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Touching China's Interior

Hudson Taylor's godly obsession introduced the gospel to millions.

The young missionary could not get China out of his mind, even though he was on furlough after a decade of service there.

"Can all the Christians of England sit still with folded arms while these multitudes [in China] are perishing?perishing for lack of knowledge?for lack of that knowledge which England possesses so richly, which has made England what England is and made us what we are?"

He paced the floor as he dictated to his wife, Maria, his thoughts, which eventually would become a book, China: Its Spiritual Need and Claims.

"What does the Master teach us? Is it not that if one sheep out of a hundred be lost, we are to leave the ninety and nine and seek that one? But here the proportions are almost reversed, and we stay at home with the one sheep, and take no heed to the ninety and nine perishing ones!"

The man was 33-year-old Hudson Taylor. He was annoyed not only with English Christians but with China mission societies. They were doing decent work in five port cities of China, but the vast interior remained untouched by the gospel and no one seemed to care?at least not enough to do anything about it. Taylor was scandalized and, while on furlough, he conceived a plan that would have left experienced mission agencies chuckling.

Taylor wanted to recruit 24 missionaries: two for each of the 11 inland provinces of China, and two for Mongolia. At the time, a host of seasoned China missionary organizations had, all together, only about 90 workers in China.

But anxiety racked him. While he agonized over the millions of Chinese who were dying without having ever heard the gospel, he also recoiled at sending young men and women into isolated areas. He knew they would face disease, loneliness, hostility, and even death. He went weeks without sleep, obsessed over the dilemma.

He was on the verge of a nervous breakdown ("Thought I should lose my mind," he later wrote) when a friend invited him to the English coast. On a Sunday morning, he slipped out after worship.

While walking along the seashore, he became so overwhelmed he simply gave up. "I surrendered myself to God for this service," he later wrote. "All responsibility as to the issues and consequences must rest with him; that as his servant, it was mine to obey and to follow him?his to direct, to care for, and to guide me and those who might labor with me."

In the margin of his Bible, Taylor wrote: "Prayed for 24 willing, skillful laborers, Brighton, June 25, 1865."

Within the year, Taylor set sail from London with his wife and 16 young missionaries, who were to join five missionaries already working in China under Taylor's direction?23 missionaries, enough to convince Taylor that God was well on the way to answering his prayer. Thus, the China Inland Mission (CIM) was born.

A holy haunting

For most of his life, Taylor was haunted both by his desire to see the Chinese saved and his fear of responsibility. In many instances, he trusted God for what at the time were remarkable requests: In 1881, he asked for another 70 missionaries within three years, and he got 76. In 1886, he requested another 100 within the year and got 102.

Sometimes, Taylor's fears were realized: some CIM missionaries resigned exhausted; others lost their faith; others lost their lives, some to disease, some to violence. Despite moments of sterling faith, Taylor struggled with fits of severe depression his whole life.

Yet when he died, in 1905, Protestant mission agencies in China had nearly 4,000 missionaries and counted some 200,000 converts. A success of this magnitude required the heroic sacrifices of thousands in China as well as Western supporters. But it also required one man to take up a work which, humanly speaking, was simply impossible.

Adapted from CHRISTIAN HISTORY magazine.

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