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Missionary Stories

Hudson Taylor: Founder of the China Inland Mission

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Written by McKenna

No missionary series would be complete without including the life and influence of Hudson Taylor.

His story is an undeniable favorite among many Christian circles and missions organizations. This bold and daring man went where no missionary had ever been before–and, similar to William Carey, he had made a great impact on how we do missions today.

Who is Hudson Taylor? Hudson Taylor was a missionary who served in China for over 51 years. He brought the gospel to inland China and was the first missionary to adopt the Chinese cultural dress. He is the founder of the China Inland Mission (CIM), which has been responsible for training hundreds of Western and indigenous missionaries to take the gospel to the unreached. Hudson’s life and dedication to God through prayer have forever changed the history of missions in China and inspired many to lay down their lives for Jesus Christ.

This is the sixth story in the series 10 Christian Missionaries Every Christian Should Know, where we look at a Christian pioneer missionary from history and discover how their lives have transformed a particular part of the world through their faithfulness to God–both in prayer and obedience.

The Birth of a Missionary

James Hudson Taylor was born into a Christian family on May 21, 1832, in Barnsley, England. He had two sisters and his parents were dedicated to the Lord.

Before he was born, his parents had committed him to the Lord in prayer and asked that he might go to China someday. At age four, young Hudson said, “When I am a man I mean to be a missionary and go to China.”

However, as Hudson grew older, he turned away from the Lord. At the age of fifteen, he worked as a junior clerk in a bank and was surrounded by people who influenced his use of crass language. Due to the long hours, the gaslight eventually affected his eyes, leaving them weak for the rest of his life, and he went to work in his father’s shop.

One afternoon in June of 1849, seventeen-year-old Hudson Taylor went to his father’s library adjacent to his family’s house to find something to read. Something caught his eye that read: “It is Finished.” This small gospel tract had the answers Hudson was looking for and he came to receive Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior at that moment.

At the exact same time, his mother was seventy-five miles away visiting a friend. She suddenly had an intense longing for the conversion of her son and felt the need to pray. Locking herself in a room, she determined not to leave the spot until her prayers were answered. Hours later, she felt a peace enter her soul and left with the assurance that God had not only heard her prayers, but answered them fully. Ten days later, she arrived at her home and was met at the door by young Hudson Taylor who said that he had some good news for her. She responded,

“I know, my boy. I have been rejoicing for a fortnight in the glad tidings you have to tell me.”

Yet, a few months after putting his faith in Christ, Hudson began to grow discontent with his spiritual state. It seemed that his heart had grown cold towards God and his zeal in sharing God’s love with others was lost. So, on December 2, 1849, young Hudson decided to spend time alone with the Lord until his heart was open to what God had to say. It was on that night that he heard the Lord say,

“Go for Me to China.”

From that hour, Hudson Taylor promised the Lord that he would go to China as a missionary, and so set out to prepare himself for ministry.

Preparing for China

Immediately after being confirmed in his calling by the Lord, Hudson Taylor began to exercise in the open air–which was unheard of–and switched his nice soft mattress for a cot on the ground. He also began distributing tracts and held services in small cottages. Knowing that it would be important to learn the Chinese language, he began to study the gospel of Luke in the Mandarin dialect. He also borrowed a book on Chinese history and culture from a pastor and began studying Greek, Hebrew, and Latin.

In 1851, James Hudson Taylor moved away from his family to live in Drainside, a loud, depressing suburb near the edge of town. Hudson purposely went there to work for a doctor and gain medical knowledge while also training himself to get accustomed to the loneliness and dangers of living in a strange land where his only constant companion would be God.

While living in Drainside, Taylor learned to trust God–even to his last cent. One evening, he was called to witness to and pray over a sick woman and her starving children. As he tried to pray, he choked on his words in his mouth because in his pocket was a silver coin that could answer his prayer and help this family in their sufferings, if only for a short while. He heard his heart condemn him,

“Hypocrite! Telling people about a kind and loving Father in Heaven–and not prepared to trust Him yourself, without your money!”

Thus, in full surrender to the Lord, he gave to the family his last coin. When he went back to his apartment and sat down to eat the last of his porridge, he rejoiced when he remembered the verse, Proverbs 19:17:

“He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord.”

The following day, Hudson received a package. In it was a gold coin that was worth ten times the silver coin he had given to the family. Taylor cried out triumphantly,

“That’s good interest! Ha! Ha! Invested in God’s bank for twelve hours and it brings me this! That’s the bank for me!”

During this time, young Hudson also went through another experience while working for the doctor in Drainside where he learned how he could move men through God by prayer.

The doctor had suggested to his young assistant that he remind him when to pay his wages since he was so busy and would likely forget. But Taylor remembered that in China he would have no one to ask anything of, only God, so he simply asked God to remind the doctor.

Three weeks later the doctor remembered–but only after he had deposited his money. Taylor was broke. It was a Saturday, and his rent was due and there was no money for food. He prayed as he worked in the office until ten o’clock, and as he prepared to leave, the doctor surprised him with a large check from one of his more well-off paying patients who had just paid his bill in full. Not only did it pay for his rent, but it was enough to help pay for Hudson’s journey to China.

Thus, at age nineteen, young James Hudson Taylor learned that he could trust and obey God in every area of his life. God revealed that He was faithful in every circumstance and showed that He indeed did answer prayers and move men.

“Learn to move man, through God, by prayer alone.”

– Hudson Taylor

This would become the theme of Taylor’s life and it was only the beginning of his journey in preparing him for a life as a missionary in China.

China At Last

In the fall of 1852, Hudson Taylor went to London to be commissioned by the Chinese Evangelization Society (CES), who organized to pay for his medical training at the London Hospital.

Yet that same year, some news came from China that pushed Hudson Taylor to leave at once without completing his medical studies. A group called the Taipings were causing a rebellion against the Qing dynasty. They called themselves the God Worshipping Society and had a self-proclaimed prophet named Hong Xiuquan.

The Taiping Rebellion lasted from 1850 to 1864 and resulted in seizing the city of Nanjing for a decade. The rebellion eventually failed, however, and led to the deaths of more than 20 million people. It was in the middle of this revolt that Taylor felt the urgent need to reach these people with the gospel.

On September 19, 1853, James Hudson Taylor set sail for Shanghai, China, as the only passenger aboard the Dumfries in Liverpool. He had a harrowing voyage, as the ship was nearly wrecked on two occasions. In one of these events, the sailing vessel was caught in a current towards sunken reefs on the shores of New Guinea. The captain and crew panicked, as cannibals on the island were eagerly waiting for their victims to abandon the ship and swim to shore. Hudson Taylor and three others of the crew went away to pray together and the Lord immediately sent a strong breeze that pushed the ship back on course and out of harm’s way. As Hudson rejoiced, he was reminded of John 14:13, which says,

“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

Five and a half months later, at age twenty-one, James Hudson Taylor arrived in Shanghai, China, on March 1, 1854.

A New Land to Call Home

Hudson was shocked upon his entry to China. He was unprepared by the civil war caused by the Imperial Fleet and surprised to find that the Taiping rebels knew little about Christ–even though they proclaimed to be worshipers God. They only embraced Christianity because their leaders thought it was a good political move, but their lives did not exemplify a life devoted to holiness.

Taylor had also not expected the climate to be as cold as it was and had not brought enough layers of clothing to keep him warm. He suffered from severe headaches and inflamed eyes.

Miserable and homesick, young Taylor wrote letters to his family during his leisure time and explored the hillside as the military allowed while collecting plants and insects and taking photographs. However, being the only missionary actually a resident in Shanghai renewed his zeal for souls, and he did his best to stay engaged with the culture by distributing thousands of Chinese gospel tracts and portions of scripture.

As he spent time studying the language, Hudson Taylor saw that many missionaries of his day had adopted rich lifestyles and that few had gone further inland to the rural and poorer areas. After six months he moved to a little house where he could get to know his Chinese neighbors. One day, however, as he watched a fire from a little balcony, a cannonball hit a wall near him showering him with tile bits and landing in the courtyard below. Taylor decided to move back to the foreigners’ compound just before his house was burned to the ground. His mother kept the four-to-five-pound ball for years as a small token of God’s great protection of her son.

While other missionaries took him on preaching tours, Taylor began his own preaching tours in early 1855. He went for a week to two weeks at a time and did ten of these journeys by himself for his first two years.

During this time, in February 1855, the Imperial armies invaded the city of Shanghai with the help of French rebels and left the city in ruins. People were already starving, and the invasion brought even worse suffering. Hudson considered either permanent residence in another city or going to Nanking, which was seven-hundred miles away, to reach the Taipings. There were no safe options, as he would be out from under the consulate’s protection.

Before deciding what to do, young Hudson went with John Burdon, another missionary, on a three week trip in April up the Yangtze River. They nearly lost their lives in the city of Tungchow by an attack from a band of ruffians. They were safely escorted out of the city however, by a magistrate of sorts, so they could return to Shanghai.

These episodes did not discourage Hudson from reaching the Taipings. Ten days later he was off again–this time by himself. He proceeded up the Yangtze as if he were a tourist so that he could throw the Imperial fleet off his trail, and explore openings for future residence. From his boat, he visited fifty-eight villages, seven of which had ever seen a missionary. A few times people ran away from him and he had to use his medical box as a shield when they threw mud and rocks. While not all of the people gave him a warm welcome, Hudson was able to preach, remove tumors, and distribute books.

A couple of days after his twenty-third birthday, James Hudson Taylor came within seventy miles of reaching the Taipings in Nanking. However, he never reached it, which some call a divine hindrance because five years later the rebels would be all be wiped out.

Hudson returned back to Shanghai, and then left again on August 24, 1855, to go south to Ningbo, China. During this time he also made the decision to follow the example of Dr. Charles Gutzlaff, who he later called “the Grandfather of the China Inland Mission” by adopting the native Chinese clothes and pigtail. He had found that people were referring to him as the ‘black devil’ because of the long thick overcoat he wore on his trips. Although this made him the laughing stock of both foreign and Chinese onlookers, upon changing his lifestyle and clothes, he was able to gain better audiences without creating a disturbance, and people were more willing to listen to him because they realized that he was not preaching a foreign message after all.

Inland China

Hudson Taylor left Shanghai again on October 18, 1855, to go to Tsungming, a large island in the Yangtze river. He felt that this would be a good place to labor and returned to Shanghai to stock up on medicine, letters, and winter clothes. However, he was ordered out of Tsungming permanently because local doctors complained to the magistrate that they were losing business to the foreign doctor. These six weeks were his first “inland” experience and the beginning of pioneering China for Christ.

Taylor went back and forth between inland China and Shanghai with a Scottish evangelist by the name of William Burns. The inland people were harder to reach, yet they continued to press into their work. Having only been on a diet of rice until this time, and because of the harsh climate, Hudson added eggs, tea, and toast to his meals.

During this time, Hudson Taylor was also writing to a girl from home proposing marriage. She turned him down because she had no desire to be a missionary. He also received news that the CES, the mission agency that had commissioned him in England, had no more funds to support him.

Distressed and needing more medical supplies, Hudson returned to Shanghai at William Burn’s request in July 1856. When he arrived, he found that all of his medical supplies had been accidentally burned by a fire. Then he received the news that William Burns had been arrested by Chinese authorities and sent on a thirty-one-days journey to Canton, more than ninety miles towards inland China. The situation looked utterly hopeless.

Still, Hudson Taylor remained strong in his faith. He decided to move to Ningbo in October 1856. He was robbed of all his possessions on the way, including his Bible, a photo of his sister, his travel bed, spare clothes, and medical instruments. If he had not chosen to adopt the Chinese dress and level of living, he would have been in worse trouble. Despite all of this, he still preached to those who were lost in darkness.

At the end of the year, Hudson knew that because the CES could no longer support him, he would have to resign. He considered joining another missions society but received a letter from his hero, George Mueller, who encouraged him to live by faith. Thus, in June 1857, Hudson Taylor resigned as an established missionary with the Chinese Evangelization Society at twenty-five.

“Depend upon it, God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies.”

Marriage and Ministry in Ningbo

In Ningbo, Hudson found that the missionary community was fervent in spirit. A fellow missionary, Dr. Parker, had established a hospital and a pharmacy, and that there was a new family, the Jones’, who had just moved to settle in the area. This group of missionaries ate together once a week at a school run by Miss Mary Ann Aldersey, a sixty-year-old Englishwoman, who is said to have been the first woman missionary to China. Under her care were two assistants, Burella and Maria Dyer.

Burella and Maria were sisters whose parents were pioneer missionaries to the Chinese people in Penang, Malaysia; and Malacca, where Maria was born. Both of their parents died before Maria was ten. Even after being raised up in England, the children all considered China to be their home, and the two sisters and their brother all dedicated their adult lives to missionary work in China.

In 1853, Maria traveled to China at the age of sixteen with her sister Burella, to work at the school who was run by one of their mother’s old friends, Miss Mary Ann Aldersey.

It was here that Hudson Taylor and Maria Dyer met. While Hudson Taylor had been in Ningbo before, he had not even taken notice of Maria Dyer, who was then eighteen-years-old.

On Christmas day, 1856, the missionaries had a party at the school where a friendship between Hudson and Maria developed. A few months later, while Hudson was in Shanghai, he wrote a letter proposing marriage. She painfully refused after being ordered by Miss Aldersey, her guardian. However, both Taylor and Dyer plunged into the Lord’s work and prayed for the Lord’s guidance, and decided to get engaged on November 14, 1857, whether they had approval from Miss Aldersey or not. They did, however, wait until Maria turned twenty-one. Burella also eventually became engaged to one of Taylor’s missionary friends, John Burdon.

On January 20, 1858, after being in China for almost five years, James Hudson Taylor and Maria Jane Dyer were married. She was an invaluable assistant in ministry and a constant encouragement to her husband in his faith. In her time with the CIM, she was instrumental in training single women to be missionaries in China, when opportunities for women to serve had been previously dependent on having a missionary husband.

Hudson and Maria had eight children–three died at birth, two in childhood, and the four that lived to adulthood all became missionaries with the mission their father had founded. She was married to Hudson for twelve years until her death in 1870.

The Founding of the China Inland Mission

Hudson Taylor knew there were millions of people who needed to hear the message of Jesus Christ and wanted to reach the Chinese in rural areas. He kept pursuing mission work in Ningbo but was convinced a new mission was needed for the task of going further inland.

However, Hudson Taylor’s health began to decrease, and a furlough seemed to be the only way to save his life. In August 1860, the Taylor family left China and went back to England. Hudson had not left China for the seven years that he was there.

While in England, the Taylors had their second child, and Hudson began to realize that he would not be returning to China as soon as he had hoped. Thus, he began to undertake various responsibilities. First, he translated and revised the Ningbo New Testament–which was a five-year project–and enrolled in a medical course to up his skills in medicine. More children were born, but only four returned to China.

On June 25, 1865, Hudson Taylor was on Brighton’s beach in England and felt burdened to pray and ask for God to send twenty-four missionaries back with him to China. Yet carrying out such a daunting task troubled him. However, he knew that the responsibility was not his but God’s. On the flyleaf of his Bible, he wrote,

“Prayed for the 24 willing, skillful laborers at Brighton, June 25, 1865.”

Thus, the China Inland Mission (CIM) was founded by Hudson Taylor on that day. He opened a bank account to raise funds and began to share his passion for China. He began to express the need for local church buildings to built with Chinese design and not Western design. He also recognized that the leaders of these churches also needed to be Chinese Christians. His goal was to train ministers of the gospel to share the love of Jesus with their own people in the unreached areas because they understood the culture and language so much better than he did. Charles H. Spurgeon once heard him speak and was impressed by his zeal for the unreached in inland China. Apparently, God was too because, within that same year, he had raised $13,000 and accepted twenty-four volunteers.

Tribulations in China

In 1866, after five and a half years, the Taylors left for China with eight out of the twenty-four volunteers. There was a married couple, five single men, and nine single ladies. When they arrived at the mission compound however, Hudson’s methods and policies were scoffed at and looked down upon, especially with adopting the Chinese dress. The mission community was in danger of a split and had it not been for the death of his eight-year-old daughter, the mission would have disintegrated. She had been praying for an idol maker just before she died and it united the mission.

In 1868, the Taylors had their own compound in Yangchow, China. But on August 22, the compound was attacked and burned, which caused several injuries on his family and friends. They had to seek refuge in Chinkiang for three months before they were able to return in November.

Although Europeans in Shanghai were aware of the problem in Yangchow, back in England the stories were perverted and the Taylors were looked down at. In Yangchow, the natives were impressed that the Taylors would come back. The next year was full of opportunities to share the gospel and see people come to Christ. In England, George Mueller refused to believe the uproar about the Taylors and his contribution of $10,000 annually made up for the support that stopped from previous donors.

Exhausted and depressed, Hudson later confessed that only his wife’s love stood between him and suicide. God used this situation to do a new thing. Hudson Taylor could not go on as he was bankrupt in spirit and strength. It finally dawned on him reading a missionary friend’s letter that he could strive no more to abide in Christ, but that he could rest in the promise that the Lord would never fail him. He then entered into what he called the “Exchanged Life” where his work for the Lord was no longer done in his own strength.

In 1870, the Taylors sent their four oldest children–ages nine to three–back to England to go to school. This was a hard decision, and the parting was too great for the youngest, who died on the way. Little did the Taylors know how wise their decision would be, for Maria Taylor would see Jesus face to face four months later. Hudson and Maria received word that their other children had arrived safely in England two days before she died from cholera. She was one of the most heroic wives in Christian history, along with Ann Judson.

Hudson Taylor broke down in 1871, due to a diseased liver which accounted for sleepless nights that led to depression, and later difficulty in breathing. During this time, he found out that the home side of the CIM was no longer being cared for, and so decided to return to England for both his help and for the sake of the mission. While he was in London, he met Jennie Faulding, fell in love, and married her later that year.

After forming the London Council of the CIM on August 6, 1872, and speaking at a Bible conference where young Dwight Moody heard him preach, Hudson Taylor and his new wife returned to China. But he was not done facing challenges.

Calling Pioneer Missionaries to China

In April 1874, Hudson Taylor wrote to a friend back in England:

“We have $0.87 and all the promises of God.”

Two months later, a letter came from an unknown friend in England with $4,000 for the extension of Hudson’s mission work in the new areas of the untouched and unreached inland regions.

In January 1875, James Hudson Taylor prayed for eighteen pioneers missionaries to go to the nine unevangelized provinces in China. On September 13, 1876, an agreement for political settlement was signed by China and England which opened inland China to the gospel. In the next two years, Hudson would travel 30,000 miles opening up new stations. He was on the road months at a time spreading the gospel, and in hours of trial and loneliness, he would play his harmonium and sing Christian hymns. His favorite was “Jesus, I am resting, resting, in the joy of what Thou are.”

His wife had gone back to England to care for the children during those two years and then was able to rejoin him on the field in 1878. She prepared and led the advance of women’s missionary activity into the far interior of China that fall. In the following fall, two missionary women, Mrs. Nicoll and Mrs. Clark, pioneered the way for women’s work in Western China. Another woman, named Emily King, was the first woman missionary allowed to go into the interior on resident status.

In 1881, there were one-hundred missionaries in the CIM organization, and Hudson and his team decided to pray for seventy more to come out to China in 1882-84. In 1885, they had 225 missionaries, 59 churches, and 1,655 members. Hudson Taylor then decided that to open China up from end to end with the gospel would take another hundred new workers. 600 volunteered to go, but Taylor accepted only 102. By the end of 1887, all one-hundred-and-two missionaries were sent out. Taylor prayed for $50,000 to be able to support them and raised $105,000. More than $22,000 was raised to pay their passages to China.

In 1888, Taylor went to America and preached at Moody’s Northfield Conference and made a profound impression. When he went back to China, the first fourteen North American missionaries came with him. The vision that he had for missionary pioneers to China had grown far bigger than anything he had imagined.

The End of a Life Well Spent

Hudson Taylor and his wife had to move back to England and later Switzerland because of ill health. In May 1900, he heard the terrible news of the Boxer Rebellion, which resulting in disrupting the mission work and hundreds of missionaries were murdered along with native Chinese Christians. When he read the telegram, he said:

“When I cannot read, when I cannot think, when I cannot even pray, I can trust.”

While the news nearly drove him to his deathbed, the stories from the field actually inspired great interest in missions everywhere and brought new life to the CIM. In 1902, Hudson decided to let the organization be run by younger men.

HIs wife, Jennie, died in Switzerland in 1904, and Hudson left for China one last time in 1905. It was his eleventh trip there. He spent Easter at Yangchow, where thirty-two years before, his house had been burnt to the ground. Then, he visited Chinkiang, where he had buried his first wife, Maria, thirty-five years before. Then he went on to some of the most difficult of the nine unevangelized provinces in China that his workers had been in, one of them being Changsha, the capital of Hunan.

In Changsha, China, Hudson Taylor spoke with Chinese Christians, inspected a site for a new hospital, and attended a reception given in his honor. He was planning to speak in a church on that Sunday, but on Saturday evening, June 3, 1905, James Hudson Taylor silently passed away in his daughter-in-law’s house while he was going over letters from England. He died right before the communists took over his beloved China. Chinese Christians carried his body to Chinkiang where he had buried Maria at the foot of green hills near the Yangtze River.

Two years later, in 1907, more than eight hundred missionaries were ministering across the far-flung miles of China’s interior. Truly this man of faith and fortitude had mastered in the ministry of moving men through God by prayer.

The Living Legend of Faith Continues

“But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.”

– Hudson Taylor

Hudson Taylor served in China for fifty-one years. After founding the China Inland Mission, he saw during his lifetime twenty mission stations established in unevangelized regions, 849 missionaries brought onto the field, over 700 Chinese workers trained to take the gospel to unreached peoples, 4 million dollars raised by faith–after being inspired by George Müeller–and witnessed a developing Chinese church of 125,000 members. He also started a mission magazine called China’s Millions, which today is published as East Asia’s Millions.

“This is the story of God’s remarkable work in and through Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission, which Chinese Christians today gladly acknowledge as essential to the growth of perhaps the largest church on earth.”

– G. Wright Doyle, Director of China Institute and Global China Center

Hudson often said he wished to be an example of what great things God can do through very small people. Abiding in Christ produced in Hudson Taylor’s life great action, risk, discipline, and self-denial–all of which was sustained by great peace and great joy through faith in Jesus Christ. He was always seeking to break new ground, always keen to enter the unoccupied territory, and always anxious to proclaim the Joyful News where Christ had not been named.

Thus, we read of his story and learn that from a Christian pioneer missionary, who adopted the Chinese dress, adapted to the Chinese customs and modes of life, and traveled native fare, did encouraged single women to live in the interior of China, refused to appeal for funds, established schools for missionaries’ children in the field instead of in their homeland country–which he did later in life–and developed business departments within the Mission to facilitate the health and medical needs of the local people.

James Hudson Taylor is one of the most widely known missionaries to China. Many Christians have been challenged by multiple aspects of his life, and have followed in his footsteps. He was bold without being reckless, eager yet alert, confident yet discerning, and adventurous yet far-sighted.

“No other missionary in the nineteen centuries since the apostle Paul has had a wider vision and carried out a more systematized plan of evangelizing a broad geographical area than Hudson Taylor.”

– Ruth Tucker, author

In looking back over his long life, Hudson Taylor said, at the close of his ministry:

“I have sometimes met people who have said: ‘Trusting God is a beautiful theory, but it won’t work’. But praise God, it has worked, and it does work. I remember a dear friend, an aged minister in London, who said to me in the year 1866: ‘Well, you are making a great mistake in going to China with no organization behind you. We live in a busy world, and you will be all forgotten, and the Mission won’t live seven years.’

That was the prophecy of this good man—a wise man too. But he was mistaken; and I could only say to him in a very simple way: ‘I have got four children. I have never yet needed a committee to remind me of their needs or of my duty to them; and I do not think I have more care for my children than my Heavenly Father has for His children, whom He is thrusting out into China.’

Well He has cared for them through all these years, and He has graciously helped us; and, as the work grew, He has given the organization which we had no need for, and no place for, at the commencement. But the organization has grown up with the work.”

May we have the same faith as Hudson Taylor did, in the God who cares for us and leads us in our daily lives, no matter the circumstances.

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