Convenience v Compassion in Christian Missions

Saving a Drowning Man – Hudson Taylor and Us

Rivers around Shanghai in the 1800s


Sometimes people are heartless, cruel, self-centred. We are rightly shocked by blatant selfishness and disregard for others.

During his first stay in China Hudson Taylor had numerous evangelistic interactions with locals. He learnt the language, gave out New Testaments and many tracts and sought to communicate the amazing love of God in Jesus Christ.

But one moment of high drama in his travels caught my attention many years ago and I trust this account of it will have a significant impact on your own life:

The Boat Journey
Writing in his ‘Retrospect’ Taylor describes a journey towards the city of Sungkiang, about 30 miles from Shanghai.

‘Among the passengers on board the boat was one intelligent man, who in the course of his travels had been a good deal abroad, and had even visited England, where he went by the name of Peter.

As might be expected he had heard something of the gospel, but had never experienced its saving power.  On the previous evening I had drawn him into an earnest conversation about his soul’s salvation.  The man listened with attention, and was even moved to tears, but still no definite result was apparent.

I was pleased, therefore, when he asked to be allowed to accompany me, and to hear me preach.’

A Sudden Splash
‘I went into the cabin of the boat to prepare tracts and books for distribution on landing with my Chinese friend, when suddenly I was startled by a splash and a cry from outside.

I sprang on deck and took in the situation at a glance.  Peter was gone! The other men were all there, on board, looking helplessly at the spot where he had disappeared, but making no effort to save him.

A strong wind was carrying us rapidly forward in spite of a steady current in the opposite direction, and the low-lying, shrubless shore afforded no landmark to indicate how far we had left the drowning man behind.

A drag net
I instantly let down the sail and leaped overboard in the hope of finding him.  Unsuccessful, I looked around in agonising suspense, and saw close to me a fishing boat with a peculiar drag net furnished with hooks, which I knew would bring him up.

“Come!”, I cried, as hope revived in my heart.  “Come and drag over this spot directly; a man is drowning just here!”

“Veh bin” (it is not convenient), was the answer.

“Don’t talk of convenience!” I cried in agony, “a man is drowning I tell you!!”

“We are busy fishing,” they responded, “and cannot come.”

“Never mind your fishing,” I said, “I will give you more money than many day’s fishing will bring; only come!  Come at once!”

“How much money will you give us?”

“We cannot stay to discuss that now! Come, or it will be too late.  I will give you five dollars.” (A lot of money).

“We won’t do it for that!” replied the men.  “Give us twenty dollars, and we will drag the net.”

“I do not possess so much; do come quickly, and I will give you all that I have!”

“How much may that be?”

“I don’t know exactly, about fourteen dollars.”

At last, but even then slowly enough, the boat was paddled over, and the net let down.  Less than a minute sufficed to bring up the body of the missing man.

The fishermen were clamorous and indignant because their exorbitant demand was delayed while efforts at resuscitation were being made.  But all was in vain – his life was gone!

Guilty?
Were not those fishermen actually guilty of this poor Chinaman’s death, in that they had the means of saving him at hand, if they would have used them?

Assuredly, they were guilty. And yet, let us pause before we pronounce judgement against them, lest a greater than Nathan answer, “Thou art the man!”

Is it so hard-hearted, so wicked a thing to neglect to save the body? Of how much sorer punishment, then, is he worthy who leaves the soul to perish, and Cain-like says, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Our Challenge
‘The Lord Jesus commands, commands me, commands you, into all the world to preach the gospel to every creature.

Shall we say to Him, “No!  It is not convenient!”? Shall we tell Him that we are busy fishing and cannot go?  That we have purchased five oxen, or have married, or are engaged in other and more interesting pursuits, and cannot go?

Before long we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body.

Let us consider who it is that said,

‘Deliver those who are being taken away to death,
And those who are staggering to slaughter,
O hold them back!
If you say, “But we did not know this!”
Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts?
And does He not know it who keeps your soul?
And will He not render to man according to his works?’

(Prov 24:11-12)[i]

Taylor’s challenge to us should shake us to the core. While so many are bemoaning this or that evangelistic method, and often leaving the churches even less confident than before, we ought to examine everything with a clear eye on the goal to go and speak to our communities.

Really though, how many times have we hesitated to share the gospel because ‘it is not convenient’? Let’s make a decision to change…

To read the next part of the Hudson Taylor story click here

To read the first part of the Hudson Taylor story click here

© 2011 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog


[i] JH Taylor, Retrospect, ‘With love to China’ (Bethany) p. 116-119

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One thought on “Convenience v Compassion in Christian Missions

  1. A.F April 29, 2013 / 6:34 am

    Despite his best efforts Hudson Taylor was unable to save the Chinese man’s life. A truly remarkable man, Taylor pioneered the international missionary relations in China along with many others. In this small excerpt of his personal account, it is clear that Taylor was truly a man of God. He approached situations in a delicate way; not acting rudely to the fishermen who were hesitant to help him. The small passage highlights his thoughts on how we should not judge one another. Indeed, he draws parallels from the drowning of the man due to “inconvenience” as perceived by the fishmongers to the way Christians may act at times. He says we may often not share the Gospel because we find it inconvenient, but says isn’t this the same as letting someone willingly drown? The idea behind this is that we should not refrain from sharing the Gospel under any conditions. In my church tody there was a Middle East based Christian organization that trained future leaders to evangelize, in a place that was so hostile toward the Bible. One of the stories shared was about how a man literally in chains preached the Good News to the other man he was chained to and how he gave his life to Jesus all within the courtroom. This is a challenge to all believers who are not experiencing persecution!

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