Hudson Taylor and CIM
There are many respects in which Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission, might be considered the doyen of missionaries. His biography is written by Dr and Mrs Howard Taylor, but Mrs Howard Taylor, his daughter-in-law, wrote alone the two other great biographies considered here, those of Pastor Hsi and James Fraser, Behind the Ranges , subtitled Fraser of Lisuland, SW China. The original Biography of James Hudson Taylor was in two volumes; it is to the abridged version, at a mere 500 pages, that reference is made here.
Behind the Ranges
Mrs Taylor’s style is to combine historical investigation, coloured by descriptive detail, with an account of her subjects’ spiritual growth; she really seeks to show how external growth stems from the internal, particularly as tied to prayer. In the case of James Fraser this is facilitated by access to his correspondence with his mother who was both his faithful prayer support and the organiser of a team of people praying for the tribal people in the far south-west of China, particularly the Lisu people. Mrs Taylor was also well acquainted personally with Fraser.
Fraser had trained as an engineer, was a rather brilliant musician and a devoted mountaineer in the Alps, when his faith in Christ was quickened into action by a booklet entitled “Do not Say”, challenging him to lay down his life, acknowledging the ownership of Jesus. He doesn’t seem to have looked back, though clearly at times he missed music; rather, he entered the China Inland Mission and was posted to Yunnan province where he proved unusually adept with the Chinese language and quickly found his way into ministry among the Chinese; he seems to have found evangelism something that came naturally. However he began to be aware of the tribal people and trips into the mountains, trekking, climbing, visiting, confirmed him in a love and desire for the Lisu people in particular, at first communicating in Chinese as he learned Lisu. (He became the first person to study and record the grammar of the language, he invented a script, and translated Mark’s gospel.) We see from the opening chapters that Fraser was a naturally very talented man; he was settled in and working effectively as a ‘missionary’ while still only in his twenties. The book then begins to come to grips with his prayer life.
He began to pray generally for the Lisu, but he writes home and tells how God challenged to him a different kind of prayer. (This book is actually worth reading just to examine Fraser’s own views on prayer.) He was led to pray specifically and definitely, rather than generally, what he calls the prayer of faith. He prayed definitely for ‘several hundred Lisu families’; he prayed, believed and refused to touch the matter anymore in his thought life. He discusses the prayer of faith in an interesting comparison with a Canadian emigrant, who leaves England to take up an offer of land to farm for wheat. 1. There is endless land. 2.The government encourages emigration 3.The individual farmer is to receive one specific block of land only 4.The farmer presents his claim for a block – and it is endorsed 5. He occupies the land and goes to work 6. He fights through to victory.
After settling the matter by faith, Fraser set to work, and experienced much discouragement. Another interesting passage is where he realizes the demonic source of all this. He speaks about “deliverance from the power of the evil one through definite resistance on the ground of The Cross.” “[The] cloud of depression dispersed.” Something that becomes evident through the course of the book is Fraser’s growing ability to overcome setbacks and failings, both personally and in the work, because the people have strong demonic ties – in fact, essentially, conversion means for them destroying their shrines for ancestral worship and trusting Jesus instead of demons. In Fraser’s case there is evident steady progression towards serenity with all tendency to depression left behind. By the end of the book he is an outstanding leader.
For a long time there is no major breakthrough among the Lisu. A key element when it does come is Fraser’s mobilization of prayer at home in England. He makes the point very strongly that the Lisu are spiritual babes and that there is a great responsibility on the part of the mature saints in England to carry the weight, the burden. He sees his place as bringing the supply of God’s grace through the prayers of the saints together with the demand – the needs of the Lisu unable to take up the spiritual warfare themselves. A great breakthrough does indeed come and thousands of Lisu convert. It is worth pointing out that it is indeed conversion, rather than being born again – they greatly lack teaching, which Fraser and his fellows endeavour to supply. Interestingly, it may be that Fraser missed a key element; Don Richardson suggests in his seminal book Eternity in their Hearts that there may have been an element of a people movement among the Lisu because of long held beliefs that one day a white man would come with a book and news of salvation. Be that as it may, there is no detracting from the very good things that Fraser says on prayer.
I used to think that prayer should have the first place and teaching the second. I now feel it would be truer to give prayer the first, second and third place, and teaching the fourth.
For these people out here are not only ignorant and superstitious. They have a heathen atmosphere all about them. One can actually feel it. We are not dealing with an enemy that fires at the head only – ie keeps the mind only in ignorance – but with an enemy who uses GAS ATTACKS which wrap the people round with deadly effect, and yet are impalpable, elusive. What would you think of the folly of the soldier who fired a gun into the gas, to kill it or drive it back? Nor would it be of any more avail to teach or preach to the Lisu here, while they are held back by these invisible forces. Poisonous gas cannot be dispersed, I suppose, in any other way than by the wind springing up and dispersing it. MAN is powerless.
…[but] the breath of God can blow away all those miasmic vapours from the atmosphere of a village, in answer to your prayers. We are not dealing with flesh and blood. You deal with the fundamental issues of this Lisu work when you pray against ‘the principalities, the powers, the world rulers of this darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies’ (Eph 6.12).
Finally, it is worth recording that as with Mrs Taylor’s other books, she interestingly intersperses the more spiritual aspects of her biography with nice descriptions and warm looks at human life. Fraser married a much younger girl, and had a very happy marriage, before his early death at the age of 52. He saw a major turning of the Lisu people to Christ and the establishment of their own self-supporting, independent church. He himself had perforce as he grew older, because of physical limitations and other responsibilities, to go much less into the mountains ‘behind the ranges’ and was more a leader of the leaders who were helping the Lisu and other peoples.