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Discussion Forum : Revivals And Church History : An Epic Love Story – Hudson Taylor in Zhejiang

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 An Epic Love Story – Hudson Taylor in Zhejiang

Many Christians are aware of the life and impact made by the founder of the China Inland Mission, Hudson Taylor, but not so many are familiar with the story of how he and the woman he loved, Maria Dyer, were forced to endure a long and painful process before they finally came together in marriage.

Zhejiang was the stage for much of Taylor's early ministry in China. He and his friend William Burns lived in boats and traveled along the interconnecting canals and waterways of the province, sharing the gospel with everyone they met. After one meeting, Taylor wrote:

"I was preaching the good news of salvation through the finished work of Christ when a middle-aged man stood up and said.... 'I have looked for the truth a long time, as my fathers did before me, but without getting it. I have found no rest in Confucianism, Buddhism or Daoism. But I do find rest in what I have heard here tonight. From now on, I am a believer in Jesus.'"1

The man who was to become what many observers consider the greatest ever missionary to China seems to have been a hopeless romantic in the early years of his career. After his engagement to an English lady failed, Taylor fell into a time of depression just prior to his visit to the port city of Ningbo in 1856. While there, Taylor met the teenaged Maria Dyer, and his interest was piqued. Hudson described Maria in his diary as "a dear sweet creature.... She is a precious treasure, one of sterling worth and possessed with an untiring zeal for the good of this poor people."2

Maria Dyer was born in China to missionary parents, and had come under the influence of Mary Ann Aldersey, who was not only the first female Evangelical missionary to the Orient, but is even thought to have been "the first single Western woman to set foot in China."3 Although Aldersey's life was a beacon of light in the darkness for many years, and she funded a girls' school in Ningbo completely from her personal income, she is most remembered for the spoiling role she played in doing all she could to stop Hudson from marrying Maria.

Taylor wrote a letter to Maria declaring his love for her and his hope that they would be united in marriage. The letter was delivered to Maria's school by a fellow missionary, and the young teacher waited until class was finished for the day before nervously opening the envelope. Maria later wrote: "I read of his attachment to me, and how he believed God had given him that love for me which he felt. I could hardly understand that it was a reality. It seemed that my prayers were indeed answered."4

Hudson, however, was devastated when he received her reply. Instad of accepting his offer, Maria wrote, "I must answer your letter as appears to me to be according to God's direction. And it certainly appears to be my duty to decline your proposals."5

Taylor's letter had been intercepted by Aldersey, who literally stood over her teenage charge and dictated the response. Aldersey, who was approaching 60-years of age, had been appointed Maria's legal guardian while she was in China, and the young Englishwoman respected her authority.

Aldersey then wrote to Maria's family members in England, doing all she could to spoil Taylor's reputation and to ruin any future chance of a union between them. She told them about the uneducated upstart, and how he had come to China in faith and started wearing local clothing. Most ghastly of all, he had shaved his head and wore a pony-tail in keeping with the custom of Chinese men of the day. Many missionaries found Taylor's stance intolerable and humiliating, and they wanted nothing more than to drive him off the mission field and send him back to England as a failure.

Hudson was dejected when he received Maria's letter, but he strongly suspected the words were not her own. He discreetly arranged a secret "interview" in July 1857, where he again declared his love for Maria, this time in the presence of a fellow missionary.

When news got out of the seemingly harmless meeting, the mission community at Ningbo was thrown into an uproar. Aldersey threatened a lawsuit; while missionary William Russell was so outraged he suggested Taylor "ought to be horsewhipped."6


The house where Hudson Taylor lived when he first came to Ningbo in 1856.

The young Hudson Taylor faced a dilemma. He knew he was called to give his life to China, and he was also certain God had shown him that Maria was to be his life partner. When some missionaries suggested he return to England and complete his education so that he would be worthy of Maria, she firmly opposed this move, saying:

"I would wait if he went home in order to increase his usefulness. But is he to leave his work in order to gain a name for the sake of marrying me? If he loves me more than Jesus he is not worthy of me—if he were to leave the Lord's work for the world's honor, I would have nothing further to do with him."7

The fierce opposition to their relationship continued unabated, and Maria found herself practically under house arrest. She was even forbidden to take Communion until she "gave evidence of repentance for the sin" of considering Taylor's advances. The dire episode weighed heavily on Hudson. He was crushed not by his own struggles, but by the thought that Maria was being dragged through the mud. In a letter home he wrote: "Maria is charged with being a maniac, being fanatical, being indecent, weak-minded, too easily swayed; too obstinate and everything else bad."8

Months passed without the two single missionaries seeing each other. No communication between the pair was possible, and the protagonists believed their plot to destroy the potential union had succeeded. In November 1857, however, a mutual friend decided to take a risk by arranging a secret meeting between the two lovebirds.

It was instantly clear that the forced separation and unhinged opposition had completely failed to dent their love for each other. Hudson and Maria "became secretly engaged, and they hugged and kissed and prayed and talked and kissed some more—with no apologies to make. Wrote Taylor: 'I was not long engaged without trying to make up for the number of kisses I ought to have had these last few months.'"9

Maria's uncle back in England was confused about the commotion taking place on the other side of the world. Aldersey had barraged him with letters condemning Taylor, but when Maria's uncle asked other ministers for their opinion of Taylor, their overwhelmingly positive endorsements caused him to write to his niece, granting his approval of their union. Hudson Taylor and Maria Dyer were finally married at Ningbo on January 20, 1858.

The newlyweds remained in Zhejiang for three years, before returning to England where Hudson studied medicine so he could better minister the love of Christ in China. It was during that trip that the Holy Spirit impressed on Taylor the need for a new, different mission organization—one where the workers would be integrated into Chinese culture as much as possible, with a focus on provinces away from the coast where the majority of missionaries were located. The non-denominational China Inland Mission (CIM) was birthed.

When Hudson and Maria finally returned to China in 1866 they were accompanied by their four children and 15 new missionary recruits. After the group encountered much ridicule and scorn from the sophisticated missionaries in Shanghai, Taylor moved its base of operations south to Hangzhou. Many difficult and tragic times ensued, including the death of the couple's beloved daughter Gracie, who had contracted meningitis.

At Christmas 1869, Hudson and Maria made the most difficult decision of their lives. Their four eldest children, Herbert, Howard, Samuel and Maria were to be sent back to England, where they could stay with their grandparents and attend a regular school. On the journey down the Yangtze River to the ship that would take them across the oceans, six-year-old Samuel slipped into a coma after not feeling well for days, and sadly died. In driving rain, Maria and Hudson buried him next to Gracie in a small cemetery at Zhenjiang.

The tragedy was compounded when the Taylors bade farewell to their three living children at the dock in Shanghai a few days later. Tears streamed down their cheeks as they wept aloud, not knowing if they would ever see them again in this life.

The following summer was especially hot, and Maria, who was again pregnant, fell ill. In July she gave birth to a baby boy, Noel, who survived only a few weeks. A few days later, Maria also went to be with her Lord, at the age of just 33. After enduring the scorn of many just to make it to the altar, Hudson and Maria Taylor had been married for only 12 years.

A New Focus

Although devastated and shaken by the death of his much-loved wife, Hudson threw himself into his call with renewed determination.

Once again he decided to return to England to speak at meetings and mobilize new workers. After struggling to overcome the tragic events of 1870, Hudson was feeling terribly lonely without his beloved Maria by his side. During the long journey home he got to know one of the passengers, a 27-year-old single missionary, Jennie Faulding. They married after arriving in England, and returned to China together in 1872.


Hudson and Jennie Taylor.

Although Jennie was a very different person from Maria, Hudson loved her and together the ministry of the CIM flourished and grew. Hudson traveled widely throughout China, and his burden for the evangelization of the world's most populous country boomed out across the Christian world, prompting many to pray earnestly for China's salvation. His clarion calls for more missionaries resounded throughout the Western Church, and a steady flow of recruits gave their lives to reach China for Christ. One of the many memorable and stirring quotes to come from Taylor's pen at this time was:

"Shall not the eternal interests of one-fifth of our race stir up the deepest sympathies of our nature with the most strenuous effort of our Blood-bought powers? shall not the low wail of helpless, hopeless misery, arising from half the heathen world, pierce our sluggish ear and rouse us, spirit, soul and body, to one mighty, continued, unconquerable effort for China's salvation? That strong in God's strength and in the power of His might, we may snatch the prey from the hand of the mighty; that we may pluck these brands from the everlasting burning, and rescue these captives from the thralldom of sin and Satan; to grace the triumph of our Sovereign King, and to shine forth forever as stars in His diadem."10

Taylor launched a plan to recruit 1,000 new missionaries, declaring: "Souls on every hand are perishing for lack of knowledge; more than 1,000 every hour are passing away into death and darkness."11

Satan continually battered Hudson Taylor and did all he could to destroy the CIM, but by 1882 the organization had established bases in every province of China. By 1895, three decades after the mission began, the CIM had more than 640 missionaries scattered throughout the length and breadth of the country. Zhejiang always retained a special place in Taylor's heart because of the key role it had played in the early days of the mission.12

A century later, Ralph Winter of the US Center for World Mission offered this tribute to the impact of Hudson Taylor's life:

"With only trade school medicine, without any university experience, much less missiological training, and a checkered past in regard to his own individualistic behavior while he was on the field, he was merely one more of the weak things that God uses to confound the wise....

God strangely honored him because his gaze was fixed upon the world's least-reached peoples. Hudson Taylor had a divine wind behind him. The Holy Spirit spared him from many pitfalls, and it was his organization, the China Inland Mission...that eventually served in one way or another over 6,000 missionaries, predominantly in the interior of China."13

Footnotes:
1. J. Hudson Taylor, Looking Back: An Autobiography (Sevenoaks, Kent: OMF, 2001), p. 107.
2. Ruth A. Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983), p. 178.
3. Valerie Griffiths, Not Less than Everything: The Courageous Women who Carried the Christian Gospel to China (Oxford: Monarch Books, 2004), p. 29.
4. Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, p. 179.
5. J. C. Pollock, Hudson Taylor and Maria: Pioneers in China (New York: Overseas Missionary Fellowship, 1952), pp. 84-5.
6. Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, p. 180.
7. Pollock, Hudson Taylor and Maria, pp. 89-91.
8. Pollock, Hudson Taylor and Maria, pp. 89-91.
9. Pollock, Hudson Taylor and Maria, p. 95.
10. Cited in Doyle (ed.), Builders of the Chinese Church, p. 118.
11. Dr. & Mrs. Howard J. Taylor, J. Hudson Taylor: God's Man in China (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978), p. 272.
12. Later volumes in The China Chronicles series will feature additional accounts of Hudson Taylor's life and ministry, with the main biography to appear in the book on Hunan Province, where he is buried.
13. Ralph D. Winter & Steven C. Hawthorne (eds.), Perspectives on the World Christian Movement (Pasadena, CA: William Carey, 1981), p. 172.


from: https://asiaharvest.org/china-resources/zhejiang/hudson-taylor/


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