This summer marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of the China Inland Mission by James Hudson Taylor (1832-1905). Taylor was a British Protestant Christian missionary to China and founder of this mission. He spent 51 years in China. On June 25, 1865, Taylor knelt on a beach in Brighton, England and cried out to God asking him to supply skilled, willing workers to bring the gospel to the inland provinces of China. Think of it. At the time there were less than 300,000 Christians in all of China, and they were mainly located in coastal cities. Christianity came to China in the earliest centuries AD, then later through Nestorian missionaries in the 7th century. Then Catholic Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries came in the 1200s. But it was with the Protestant Evangelical missionary efforts of the 1800s that efforts expanded from converting the elite to reaching the masses.
Hudson Taylor was following in the wake of missionary pioneer William Carey (1761-1834) who had urged that the Great Commission is for the entire church, not just for the original disciples. After articulating this rationale for modern missions, Carey and others started forming missionary societies and the great century of Protestant missions began. Amazing efforts were made to plant indigenous churches all around the world. At age 17 Hudson Taylor felt a distinct call to go to the nearly closed empire of China. He began to teach himself the Mandarin language by studying a Chinese translation of the Gospel of Luke. When he finally went to China in 1853, inspired by that other missionary pioneer David Livingstone (1813-1873), he had a keen desire to reach beyond the coastal regions.
Taylor returned to England for health reasons. It was during this return trip that he founded China Inland Mission. It would not be a denominational but an interdenominational faith mission. He therefore had to depend on support from private individuals and individual churches, rather than denominational agencies. Taylor made it a point to never make a public appeal for funds but simply trust God to supply his needs. He only asked for prayer support and more missionaries. He said of his work “you must go forward on your knees.” He believed that God’s work done in God’s way, will never lack God’s supply.”
When Taylor returned to China in 1866 he brought with him 16 workers who set out to preach the gospel and start churches. As they did, Taylor insisted that they should live and dress like the people they were seeking to reach. The principle was “become Chinese so that you might reach the Chinese.” So Taylor himself donned a black pigtail and baggy pantaloons. Because of his unusual methods, other missionaries who wanted to maintain their own cultural ways often criticized him. Taylor also opened the door for single women to serve in missions. While his own wife served alongside of him, he firmly believed that single women were capable of managing distant mission outposts. Hudson Taylor did not have an easy ministry. His wife died of cholera. All his life he battled depression. And, of course, he faced an immense missionary task in China. Yet he kept plodding, working and praying for new volunteers, and for the translation of the Scriptures into Chinese dialects.
By 1888, CIM had 294 missionaries in 14 provinces. Not long after Taylor’s death there were almost 5,000 Protestant missionaries in China. And while there would be many setbacks (one thinks of the Boxer uprising of 1898-1900 where hundreds of missionaries were put to death, and the rise of Communism in 1949 with the expulsion of Christian missionaries), as a result of all these earlier missionary efforts, an indigenous church was firmly established in China. The sacrifice of these missionaries, the power of the gospel, the reality of suffering, and the faithfulness of God culminated in a massive harvest. Now, 150 years later, there are estimates of some 100 million Christians in China. Those who study religion in China tell us that it is quite possible that China will become the nation with the most Protestants in the world by 2021, and by 2030, the country with the most Christians!
Today, China Inland Mission is known as OMF International. It has more than 1,400 workers in 30 different countries in Asia. This year they, and we, are celebrating God’s goodness in the life of its faith-filled founder, James Hudson Taylor, who knelt on that beach and prayed for twenty willing, skillful laborers to reach the inland provinces of China. Don’t forget, it was Taylor who said, “I have found that there are three stages in every great work of God: first, it is impossible, then, it is difficult, then it is done!”
Don Sweeting, The Gospel Coalition, 24 June 2015
Note: The OMF was the missionary society that we joined when we served in the Philippines.