Walk On Water
May 20th, 2011 by Frontline Missions
Roger had it all worked out. From old maps and detailed accounts, our day in Brighton was well planned. I came off a night flight from Addis Ababa, and my British friend met me at Victoria Station. From there we whisked southward through a late winter countryside dotted with sheep and blushed with spring color. In just under an hour, we were looking over a gray English sea and walking on what, in missions history, is sacred ground. Here on Brighton Beach Hudson Taylor made the decision from which the China Inland Mission was born. Not only did the mission become the greatest single force in the evangelization of China in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, but it provided a model for many other organizations that would penetrate more unreached lands in Asia and Africa.
Along the way, Roger helped me understand the big picture of that long-ago day on Brighton Beach, where prayer turned to peace, vision to action. Years ago when Roger made risky trips behind the Iron Curtain to help pastors and smuggle Bibles and typewriters, God gave him an inexplicable peace that He was with him. A man said to Roger once, “I want to serve Christ in such places, but I can’t. I’m afraid.” Roger said, “Can you walk on water?” Meaning, the Apostle Peter walked on water because he trusted the One who called him to step out into an impossible situation. It reminded me that Peter, Hudson Taylor, Roger, and all men and women of faith walk on water when they venture all on Christ. Hudson Taylor once observed, “All God’s giants have been weak men, who did great things for God because they reckoned on His being with them.”
Often when we read about “God’s giants” we read history backward. Our heroes stride across the stage of their generation, every decision drawn by the compass of destiny to their rising star. Even defeats, we know, are just a prelude to the victories that will come a few pages later.
But that’s reading history, not living it. I thought of that as I walked in the now-famous footsteps of Hudson Taylor along Brighton Beach. To those who know the story, Taylor’s decision at Brighton was a tipping point. But in 1865, Hudson Taylor was misunderstood and ridiculed. He lacked formal theological training, and the piecemeal medical studies that he took to help gain initial entrance into China would barely qualify him to ride in the back of an ambulance today. His belief that men and single women could serve Christ on the foreign field was considered by some dangerous, or worse, scandalous. His conviction that an agency could draw workers together in common Cause from different denominations and raise financial support from God’s people through prayer alone was considered naive at best.
Because Taylor wanted to lay aside any nonessential barrier to the Gospel, he insisted on looking as much as possible like the people he was reaching. This meant not only donning a robe and slippers but also wearing dark glasses to mask his occidental eyes, dyeing his blonde hair black and having a faux ponytail woven into his hair beneath a silk cap. This man was serious about the Gospel. Many of his colleagues, though, thought he was a nut. Despite the snickers that followed him, those who knew Hudson Taylor knew two things about him. First, no one to that point had taken the Gospel further into China’s unreached interior than he had. And second, when Hudson Taylor prayed, he got results.
By the time of Brighton, Hudson Taylor had survived nearly seven years of hard ministry in China, but nothing there compared to the physical, emotional, and spiritual battle in which he was now engaged. He saw the need and the neglect of China. “Can the Christians of England sit still with folded arms while these multitudes are perishing?” he wrote. “What does the Master teach us? Is it not that if one sheep out of a hundred be lost, we are to leave the ninety and nine and seek that one? But here the proportions are almost reversed, and we stay at home with the one sheep, and take no heed to the ninety and nine perishing ones! Christian Brethren, think of the imperative command of our great Captain and Leader, “Go, go ye, into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.’”
By the spring of 1865 the burden had grown acute. As the months wore on, so did the weight of the crisis––the crisis of, in his words, “a million a month” in China dying without Christ. He rarely slept more than a couple of hours at a time, and he was physically and emotionally exhausted. A friend invited him to come to the seaside for a weekend to get away and to get perspective.
On Sunday morning, June 25, 1865, Taylor heard a stirring message from the Presbyterian preacher J.M. Denniston. Then, as he wrote later, “Unable to bear the sight of a congregation of a thousand or more Christian people rejoicing in their own security, while millions were perishing for lack of knowledge, I wandered out on the sands alone, in great spiritual agony; and there the Lord conquered my unbelief, and I surrendered myself to God for this service. I told Him that all the responsibility as to the issues and consequences must rest with Him; that as His servant it was mine to obey and to follow Him–His to direct, to care for, and to guide me and those who might labour with me. Need I say that peace at once flowed into my burdened heart? There and then I asked Him for 24 fellow workers, two for each of eleven inland provinces which were without a missionary, and two for Mongolia.” There, with the sea breeze catching the pages of his Bible, he opened to his reading for that day, Job 18, and wrote on the top margin, “Prayed for 24 willing, skillful labourers, Brighton, June 25/65.” Afterward he wrote, “I felt as if I could fly up that hill by the station…How I did sleep that night! Mrs. Taylor thought that Brighton had done wonders! And so it had.”
Today I retraced Hudson Taylor’s steps on Queen’s Road where he dashed up from the beach. If he walked it now he would pass Big Bites Fish & Chips and would have picked up his pace as he reached Boots Midnight Pharmacy where the hill begins its rise. If he successfully dodged the double-decker buses that ply this road, perhaps he crossed Queen’s between the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet and Mr. Topper’s barbershop. He would also pass the church he walked out of in 1865–it still stands but is now gutted and shuttered.
Here in front of the Flying Bean Cappuccino Stand, where I grabbed a cup before catching the train back to London, I like to think of Hudson Taylor stepping off the curb with a light heart. He has no time for coffee though‚–he has a continent to conquer! But I like to think of him this way because it reminds me that God did not (and does not) mightily work only in a black-and-white tintype world of the past.
So where are our Brightons today? Where are the next Hudson Taylors? Where are the men and women who will venture all on Christ? Perhaps she’s reading this article. Or perhaps he just stepped off the curb next to the Flying Bean, his steps now ordered by the Lord.