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OMF’s 150th anniversary

September 2015 | by Song Tsai

150 years ago, Hudson Taylor, a Yorkshire lad from Barnsley, gave a challenging call to the Christians of his day.

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

‘What does the Master teach us? Is it not that if one sheep out of 100 be lost, we are to leave the 99 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 99 perishing ones!

‘Christian brethren, think of the imperative command of our great Captain and Leader, “Go ye, into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature”’ (edited from Hudson Taylor’s China: its spiritual needs and claims).

Consecration

As Hudson Taylor himself continued to dwell on these words, so plagued was he by the spiritual needs of China that he became physically ill. This continued until, at the invitation of a friend, he went for a desperately needed break in Brighton during the weekend of 24-26 June 1865.

As he sat in the Presbyterian church on Sunday morning listening to the pastor’s sermon, he was suddenly overwhelmed with agony, ‘unable to bear the sight of a congregation of a thousand or more Christian people rejoicing in their own security, while millions were perishing for lack of knowledge’.

He went out to the sands of Brighton beach and there gave himself to God to use in his service. ‘I told [the Lord] that all the 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 labour with me’.

Peace at once flowed into Taylor’s heart and he prayed for 24 willing, skilful labourers: two for each of the 11 inland provinces which were without a missionary and two for Mongolia. And so the China Inland Mission (CIM) was born.

God’s faithfulness

Through the 1800s and first half of the 1900s, the work of CIM in China grew, planting churches and baptising hundreds of thousands. It was perhaps the most turbulent, dangerous and bloody period of China’s history.

CIM-ers experienced God’s faithfulness, in spite of the loss of 58 adults and 21 children during the Boxer uprising, the lawless ‘warlord’ period of the 1930s-40s with its great persecution of God’s people, and the staff and children at Chefoo’s CIM school being interned at a Japanese concentration camp for over five years during World War II.

By 1950, in spite of such setbacks, the Chinese church had grown to 700,000, with strong indigenous leaders such as John Sung, Wang Ming-Dao, Watchman Nee and Andrew Gih. However, as the Communist party then took power in China in 1949, it became impossible for foreign missionaries to stay without endangering both themselves and local Christians. So began a ‘reluctant exodus’ of CIM missionaries, and by 1952 there were none left in China.

After eight years of uncertainty, the decision was eventually made to change the name to Overseas Missionary Fellowship (‘overseas’ from China), and work began in earnest throughout all East Asia. The name was eventually changed to OMF International.

And so OMF International has witnessed God’s faithfulness to his church in East Asia over the last 150 years.

Barnsley

To give thanks for God’s faithfulness over the last 150 years, Jamie Hudson Taylor IV came back to Barnsley, to visit the birthplace of his great-great-grandfather.

Jamie serves with OMF International as leader of its Chinese church-related ministries. He works with the Chinese church in equipping leaders, empowering churches and engaging in cross-cultural mission.

Jamie was invited to Barnsley by the James Hudson Taylor (JHT) group, which is composed of local church leaders and prominent Christians with a vision to ‘renew the memory of James Hudson Taylor in his home town of Barnsley and present him as an inspiring example for current and future generations’.

The visit took place from Monday 22 June to Wednesday 24 June, almost 150 years to the day since Hudson’s experience of consecration at Brighton.

It started with a civic reception at Barnsley Town Hall hosted by the Lord Mayor of Barnsley, to welcome Jamie and family members and friends, representatives from OMF, and members of the JHT group.

They were then taken to the city archives and part of the ‘James Hudson Taylor trail’ in the city centre. The trail was designed by the JHT group and consists of 14 places of interest connected with Hudson Taylor, 12 of which are within walking distance of the town centre, and two just outside Barnsley.

Events

There were three main events hosted by the JHT group: the church leader’s forum and two celebration services, one in English and one in Chinese.

On the Monday evening, the forum was chaired by Mark Reasbeck, pastor of Gateway Church Barnsley and a son of OMF missionaries who served in Malaysia. It was well attended by local church leaders.

Jamie and Rev. Shen (pastor in charge of missions at Hsin-Yi Friendship Presbyterian Church, Taipei, and chairman of the OMF Taiwan Council) were given ten minutes to speak on each of three topics, and there was time for questions and feedback.

The talks were encouraging presentations about current trends in missiology and with observations from churches abroad. The discussions were lively exchanges seasoned with grace and humility.

The topics covered included: ‘From global to local’: what can we learn for our own context from what’s going on in churches globally (with focus on the growing church in China)?; ‘From east to west’: as the church in the east grows stronger, how can the church in the west prepare to receive missionaries from the east?; ‘From top hats to pigtails’: lessons from Hudson Taylor’s example of cultural contextualisation.

Tuesday saw the continuation of the JHT trail tour, with visits to two sites outside Barnsley — the cottage where Hudson Taylor’s great-grandfather James Taylor was converted and the church where he married Betty Johnson. His story is worth relating briefly.

Wedding day

On the morning of his wedding day, 1 February 1776, James Taylor was threshing wheat and preparing his cottage on Staincross Ridge for his bride. His mind strayed to a phrase he had heard from somewhere, ‘As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord’.

As he thought deeply about these words (from the book of Joshua) and the responsibilities of becoming a husband, and hopefully a father, he had a vivid experience of the love of Christ, which in turn gave him renewed vigour and direction in life. He spent so long in prayer that he was late for his own wedding!

Though initially dismayed by the sudden conversion of her husband, Betty Taylor eventually also gave her life to Christ. Along with neighbours, the Taylors formed the first Methodist society in Staincross and set the family on the path of serving the Lord.

Those words that so captured the minds of James Taylor 240 years ago have continued to capture the hearts and minds of the Taylor family for nine generations. So it was fitting that the youngest member of the tenth generation was baptised in the waters of Brighton beach on 25 June 2015.

Mandarin and English services

On Tuesday evening, a Mandarin speaking service was held to celebrate the 150th anniversary of CIM. Chinese Christians from the north of England were in attendance. Jamie was clearly in his element as, by his own admission, he feels more comfortable speaking in Chinese than English. His father, Dr Jim Taylor III, and mother truly practised what they preached regarding cultural immersion and educated their only son in Mandarin-speaking local schools in Taiwan until secondary school age.

The service began with the hymn ‘Holy, holy, holy’ in Mandarin. Jamie and Rev. Shen then took turns to address the congregation from beneath the same pulpit Hudson Taylor would have preached from, those years ago at Salem Chapel, Barnsley. The service concluded with singing (again, in Mandarin) the great missionary hymn ‘Facing a task unfinished’, written by Frank Houghton, a CIM missionary and Anglican bishop.

Another celebration service was held, this time in English, on Wednesday 24 June at Emmanuel Church, Barnsley. Three hundred local Christians and OMF-ers from the north of England attended. Jamie and Rev. Shen spoke, exhorting Christians in Britain to pray diligently for the work of God; to be concerned for not only the material welfare of people around them but the salvation of their souls; and to trust in God for all things.

The evening concluded with a copy of Roger Steer’s biography of Hudson Taylor being presented to the Christians of Barnsley. They were told that when the copy becomes too worn and tattered, they should send it back to the OMF office in Borough Green and a new copy will be sent out to them!

The author is OMF’s regional mobiliser for the north of England