“I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some.”

1 Corinthians 9:22

When you become a Christian, you become a missionary. This gives you a new perspective on everything: God becomes your master, yet you become a servant of all (Rom 1:1). You don’t conform to the patterns of this world (Rom 12:1), yet you become everything it needs you to be (1 Corinthians 19:19). The true missionary understands how these principles work together.

They are people like James Hudson Taylor. Taylor had a passion to see the world’s most populated country, China, won for Christ.

Travelling to China, a journey that would take months in the 1850s, would be the easiest part of his venture. What would be one of his greatest challenges came when he was in a previously unvisited town near Ningpo. While Taylor was open-air preaching, he noticed from the crowd that had gathered around him, one man who was transfixed on him. Taylor, intrigued by this, started to address the man personally. The Chinaman replied to Taylor saying, ‘Yes, yes what you say is doubtless very true… But I have been pondering all the while you have been preaching… the honourable garment you are wearing …one edge of it a number of circular objects that might do well for buttons, and on the opposite edge, certain slits in the material probably intended for button-holes?’

‘Yes, that is so,’ agreed Taylor, deflated. By this time the crowd were all attention and the sermon had been forgotten. The man, still looking confused, continued, ‘What can be the meaning of those buttons in the middle of the honourable back?’[1] The whole crowd in unison asked the question again. Hudson had not the slightest idea. ‘In the middle of the honourable back’ rang through his head as he walked home, frustrated that his Western dress had caused such a distraction. This situation, among other things, made him realise that if he wanted to evangelise effectively he would have to cease in his appearance as a foreign teacher!

This meant adopting a shaved head and black pigtail. Not the natural hairstyle for someone with sandy hair. Taking a large bottle of expensive ammonia, he loosened the stopper making it accidently spurt out everywhere including into his eyes. In agony, he tried to recover the liquid and fortunately had a bowl of water nearby to clean out his eyes. The next day, he visited a barber for his new haircut, which he describes as painful especially as he had bald areas for the first time, where the skin would have been especially irritated by the heat. Then came five or six hours of applying the black hair dye which did nothing to soothe the agony. The next time he preached it was obvious that the inquisitiveness of the crowds had deceased and they saw him now as an honoured guest not an ‘uncouth intruder’.

Sadly, rather than his fellow missionary community being proud of his adaption to Chinese dress and following suit, he was scorned and called a disgrace who had harmed British prestige. Friends of his thought he had gone mad and his parents, when hearing the news of how he was dressing, were shocked.

Taylor’s response is remarkable. All the insults he received paled beside a new-found inner glory[2]. He had taken a lonely step yet, about his relationship with God, he says, ‘I think I do love him more than ever, and long to serve him, as he directs, more than ever’. At this same time, Taylor’s servant Kuei Hua, amazed by Taylor’s spiritual concern for people, became the missionary’s first convert and the first person Taylor baptised.

When outer glory is sought, inner glory suffers. When inner glory is what matters, when living for an audience of one, the Lord will be able to use us to ‘save some’ (1 Cor 9:22) and as in the case of Hudson Taylor this ‘some’ could become quite a lot more!

Tim Allen (Community Pastor)

[1] John Pollock, Hudson Taylor & Maria: A Match Made in Heaven, Christian Focus, 1996, p.52.

[2] John Pollock, Hudson Taylor & Maria: A Match Made in Heaven, Christian Focus, 1996, p.55.