Jun 8, 2024

Hudson Taylor


They called him the “black devil” for wearing an English black overcoat on the streets of Shanghai. The trappings of his Western European culture had become a barrier to the Chinese people, communicating that Christianity was a foreign religion. Early missionary pioneer Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) wondered what the impact would be if he adopted Chinese customs. He adjusted to wear baggy pants, colorful silk shirts, and pointed, embroidered shoes, consistent with the style of Chinese men during the Qing Dynasty. He ate Chinese food and immersed himself in mastering the intricacies of the Chinese language. He wore his hair in a queue, the customary hairstyle for Chinese men, with the head shaved in the front while the hair in the back was braided in a long ponytail. Wouldn’t you know—as his appearance attracted less attention, his message was given more serious consideration. He now had a problem of a different kind. His fellow missionaries criticized him for selling out and becoming “too Chinese.”
Hudson Taylor was way ahead of his time. It’s now considered commonplace for missionaries to dress and live like the people they are trying to reach. Taylor interpreted Paul’s words to believers in Corinth as a guiding principle for his enculturated approach to ministry, “To the Jews, I become a Jew, to win the Jews…To those not under the law (Gentiles), I become like one not having the law, so as to win those not having the law…I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9.20-23).

Taylor wrote about prayer, “Do not have your concert first and then tune your instrument afterwards. Begin the day with the Word of God and prayer and get first into harmony with Him.” He reflected in his diary on a simple prayer during a season of considerable turmoil and challenge:

O Lord,
How happy should we be
If we would cast our care on Thee,
If we from self would rest;
And feel at heart that One above,
In perfect wisdom, perfect love,
Is working for the best!

James Hudson Taylor, The Autobiography of Hudson Taylor: Missionary to China.

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.