‘Prayed for 24 Willing, Skillful Laborers’

150 years ago this week, Hudson Taylor launched one of the greatest missionary endeavors in church history amid despair and euphoric faith. /

Dear God, If you should give us a son, grant that he may work for you in China.”

Such was the 1832 prayer of James Taylor, a British man fascinated with the Chinese empire, kneeling in the back of his chemist shop alongside his wife. Several months later, James Hudson Taylor was born. Immersed in a Methodist family fascinated with China, the young Hudson sometimes blurted out, “When I am a man, I mean to be a missionary and go to China”—though he didn’t learn of their prayer for some years.

When he was 17 and experiencing “teenage restlessness and rebellion,” his mother locked herself in a room, moved to not only pray that Taylor would become a Christian, but also to stay in the room until she was sure her prayers had been answered. That same afternoon, Taylor later recalled, he picked up a gospel tract about the finished work of Christ and accepted “this Savior and this salvation.”

So began a single-minded life in Christ, devoted to bringing the gospel to the interior of China.

A Storm and a Pigtail

Within a few months of this “new birth,” as he called it, Taylor’s call to China was confirmed during a night of intense prayer when Taylor lay stretched “before Him with unspeakable awe and unspeakable joy.” He spent the next few years in frantic preparation: studying medicine and language, immersing himself in the Bible and prayer. Finally, at 21, he said an emotional farewell to his mother and boarded a ship in Liverpool harbor headed for China.

Off the Welsh coast, the ship ran into a severe storm. The captain described the sea as the “wildest he had ever seen.” Taylor alternated between dread and trust in God’s ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 25 / June 25, 2015
  1. Editors’ Note

    Issue 25: The hopes and fears of invisibility, Hudson Taylor’s mission at 150, and the mystery of the world. /

  2. How to Become Invisible

    Scientists are working harder than ever to help us disappear. But maybe Christians already have. /

  3. The Beginning of All Serious Thought

    One’s every encounter with the world has always been an encounter with an enigma that no merely physical explanation can resolve. /

  4. Forty Years

    ‘That summer sojourn, / forty years gone’ /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Issue 25: Links to amazing stuff. /

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