Small and Weak?

by Gary Clayton, Managing Editor of East Asia’s Billions

On June 3, 1905 OMF’s founder James Hudson Taylor breathed his last. Although the mission he founded eventually had to leave China, his work and legacy live on.

“As darkness came on, the most awful cries were heard in the city, most demonical and unforgettable, the cries of the Boxers – ‘Sha kuei-tzu’ (‘kill the devils’) – mingled with the shrieks of the victims and the groans of the dying.

“For Boxers were sweeping through the city, massacring the native Christians and burning them alive in their homes,” George Ernest Morrison, London Times, 1900.

Hudson Taylor, increasingly frail and worn out through frequent travel, had broken down during an evangelistic meeting in Boston, America. He was convalescing in Davos, Switzerland as telegram after telegram came through, telling of riots, massacres and the murder of missionaries.

As the slaughter of Christians continued by imperial decree (in June 1900 the Empress Dowager ordered the destruction of all “foreign devils”), an exhausted Taylor reeled at the news of Christians being tortured, shot, beaten, hacked to pieces, burned, strangled, beheaded, stabbed or speared to death.

Hattie Jane Rice, one of Taylor’s CIM (China Inland Mission) workers was stoned, stripped and run over with a cart until her spine was broken. Chinese believers Chen Xikong and Liu Fengzhi were martyred and their hearts cut out.

Houses, schools and churches were razed to the ground as members of “the Righteous and Harmonious Fists,” known as Boxers, slew thousands of Christians in an orgy of bloodletting.

“Oh, think what it must have been to exchange that murderous mob for the rapture of His presence, His bosom, His smile,” wrote Taylor, still reeling from the blow.

Weakened by the terrific strain caused by the Boxer Uprising the exhausted 68-year-old found himself unable to read, think or even pray. “But I can trust,” said Taylor. Eventually an 18,000-strong international army fought its way from Tientsin to Beijing, restoring order and suppressing the uprising.

But it was too late for the 30,000 Chinese Roman Catholics, 2,000 Chinese Protestants, 47 Roman Catholic priests and nuns, 135 Protestant missionaries and 53 children who perished at the hands of the blood-crazed Boxers. It was the most severe blow ever dealt to Protestant missions anywhere in the world.

Though Taylor’s CIM suffered more than any other mission in China (it lost 58 missionaries and 21 children), he refused to accept payment for loss of property or life. Rather than punish the Chinese, he wanted to serve them. It was a decision that paid dividends (at least spiritually!) gaining the missionaries a good deal of respect and goodwill.

Worn out, and expecting to die at any moment, Taylor decided to retire. He appointed D. E. Hoste, a distinguished member of the Cambridge Seven and leader of the work in Shansi and Honan, as acting General Director.

The increasingly frail Taylor retired to Switzerland for a well-earned rest, taking walks with his beloved wife Jennie, who died of cancer in 1904. “The Lord is taking me slowly and gently,” she said, tenderly reassuring her husband that she was still in no pain, “Ask him to take me quickly.”

Despite his sadness Taylor rallied, and in February 1905, at the age of 73, he made his eleventh trip to China, accompanied by his son Howard and daughter-in-law Geraldine. It would be his last.

Taylor landed in Shanghai on April 17, spent Easter in Yangzhou, then traveled to Zhenjiang to visit the cemetery where Maria, his first wife, and four of their children were buried.

He met Dr. Griffith John and Dr. William Martin, two old missionary friends in Hangkou, visited seven CIM mission stations in Henan, and eventually settled in Hunan province, where 111 missionaries from 13 societies serving in 17 central stations worked alongside Chinese Christians.

It was the last of the inland provinces to be opened to the gospel and had been one of the hardest places for it to take root. As recently as 1902 two more missionaries had been martyred there.

It was here, in Changsa, the capital, that Taylor ended his days, slipping quietly away on June 3, 1905, after a tea party held in his honor. Taylor, who had been going through his correspondence and reading the Missionary Review magazine in bed suddenly appeared as if he was about to sneeze, then stopped breathing and died.
“It was not death,” wrote his daughter-in-law Geraldine, who was in the room at the time, “but the glad, swift entry upon life immortal. The look of rest and calm that came over the dear face was wonderful!

“The weight of years seemed to pass away in a few moments. He looked like a child quietly sleeping… Oh, the comfort of seeing him so utterly rested… all the weariness over, all the journeyings ended – safe home, safe home at last!” The man who had labored for over 50 years to bring the gospel to China, was no more.

Missiologists and historians refer to Taylor as “one of the profoundest Christian thinkers of all time,” “a visionary pioneer” and “one of the four or five most influential foreigners in 19th century China.”

Taylor’s own assessment was somewhat different: “I often think that God must have been looking for someone small enough and weak enough for Him to use, and that He found me.”

But his achievements are formidable, for the seed sown in tears and watered with blood resulted in an abundant harvest.

In 1865 there was no Christian church anywhere in the interior of China. In 1910, five years after Taylor’s death, the CIM had founded 611 organized churches throughout China, with a total of over 20,000 communicant members. By 1915, churches founded by a large variety of missions existed in every province as well as in Manchuria, Mongolia and Turkestan.

Hundreds of thousands of children and students were being educated in Christian schools and universities, many hospitals were ministering to the sick and large numbers of young Chinese Christians were being trained for the ministry.

In 1865 the total of annual baptisms had been only 400. In 1895 the figure had risen to 700. In 1905 it reached 2,500 and continued to mount in the following years.

In the stormy years between 1909 and 1918, CIM missionaries baptized a total of 40,000 converts. From 1915 to 1925, 54,000 baptisms took place. (Church buildings had to be enlarged as some congregations exceeded 1,000.) There were 1,238 organised churches and 3,843 Chinese workers, most of whom were voluntary.

1926-1936 produced over 60,000 baptisms, bringing the membership of the CIM churches up to 95,000. In 1939 nearly 10,000 baptisms took place; CIM membership reaching the highest peak in its history with 1368 missionaries.

Today, 100 years after the death of this eminent Victorian, the mission Taylor founded in 1865 with “£10 and all the promises of God” continues to advance.

The name has changed – we are now OMF International – and we currently have just under 1,300 members from 30 nations working throughout East Asia, and serving in Western nations where East Asians work or study.

Today, 100 years after the death of the “dear and venerable Pastor,” Taylor’s descendants remain committed to Christ and are still active in the work of OMF.

The gospel continues to spread throughout China at a rate Taylor could only have dreamed of and even countries closed to the gospel are now opening the door to Christians with the right professional skills and qualifications to serve in East Asia.

The work started by James Hudson Taylor 140 years ago continues. The life and legacy of Inland China’s “small and weak” benefactor lives on.