Two Who Brought Jesus to China: Hudson Taylor and Gladys Alyward

Two Missionaries Every Christian Should Know: Hudson Taylor and Gladys Aylward

Many Christian missionaries have dedicated their lives to serving God in various capacities and in different parts of the world. I think it’s profitable to read and become familiar with these individuals because their stories show how our wise and mighty God uses men and women of humility and faith to carry out His purposes and to advance His kingdom. As you read their stories, you see that they were not particularly extraordinary people, but they had a clear calling from God and were willing to answer it, regardless of the challenges they would face. Two such individuals whom God sent to China were Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) and Gladys Aylward (1902-1970).

Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor

Hudson Taylor circa 1865
Hudson Taylor circa 1865 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“He was a physician…full of the Holy Spirit and of faith, of entire surrender to God and His call, of great self-denial, heartfelt compassion, rare power in prayer, marvelous organizing faculty, energetic initiative, indefatigable perseverance, and of astonishing influence with men, and withal of childlike humility.”

Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret was written by Taylor’s son Howard and his wife. James Hudson Taylor deeply sensed God’s call and a desire to serve Him from the time of his conversion as a teenager. Early on he believed it was China that God would have him go, and immediately he began to prepare himself for this purpose. Much like Jim Elliot, Taylor prepared himself physically by engaging in outdoor exercise and by minimizing the comforts of life. He dedicated more time to prayer and Bible study, and began evangelizing and learning the Chinese language. He also study medicine and received medical training so he would have a useful skill to offer the Chinese people. And he subjected himself to long hours, meager meals, and small, simple living quarters.

Hudson Taylor arrived in Shanghai during the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864). At the time of his arrival in 1854, there were only five port cities in China in which foreigners were allowed to reside. It soon became Taylor’s desire and goal to penetrate the interior with the Gospel. Before the end of his second year, he had taken ten evangelistic trips inland, traveling by junk, preaching and distributing New Testaments and other literature. He was very moved at the suffering he saw all around him.

What it means to be so far from home, at the seat of war and not able to understand or be understood by the people was fully realized. Their utter wretchedness and misery and my inability to help them or even point them to Jesus powerfully affected me. Satan came in as a flood, but there was One who lifted up a standard against him. Jesus is here, and though unknown to the majority and uncared-for by many who might know Him, He is present and precious to His own.

Sometime during that second year, Taylor decided to conform to the Chinese style of dress because he found his European look was a distraction to his hearers.

(Photo credit:

Wearing Chinese dress in those days involved shaving the front part of the head and letting the hair grow long for the regulation queue [braid]  No missionary or other foreigner conformed to such a custom…But it was access to the people he desired…he took the step which was to have so great an influence on the evangelization of inland China!

Hudson Taylor was married in 1858 to 21-year-old Maria Dyer, with whom he had seven children. Due to his poor health, they returned to England for five years. While there he spent his time preaching, working on a Chinese translation of the New Testament, and promoting the work of missions in China. He began praying to God to supply workers and finances to take the gospel to China, and he wrote a pamphlet describing the spiritual needs in China, but he was determined to seek and trust God alone, and not to directly solicit individuals, an approach known as “faith missions.” He truly believed that “God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s supplies.” This was the beginning of the missionary organization he called China Inland Mission (CIM), whose name would later be changed to Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF International) in 1953 in order to avoid suspicion when Communist China became closed to missionary efforts.

In 1866, the Taylors returned to China with their four children and 16 young missionaries.  During the four-month journey, they held Chinese language classes and spent time in prayer and studying God’s Word, and many of the ship’s crew were converted. The Taylors endured many hardships including threats by civil violence and political unrest, physical discomforts, ill health, and limited resources, but none of this was important to Hudson and his wife. He wrote,

We heed these things very little. Around us are poor, dark heathen – large cities without any missionary, populous towns without any missionary, villages without number, all without the means of grace. I do not envy the state of mind that would forget these, or leave them to perish, for fear of a little discomfort. May God make us faithful to Him and to our work.

Along with these troubles, Taylor suffered the death of three of his young children, the third dying at one week old, followed shortly by his wife in 1870. But Hudson Taylor’s faith and complete surrender to God, his “spiritual secret,” sustained him with the joy and peace of God that surpasses all human understanding. In 1869, Taylor wrote,

I now think that this striving, longing, hoping for better days to come is not the true way to holiness, happiness or usefulness… He is most holy who has most of Christ within, and joys most fully in the finished work…To let my loving Saviour work in me His will, my sanctification, is what I would live for by His grace. Abiding, not striving nor struggling…Not a striving to have faith, but a looking off to the Faithful One seems all we need; a resting in the Loved One entirely, for time and for eternity.

Two years after the death of his first wife, Taylor remarried, and he and his wife continued to work for the cause of missions in China for the next thirty years. The Inland China Mission continued to expand and to send missionaries into the different provinces of China, with the exception of a few brief periods of time when they went back to England or visited other countries. However the last year of his life was spent in China, where he died in 1905. When he retired as the director of CIM in 1900, the mission society had 750 missionaries; OMF currently has 1600 workers.

This book includes some helpful additions, such as a map of China and a chronology of Taylor’s life with dates. Reading about Hudson Taylor’s life and ministry in China was interesting, but the best parts of this book were the excerpts from his own letters. In Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, we gain a glimpse into the heart and spiritual life of Taylor and his relationship with his Lord. Here is another favorite quote by Taylor:

It doesn’t matter, really, how great the pressure is, it only matters where the pressure lies. See that it never comes between you and the Lord — then, the greater the pressure, the more it presses you to His breast.

Apparently Hudson Taylor’s view of “resting in Christ” has been associated with what is known as Keswick or Higher Life view of sanctification. This view can be summed up by the statement, “Let go and let God,” but there is a fine balance that needs to be kept in mind. Yes, God is working in us to sanctify us, but there is some responsibility on our part as well to be obedient, to “pursue holiness,” and to “work out our salvation”(Phil. 2:12-13). Some in this movement also taught that a believer could experience a “second blessing” or special empowering of the Holy Spirit that would enable the believer to have greater victory over sin – thus elevating him to a “higher life.” I don’t see how anyone could say that Taylor was passive in his approach to sanctification, and it didn’t sound to me like he believed in a second blessing or that we could eventually totally overcome the power of sin in our life. The article by Danny Slavich (see below) and the discussion that follows I found to be helpful in considering this issue.

“Hudson Taylor did not start out to impact “millions.” He started out to love God, to honor Him, and to share His love with individual sinners who needed so desperately to know Him. Jesus called Taylor (and us) to be ‘faithful,’ not ‘successful.’ And God added the increase.”

Gladys Aylward: The Little Woman by Gladys Aylward

Gladys Aylward. Photo credit:
Gladys Aylward. (Photo credit:
“I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I’ve done for China. There was somebody else. I don’t know who it was — God’s first choice. It must have been a man — a wonderful man, a well-educated man. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn’t willing. And God looked down and saw Gladys Aylward.”

I’m sorry, Gladys, but I can’t quite agree with you there. God never has to resort to “Plan B,” for He always can and does carry out His purposes perfectly. But the statement above by Gladys shows her humility and the fact that she was willing to be used in whatever way God saw fit to use her.

Cover of "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness&...
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness

A biography about Gladys Aylward by Alan Burgess, was published in 1957, and the movie The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958) starring Ingrid Bergman was based on this book. But Gladys wasn’t pleased with some of the liberties that were taken and important things that were changed or left out, so she wrote her own book: Gladys Aylward, The Little Woman.

Like Hudson Taylor, as a young girl Gladys became burdened for the millions in China who had never heard of Jesus. When she applied to the China Inland Mission at the age of 19, the society felt she was unqualified, so she decided to work as a maid in order to save up the money needed to pay her own way there. In less than a year, God provided what was needed, including the person with whom she would work – a 73-year-old retired missionary widow named Mrs. Lawson. Gladys left England in 1932, with her few belongings and no money, and traveled to China by way of the trans-Siberian railway through Russia. She found Mrs. Lawson, who was running a mule inn for traveling merchants, and it became Gladys’ job to invite the travelers to stay there.

Soon our inn became known from Hopeh to Honan. Muleteers were the newsmen of North China and they made it known that the inn of the foreign ladies was clean, the food was good, and at night they had long stories told free of charge.

And so it was that the two women used their inn to share the Good News of Christ with the Chinese. But within the first year of Gladys’ arrival in China, Mrs. Lawson died, and Gladys was left to run the inn, and without Mrs. Lawson’s financial support, their funds quickly began to dwindle. Once again God provided and in an amazing way. One day the Mandarin, the local head official, came to Miss Aylward with a proposal:

footbindingBy government decree the ancient custom of the binding of women’s feet must cease in China. The government is holding me personally responsible for stamping out this ancient custom in this part of the province… A man cannot inspect women’s feet; a woman must do it. And in all this district there is no woman with unbound feet except you. Will you become the inspector of feet?… Also, from the standpoint of this government decree, your teaching is good, because if a woman becomes a Christian she no longer binds her feet.

So Gladys was provided a mule for transportation, two soldiers to accompany her, a salary, and the opportunity to travel from village to village to share the gospel – simultaneously liberating the feet of many women as well as the souls of many Chinese. By this time Gladys had taken on Chinese dress and customs and knew the local dialect. In 1936 she became a legal citizen of China with the name Ai-weh-deh, which meant “virtuous one.”

Gladys Aylward spent 16 years in China, ministering to and sharing the Gospel with war refugees, orphans, prisoners, lepers, university students, and even Tibetan monks. In 1938, when her region was being bombed and invaded by the Japanese, she led 100 orphans over mountains to safety, a feat for which she is well-known. When Aylward’s biographer, Alan Burgess, first interviewed her for a BBC radio series, Miss Aylward didn’t think people would care to hear about her. But then she began to tell him about this incident.

Burgess was more and more aghast as Gladys detailed her trek. His voice choked. “You ran out of food? You had no money? Just you and 100 kids – many of whom were toddlers – trekked for one month across mountains, across the Yellow River, ducking Japanese patrols and dive bombers? And at Sian you were diagnosed with typhus and pneumonia and malnutrition? Yes, Miss Aylward, I think people who listen to BBC would think you’ve done something interesting…

Gladys Aylward never expected to return to England, but God placed a burden on her heart when a young Chinese man suggested that they pray for the heathen land of England where, in spite of its prosperity, “sport, film stars, wealth, amusement – all are far more important that God.”

From that time I knew that I must go back to the land of my birth. I must return to do what I could to dispel the spiritual lethargy that had overtaken so many. I must testify to the great faith of the Chinese church. I must let people know what great things God had done for me.

But she missed China, and when she tried to return 10 years later, she was prohibited by the Communist government from re-entering. The book ends sort of abruptly with Gladys telling how she went to America to tell churches there of the needs in China. She received support from World Vision for the mission she started in Hong Kong and the orphanage she founded in Taipei, where she spent her last years and died in 1970, never marrying.

I like a lot of detail, which I found lacking in Gladys Aylward, The Little Woman. Often a chapter begins with “One day…” and I found myself asking questions: How long had she been there when this happened? or, How much later was this incident? so I ended up looking for some of this information on other sites. I really wished there were more dates included or a timeline for reference. I also think an epilogue giving information about her final years would’ve been a good addition to the book. Miss Aylward’s account is not terribly personal but relates important events that happened like a story, making her narrative very readable even for young readers.

Do you have a favorite missionary whose story has inspired you?

4 thoughts on “Two Who Brought Jesus to China: Hudson Taylor and Gladys Alyward

  1. My favorite has been Isobel Kuhn 1901-1951. She went to China with the China Inland Mission started by Hudson Taylor. She wrote several books of her work with the Lisu People in Yunnan Province of China. She has a very personal style in her writing. You actually feel like you are there and feeling her heart, her fears, and most of all her love for Christ. Her books are well worth reading. My favorite was Nests Above the Abyss.

    1. Thanks Irene, you have mentioned Isobel Kuhn to me before, but now I have all the info recorded for future reference. I will definitely look into reading one of her books.

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