Sounds like China today.
When missionary Robert Morrison arrived in China 200 years ago, there wasn’t a single Christian. After 26 years of service, the number still hadn’t reached 20. As recently as 1949, Protestants in China still numbered less than a million.
Yet today, even by conservative government estimates, the number is 40 million. The actual figure is probably closer to 70 million. In my great-grandfather’s day, Chinese scholars were the most resistant to the message of God’s love. But in the spiritual vacuum of 21st century Chinese society, it is the scholars who show the deepest hunger for the truth.
God is indeed doing something in our day that we would not believe, even if we were told.
My family’s connection with China began with my great-great-grandparents–the parents of Hudson Taylor. They had a deep burden for China and they instilled that in their son. Hudson, my great-grandfather, married Maria Dyer, whose parents actually worked for 16 years among Chinese people in Malaysia.
At 15, Maria had gone with her older sister to China, where they taught at a school for girls. She married Hudson in 1858, and together they founded the China Inland Mission in 1865. They had nine children, including my grandfather, Herbert Hudson Taylor. He and my grandmother served in China, as did my parents, James Hudson Taylor II and Alice Hayes, who also served in Taiwan.
My wife, Leone, and I have served in Taiwan, Singapore and now in Hong Kong. My son, Jamie, and his wife, Mimi, who is Chinese, are also serving among the Chinese people.
It’s all of God’s grace. What a privilege these six generations of our family have had to serve in this way!
THE LEGACY OF MISSIONS IN CHINA
My ancestors are only a few of the many missionaries God used to spread the Good News to the Chinese people.
Robert Morrison came to China in 1807. In 12 years he not only mastered the language, but he also was able to compile the first Chinese-English dictionary and complete a translation of the entire Bible in Chinese.
It was a remarkable undertaking, against terrific odds. The work took him away from his wife, whose health was poor; and their son died during those years. The Chinese government didn’t want anyone to teach foreigners–these so-called barbarians–the Chinese language. So Morrison’s teacher actually taught him Chinese under the threat of execution.
Even nature seemed to conspire against him. At that time, movable type existed in China but was not widely used. They used wooden blocks–two pages per block. The blocks that Morrison’s Chinese colleague was carving couldn’t be printed immediately; a stack had to be completed first. So they stored them in a closet. When Morrison took them out to do the printing, he discovered that many of the blocks had been eaten by termites. He and his colleague had to start again. It was incredibly discouraging. Yet, by God’s grace and Morrison’s perseverance, he and his colleagues were able to complete the task.
The great vision of Hudson Taylor was to see the Gospel taken to the people in inland China, and he gave his life to that cause. In 1865, on Brighton Beach in England, he prayed for 24 willing and able workers to go to China–two for each of the 12 unreached provinces of inland China. And by God’s grace, when he left the shores of England the next year, he had all 24. By the time he died in 1905, every inland province that he had prayed for back in 1865 had Chinese Christians and missionaries serving side by side.
Some of the characteristics of the early China Inland Mission included looking to the Lord for provision rather than raising funds by solicitation; identifying with Chinese culture by learning the language, wearing Chinese dress (for which Taylor was scorned by the British community in Shanghai) and living as the Chinese lived.
Taylor also introduced single women to service in inland China. He said, “Half of the Chinese population is women, and they will never be reached for Christ by men. Chinese society is too conservative.” So in the 1870s he began to bring women to the inland. It was a marvelous breakthrough; they were able to go into homes and “gossip the Gospel” with the Chinese women. They might talk about the Lord while holding a Chinese baby on their lap. That would have been impossible for a foreign man to do.
Lottie Moon was another trailblazer. At first, her mission society wanted to assign her to teach in a school. But she said, “You’re not going to lock me indoors teaching school. I want to get out and do evangelism.” So she actually moved out among the people.
Initially she wore western dress, but she also, like the CIM missionaries, began to adopt Chinese dress. This allayed the fears of the people and they realized, “These missionaries really respect our culture. They identify with us.”
Chinese scholars are beginning to dig back into history and they’re discovering that, contrary to what they had been told, these missionaries had nothing to do with imperialism. They served among minority groups. They introduced western medicine and education, especially women’s education. They brought the Bible to China. They fought the opium trade until Parliament stopped it. They fought foot-binding, a painful practice that kept young girls’ feet tightly bandaged so they would remain small and attractive. The contribution missionaries made to Chinese culture was significant.
It was an American, Peter Parker, who came to China in 1834 as the first missionary doctor. Many senior doctors today say that their parents were trained in medicine by missionary doctors such as L. Nelson Bell, the father of Ruth Bell Graham. And hospitals all over China today can trace their roots to missionaries who founded them.
CHANGES IN THE CHURCH
The Church in China has faced several major turning points, but in each one, God has been faithful. During the Boxer Uprising, in 1900, more than 180 missionaries and their children, as well as thousands of Chinese Christians, were killed. Missionaries realized that they had not been adequately developing the indigenous Church.
And what is known today as the Three-Self Movement–Self-Governing, Self-Supporting and Self-Propagating–did not start with the communist government. Those Three-Self principles are biblical principles that the Apostle Paul followed, and they became particularly important in China after 1900. During that time, outstanding church leaders emerged such as John Sung, Wang Ming Dao and Andrew Gih.
Another turning point was 1949, when the communist government came to China. Missionaries were obliged to leave China; by 1953, all of them were gone. This meant that the Church in China could no longer be dependent upon foreign missionaries and on the money they provided. Some people said, “This is the end of the Chinese Church.” But it’s humbling to see what God has done in China without missionaries.
The period after 1949 was a purifying process. Denominational differences became less important. In some cases, Christians had to be very low key. Then, when the Cultural Revolution came in 1966 and continued for nearly 10 years, it was a time of testing for all Christians in China, whether they had affiliated with the official church or were worshiping in homes. People had to decide whether or not they were going to stand up and be counted.
Through all these changes, God’s Word has been crucial. I’ll never forget when I met Pastor Wang Ming Dao in Shanghai in 1980. He had been imprisoned for 23 years, and he said to me, “For 23 years, I never had a Bible or a hymn book in my hand, but because I had memorized the Scripture, that was my strength, that was my comfort, that was my joy.”
A second factor that has sustained the Church is love in community–the way in which Christians have shown solidarity among themselves. A husband is sent off to hard labor or is imprisoned or persecuted. The wife is left behind, and others rally around to help buy vegetables or to help care for the children. During the Cultural Revolution, that kind of love was one of the great factors in the growth of the Church.
The prayers of God’s people have also been amazing. People encouraged prayer for China during the long years after the missionaries left, and those prayers have had great power. God has also used Christian radio and literature in remarkable ways to sustain His people, our brothers and sisters in China.
Generally speaking, the Church in China today is evangelical and biblically based. Its growth has been rapid and therefore, in areas, it lacks depth. This highlights the need for leadership training. Besides a wide range of local seminary and training programs, the most effective overseas-sponsored efforts are those led by ethnic Chinese–often from Singapore, Hong Kong or Taiwan–who know the language well, can mix with the people and have a good grounding in Bible and theology. Most are working under the direction of their local Chinese counterparts.
Westerners with a heart for service among the Chinese people can begin by getting to know Chinese students on university campuses. Right in your own city you can begin to understand Chinese culture and language, and can learn how to relate to Chinese people.
Or you can go to China as a professional. Christian doctors are welcomed when they go as professionals. They don’t go as missionaries, and they’re not missionaries in lab coats.
This needs to be clear, because if they’re just fooling people and they really are missionaries in lab coats, that’s deceptive, and it will backfire. But if they go with integrity to use their profession to bless China, they will find many openings to let Christ’s love touch people through their medical skills, through the beauty of their lives, and through bearing witness to what Christ means to them when a friend asks.
I’m familiar with one organization that began by offering medical services, but expanded beyond that at the request of the government. Other opportunities have come in the form of livestock programs, education, management training, HIV prevention, leprosy programs and community development. Other organizations are also helping people to serve as professionals in China. It’s thrilling to see the number of English teachers in China today.
I long for Christian professionals to realize that they have a key no missionary has for working in a controlled area and influencing people for Christ. And if they have learned how to live for Christ in Chicago or in Columbus, Ohio, they won’t find any difficulty in doing it in China.
The Great Commission could be completed in half the time if we had this view of calling. You can make a great impact on the nation that holds one-fifth of the world’s population if you will serve professionally with integrity, Christlike humility and love.