The Life of J. Hudson Taylor: Chapter 11 - Christmas in China
Strangers in a strange land, most of the Lammermuir party now found themselves face to face for the first time with the practical problems of a missionary's life, and earliest among the difficulties that arose was the pressing question as to where so large a party, including ladies and children, could be received and sheltered, while preparations were being made for the journey inland. But the Lord did not allow the hearts of His servants to be troubled even for an hour, and before nightfall, on the very day of their arrival, the whole matter was arranged for them, and they had found a welcome and a home. Writing about this gracious answer to many prayers, Mr. Taylor says:-
"After experiencing much danger and signal blessings on the voyage, we cast anchor off Shanghai on September 30th, 1866. The kindness of the captain and the officers of the Lammermuir during the whole journey we never can forget. We had brought with us a large amount of material,-- stores, which former experience in China had taught us would be useful; printing and lithographic presses, with type and other accessories; a large supply of medicines, and the requisite apparatus for commencing a hospital and dispensary; and the private effects of twenty-two individuals, old and young. Now that our voyage yeas terminated, all this had, of course, to be removed from the ship; but where accommodation could be found for its storage, even temporarily, we knew not.
"With regard to our own course, also, we were equally in the dark. But of one thing we were well assured -- that He who had so remarkably answered prayer in raising up our band of helpers, in providing the means for their outfit and passage, in delivering us from the stormy tempest and furious typhoon, He was still with us, to guide and direct, and would surely provide for all our wants. And we were not disappointed. When were those On the very evening of our arrival we received an invitation from our warm-hearted friend, W. Gamble, Esq., who kindly stored our luggage and entertained the whole party during our stay in Shanghai."
Upon the arrival of the Lammermuir, the Mission was already represented by seven brethren and sisters in the field, working in four settled stations. It was with no small measure of thankfulness that this little band heard of fresh reinforcements, and joined the native Church in welcoming Mr. Taylor again to Ningpo, after his long, eventful absence. From among the native Christians two or three men were found as helpers for the recently arrived party, who hoped to make their way inland at once, in the direction of Hang-chau.
Distant about one hundred and eighty miles from Shanghai, in a southwesterly direction, across the low-lying populous plain, stands the important city of Hang-chau, provincial capital of Cheh-Kiang, en route for which the travelers now found themselves. This great city, with a population of little less than half a million people, was at that time only beginning to recover from the terrible devastations of the T'aip'ing rebellion. Much of the ground within its far-reaching walls was still waste and desolate, and but little trace remained of the beauty and magnificence which in the famous days of Marco Polo's visit, at the close of the thirteenth century, had drawn merchants from Persia and Arabia to its marts, and had so stirred the admiration of even European travelers.
Missionary operations, which had been entirely suspended during the years of rebellion and trouble, had been recommenced in 1864 by the Rev. G. E. Moule, now Bishop of Mid-China, who first visited Hang-chau in November of that year, and in the following autumn brought his family to reside in the city. Subsequently Mr. Green, of the American Presbyterian Board, had also taken up work in that needy center; and in the autumn of 1866, very shortly before the arrival of the Lammermuir, Mr. Kreyer, of the American Baptist Missionary Union, had obtained premises on the Ta-tsin Hiang, a busy and important thoroughfare at the foot of the famous City Hill. These three pioneer missionary families composed the entire foreign community resident in Hangchau at the time that Mr. and Mrs. Hudson Taylor and their large party left Shanghai-in the end of October, 1866.
The future all looked very uncertain before the travelers, as they slowly made their way among the many winding streams and busy populous cities that mark the plain between the port they had just left and the capital of Cheh-Kiang. The object before them was, of course, to get into regular settled work as soon as possible, and to establish, by God's blessing, at least one strong central station, as a basis of operations for more extended efforts in the future. At several places on the way Mr. Taylor endeavored to obtain a settlement, hoping to divide the large party, and leave some of the young men at any rate, with the native evangelist, to commence work in one or more of the cities between Shanghai and Hang-chau, all of which were destitute of missionary laborers. These efforts, however, proved unsuccessful; residence was not to be effected in any of the places visited. And so the travelers had no alternative but to move slowly in the direction of Hang-chau, praying earnestly that the Lord would open their way to obtain a home somewhere before the winter weather fairly set in. More than a month, however, passed by, and boat-life began to be very wearisome and the weather very cold before the ancient turreted wall of the great city came in sight. How much experience had been gained in that one short month, and how different missionary life appeared at its close to those who for the first time had proved something of what it meant to be homeless strangers in a heathen land!
At last, towards the end of November, circumstances began to straiten about the little band of travelers. The weather was now quite winterly, and life on board the native; boats -- draughty at all times -- was scarcely. safe any longer for so uninitiated a party, including little children. The servants began to speak of leaving, finding the cold trying; and the boatmen themselves wished to return home, and go to work on their farms for the winter. The difficulties in the way of renting accommodation for so large a party had already been proved, and it was with very earnest prayers to God for help and guidance that the travelers drew near Hang-chau.
"Of ourselves we were just helpless; but we knew that we were being led by the Hand that opens and no man shuts, that shuts and no man opens -- the same Hand which had prepared for us at Shanghai a hospitable roof and stowage for all our goods; and so we prayed and moved forward, nothing doubting."
It was on Thursday, November 27th, that the neighborhood of the great city was reached, and the boats had to come to a standstill, being unable to proceed any farther. Many of the party were poorly, and Mr. Taylor left them in the boats, while he went on alone to the city to seek accommodation in some house or temple, as the Lord might open the way. Little thinking of the provision already made to meet their pressing need, Mr. Taylor went to call upon one of the missionaries then residing in Hang-chau, from whom he heard the unexpected tidings that Mr. Kreyer, who had left the city to return shortly with his bride, had given instructions to the effect that, should Mr. Taylor's large party arrive during his absence, his own house was to be placed at their disposal for the time being. This was indeed welcome news; for five days still remained before Mr. Kreyer's expected return, and during that time another place might be found for permanent occupation, the Lord willing.
Very much cheered by the kindness of this unknown friend, Mr. Taylor went back to bring all his large family up to the house so remarkably provided for them. The boats they had come in so far had to be exchanged for others of a poorer description -- flat-bottomed concerns, roofed over with straw matting -- in Which they could enter the city; and in these they passed under one of the water-gates, and found themselves within the walls, crossing some of the wide open spaces then under cultivation, which before the rebellion had been populous districts, but were left in ruins through the troubles of that stormy time. As the chill November afternoon darkened into twilight these less-frequented suburbs were left behind, and the closely covered boats passed in among the crowded streets and buildings of the busiest part of the city. It was quite dark when at last, all unobserved, they drew up in the neighborhood of Mr. Kreyer's house, and the travelers made their way along one or two silent streets, where the business-places were already closed, the work of the day being done, and found themselves entering an ordinary-looking Chinese dwelling, hard by a busy tea-shop crowded with guests, beneath the shadow of the City Hill. Here, although so large a party, they found room to bestow the little luggage they had brought, and to unroll their native bedding and settle for the night, the ladies and children in one part of the house, and the men in another, according to proper Chinese etiquette.
Next morning the great city awoke just as usual to its busy, eager life, all unconscious of the fact that no less than twenty additional foreigners had just found shelter within its walls; and the new arrivals were not anxious that the truth should be made known. It was Saturday morning, and Mr. Kreyer's return with his bride was expected on Wednesday of the following week, so there was no time to be lost in seeking other quarters. Continual prayer was being made about it, and Mr. Taylor went out early to look for suitable premises. The very first house he was led to seemed so well adapted to their requirements that he entered at once into negotiations with the portly landlord, through the indispensable middleman, hoping to secure it without delay. But the terms asked were exorbitantly high; and a weary day was spent in polite discussions, that ended as they had begun, without settling anything. The next day, Sunday, was set apart for waiting upon the Lord in prayer and fasting; and while His servants were on their knees, He was working on their behalf.
Monday was again spent in fruitless search; no other house could be found that seemed so suitable; and when evening came, matters began to look grave. By that time, however, the landlord of the first house could wait no longer. All Sunday he had been expecting the return of the foreigner; and when Monday followed and still he did not appear, the middle-men were sent round to re-open negotiations. Another day had to be spent in elaborate discussion of the matter; but by Tuesday evening the deposit-money was paid, and the strangers at last put in possession of premises in every way adapted to their needs. And it was none too soon, for Mr. Kreyer was to return the very next day; but also it was none too late, for "God's clocks keep perfect time."
In the early-dawn or Wednesday morning, long before the sleeping city could have any consciousness of their movements, the whole party quickly and noiselessly transferred themselves and their few belongings to the new house on the Sin-k'ai Lung, crossing the silent streets in little groups of only a few together, and thankfully finding themselves established in their new quarters without disturbance or even observation.
"Here, then, for a time," wrote Miss Blatchley, "Mr. Taylor intends us to remain (with God's protecting permission) as quietly and as little seen as possible, the study of the language affording quite sufficient occupation. By the time that any of us are ready for direct missionary work, it will have become a well-known fact that our large party of foreigners is settled in the city; and no disturbance or mischief having resulted therefrom, we hope to get among the people with less difficulty, and excite less suspicion than might otherwise have been the case. We also trust to reap an advantage in coming thus direct to the capital of the province, because the mere fact of our having gained a footing here will help to pave the way in other places. The house that we have obtained is so exactly suited to our requirements that we feel specially grateful to God for enabling us to procure it. We have it cheaply, and it is very large, having evidently been before the time of the rebellion the mansion of some wealthy family of mandarins; but to our English notions, especially in its present dilapidated condition, it does not savour much of comfort, closely resembling a number of barns or out-houses, all clustered together. There is a great superabundance both of dust and ventilation, and it comes far short of its full complement of doors and windows; but we have temporarily supplied the latter deficiency with old sheets, and hope soon to get the place into somewhat more comfortable condition."
The first days of December witnessed many changes coming over the roomy but sadly ramshackle and dilapidated premises on the quiet Sin-k'ai Lung, where by degrees dirt and disorder began to give place to the very different conditions of a missionary home. Really large and commodious, the house possessed over thirty rooms, more or less spacious and lofty; and a separate staircase gave access to one of the wings, Which was therefore set apart for the use of the young men exclusively, as long as they should need a home in Hang-chau. For some weeks all were busy from morning to night in getting the place into habitable order -- putting up doors, papering the wooden partitions, making paper ceilings, and arranging for chapel, dispensary, printing-office, women's class-rooms, etc. Miss Desgraz took charge of the daily housekeeping duties -- no sinecure for so large a family; and having studied the Romanized colloquial on the voyage, some of the party soon began to make themselves understood by their new neighbors.
It was some time after the house had been rented to them, however, ere the missionaries could obtain full possession; for the premises being extensive, quite a number of Chinese families had occupied them together, and five or six of these remained on for several weeks, regardless of the changed circumstances. "Our first care, therefore, was to bring the Gospel before these neighbors, and to seek to convert what was to us a temporary inconvenience into permanent blessing for them." The women of these families were Miss Faulding's special care, and day by day she would go and read to them from the Romanized New Testament and hymn-book, and try to teach them about the love of God. By degrees her patient labours, strengthened by what these poor heathen women daily saw of life in a Christian home, produced a deep impression on their minds; and one woman was led to give her heart to the Saviour, becoming from the first a valued helper in the work. After a while Miss Faulding was able to induce one and another to take her to visit the houses of their relatives in the neighboring streets; so that not only were the missionaries' first friends and their earliest convert found among those who lived with them under the same roof, but the commencement of their work among the women of the city was equally traceable to the spirit of Christian love and forbearance with which inconvenience was borne and discomfort met in those early days. Surely the more openly we are enabled to live among the people lives of Which they may readily take knowledge day by day, meeting theirs at all points, accessible, visible, and with no mystery about them or forbidding seclusion, the more we may expect to win that heart-confidence and sympathy which pave the way so wonderfully for spiritual blessing.
Towards the end of December sufficient progress had been made to enable the new arrivals to extend hospitality to some of the older members of the Mission, not residing in Hang-chau, who came over to join them in consultation as to plans, and in waiting upon God for His blessing during the coming year. Among these welcome visitors was Mr. Stevenson, from Shao-hing, who retains a vivid recollection to this day of the impressions received upon his first introduction to the members of the Lammermuir party in their new home. They were still busy papering and cleaning when he arrived at Sin-k'ai Lung, and it was with much interest that he observed the heartiness with which all seemed to throw themselves into the work; but the thing that drew his attention most was the deeply prayerful spirit of the little company. "Their prayers impressed me immensely," he has said; "I felt that the Mission must succeed with such an amount of real waiting upon God."
And another recollection of those days is one upon which the Deputy Director -- then a young missionary only ten months in the field -- still loves to dwell: a memory that five-and-twenty eventful years, with all that they have brought, cannot efface, and one that lives in many another heart as well, with equally undying power and sweetness; the memory most of all associated now with that first C. I. M. home in China -- of her who moved among them with a mother's heart, and though so young herself, filled a true mother's place, not to the children only, but to all. "I was much impressed," says Mr. Stevenson, recalling those far-off days, "with Mrs. Hudson Taylor's beautiful spirit -- with her calmness, devotion, wise judgment, and far-seeing discretion. Every one seemed to have so much confidence in her opinion, which was never hastily given, but always so well worth waiting for." And her prayerfulness is even more generally remembered. Truly the influence of that calm life and spirit, in its deep fearless faith and abiding communion with God, it would be difficult to over-estimate in connection with those early days of trial and blessing.
New Year's Eve, 1866, was set apart by the household at Sin-k'ai Lung for special waiting upon God in prayer and fasting. It was a season of many memories ,and as the simple record runs: "We realized much of God's presence while reviewing the mercies of the past and seeking special guidance for the coming year."
"Oh, that Thou wouldst bless me indeed and enlarge nay coast, and that Thine hand might be with me, and that Thou wouldst keep me from evil that it might not grieve me" -- the prayer of Jabez -- was the deep heart cry with which that little band at Hang-chau entered the unknown year, the first year to so many of them of their missionary life in China; and the Lord granted their request. A footing had graciously been given them in the important provincial capital of Cheh-Kiang, and from that city as a basis of operations they began to look forward to extended efforts. A great work lay before them, beset by many trials and dangers and increasingly were they brought to feel their need of power from on high.
"The difficulties of the work are so great," wrote Mr. Taylor, "that apart from the mighty power of God we should indeed have a hopeless task before us. As it is, He can and He will supply all our need, and make His grace sufficient for us."
Very early in the New Year a remarkable instance occurred of the loving care and faithfulness of God, in whom His servants delighted to put their trust. This was in connection with what proved to be the first extension of the Mission from Hang-chau, when, in the month of January, their prayers began to be answered, and a new station was given them in the neighboring city of Siao-shan.
Distant about fifteen miles from Hang-chau, and situated on the direct route between that city and Mr. Stevenson's station, Siao-shan had for some time appeared a desirable center for missionary operations, and a suitable house had been found, which Mr. Taylor would gladly have rented. But a deposit of sixty dollars was required for this purpose, and funds were low. Much prayer was made about the matter, for this city seemed so large and important; but it still remained a serious question as to whether the expense could be met. Just then an unexpected communication arrived from Mr. Gamble, in Shanghai, enclosing a subscription, from an unknown donor, of sixty-six dollars for the work, with the following interesting letter:-
"My Dear Mr. Gamble:-
"I know you take a warm interest in the China Inland Mission, and will be glad to hear of a pleasant little incident which presented itself yesterday.
"A friend of mine called on me in the afternoon, and told me he had just happened to fall in with a Singapore Chinaman, who had lately been up country visiting a number of Protestant foreign missionaries, ladies and gentlemen, who wore the Chinese costume, lived on Chinese diet, ate with chopsticks, and went in and out among the people just as the Chinese themselves. He told me he had been so much interested in the Chinaman's account of matters that, on inquiring of him who among the foreigners in Shanghai were friends of the Mission, and getting my name, he had come along at once to make further inquiries, and to offer me a subscription for the Mission, if I thought it would be acceptable. He said that from what he heard he considered that the self-renunciation, carried to such an extent by those Protestant missionaries, in identifying themselves as much as possible, in manners and customs and outward circumstances, with the people they had come to Christianize and save, was something so noble in itself that it was impossible sufficiently to admire it. He could not imitate it, but he could appreciate it; and he did not care of what denomination those missionaries might be, he would be happy to be put down as a subscriber of fifty or one hundred taels a year, if that would do them any good; and he gave me an order for fifty taels to begin with.
"I have much pleasure in enclosing the order herewith to you, and I shall be glad if any of the missionaries will kindly acknowledge the receipt of the amount to Mr. _____. I have the more pleasure in relating this little incident to you, that in the Singapore Chinaman I recognize the friend I have met at your house, and whom you have so lately been the means of guiding into the fold of Christ."
With joy and gratitude the little band of workers at Hang-chau recognized in this unexpected gift God's own gracious answer to their prayers about Siao-shan; and the money being thus provided, the house was taken, and Mr. and Mrs. Nicol, with Mr. Williamson, went over at once to occupy it.
Towards the end of January the native evangelist, Tsiu Sien-seng, of Ningpo, joined them to assist in opening the chapel for daily preaching; and on Sunday, the 27th, they had large and attentive audiences. Next day, however, opposition began to appear; and in the evening the little household was surprised by the violent entrance of one of the local mandarins -- unfortunately a good deal the worse for drink-who ordered their immediate departure from the city, and had the evangelist severely beaten in their presence with seven hundred blows. The missionaries were obliged to leave for a time, but subsequently returned; and in the autumn of the same year numbers were coming daily to hear the Gospel, and there were three applicants for baptism. Soon after the opening of Siao-shan, and before commencing much regular work in Hang-chau, Mr. Hudson Taylor paid a brief visit to the older stations of the Mission, in some of which he had not yet been able to see anything of the work. Before starting upon this journey, in a letter to his beloved mother at home he wrote:-
"Never before have I so fully realized that 'I am a pilgrim and a stranger,' as the little hymn says; and I might indeed add,-
'Rough and thorny is the road, Often in the midst of danger, But it leads to God.'
It is an easy thing to sing, 'I all on earth forsake;' it is not very difficult to think, and honestly, though very ignorantly to say, 'I give up all to Thee;' but God sometimes teaches us that that little word all is terribly comprehensive. Thank God, He has left me much, very much, and above all He never leaves us.