘The Lord hath done great things for us … be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things’
– (Psalm. 126.3 and Joel 2.21)
and sent cables to all home countries:
‘Lengthen cords, strengthen stakes. Convinced Mission should explore un-met need preparatory to entering new fields [East Asia].’
Before standing down, he led the Bournemouth Conference from which emerged the CIM Overseas Missionary Fellowship with its principles and message unchanged.
As a prolific writer of hymns and verse, the Church has grown to treasure his hymns, the most well known of which being, ‘Thou Who wast Rich Beyond All Splendour’ and ‘Facing a Task Unfinished’. The full collection of his work is in the book “Faith Triumphant – An Anthology of Verse”, now out of print, it is  available second hand.

Listen to the song

You can listen to Keith & Kristyn Getty singing the song for OMF International’s 150th anniversary in 2015.

You can also watch a short video that demonstrates more of the original context to the song.

Faith Triumphant – An Anthology of Verse 1973
Houghton’s Obituary – China’s Millions 1972

(Editor’s note: In case you were wondering, Houghton is pronounced Horton not Howton – “Hought as in ‘bought'” as a member of the family confirmed).

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