Coach tours are now being conducted around a UK town, not far from where I live, to enable Chinese pilgrims to pay tribute to one of their greatest heroes.
James Hudson Taylor (pictured in his later years), who was also a true friend of Israel, was born in Barnsley, Yorkshire, in 1832 and later followed the call of God to China, where he established hundreds of churches and nearly 200 schools. As founder of the China Inland Mission (now Overseas Missionary Fellowship), he became spiritual father to millions of Chinese Christians.
As part of their weekly Songs of Praise programme, BBC Television focused on the visit to Barnsley of a coach-load of British-based Chinese tourists. Interviewed about what Taylor meant to them and filmed publicly praying and thanking God for his ministry, they sang Amazing Grace in their native tongue as they honoured his memory.
“I cannot believe God has used this little place (population 225,000) to do an amazing work among the Chinese,” one of the tourists told the BBC.
Historian Ruth Tucker wrote: “No other missionary in the 19 centuries since the Apostle Paul has had a wider vision and has carried out a more systematized plan of evangelizing a broad geographical area than Hudson Taylor.”
So what was the secret of his success? Firm resolve to follow a clear calling was no doubt a key – he was so determined to identify with the Chinese that he adopted their dress and even wore a pigtail. But despite his primary calling to China, he clearly also saw the priority Scripture set on Jewish evangelism; that even for the Apostle Paul, who was called primarily to the Gentiles, the gospel was “to the Jew first” (Romans 1.16).
He was so convinced of this truth that, in his latter years, he would write out a cheque in support of a Jewish mission on the first day of each year.
This habit began on New Year’s Day 1897 when, at home in Britain, he went round to the house of one John Wilkinson, founder of the Mildmay Mission to the Jews, with what Taylor’s wife Jennie described as “a brotherly note enclosing a gift”. A cheque was accompanied by a note saying “To the Jew first”.
Mrs Taylor continued: “Mr Wilkinson’s warm heart was touched, and he immediately wrote a brotherly reply, enclosing his own cheque for the same amount, with the words: ‘And also to the Gentile’.
“This helpful interchange of sympathy was kept up ever after,” she wrote, “the only change being that each doubled the amount of their contribution.
“Work among God’s ancient people occupied a special place in the prayerful sympathy of both Mr and Mrs Taylor,” she explained.
St Paul wrote: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” (Romans 1.16)
This statement reflects something of God’s heart for the Jewish people, first expressed in Genesis 12.3 as: “I will bless those who bless you…”
Taylor’s attitude and understanding of the place on God’s heart for the Jews will surely have contributed in no small measure to the incredible success of his mission – there are at least as many Christians in China today as there are people in the UK! And that’s despite severe persecution. Now Chinese Christians are working on a plan to take the gospel all the way back to Jerusalem, where it all started!
The most encouraging aspect of watching those Chinese believers paying tribute to Hudson Taylor was that they represented the undeniable evidence that what you sow, you will surely reap. As St Paul urged the Galatians: “Let us not become weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal 6.9)
Charles Gardner is author of Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com