Hudson Taylor spent 51 years in China. His vision for China ultimately resulted in the sending of 800 missionaries, the establishing of 125 schools, 300 mission stations, and the conversion of 18,000 Chinese believers. Taking the words of the Apostle Paul to heart, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22), he lived as a native Chinese, a practice unique among missionaries at that time, in an effort to tear down walls and build bridges for the Gospel. In a letter written to his sister Amelia Hudson Taylor in 1860 he declared, “If I had a thousand pounds China should have it – if I had a thousand lives, China should have them. No! Not China, but Christ. Can we do too much for Him? Can we do enough for such a precious Savior?” (Broomhall, Alfred. Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century: If I had A Thousand Lives. London: Hodder and Stoughton. 1983).
Samuel Pollard was one of the China Inland Missionaries who followed in the train of Hudson Taylor. Called by God at a missionary conference in 1885 he was eventually posted to Yunnan province in southwestern China in 1888. He remained there, serving in the ways of the China Inland Mission, until his death from typhoid in 1915. When Pollard arrived in Kunming, having traveled across the country from Shanghai, he did not find the dominant Chinese population, the Han, receptive to the Gospel. God’s ways were not those of Samuel Pollard – there were other plans.
In 1904 a small group of poor, marginalized people, the Ahmao (The Big Flower Miao) came to Pollard and asked if he could help them and teach them about Jesus. Over the next few days more and more people came out of the mountains, refusing to return to their villages until he promised to help them. Pollard initially struggled with their request as he believed that God had called him to reach the Han people of southwestern China. In time God changed Samuel’s heart and he spent the remainder of his life working among the Miao, creating a written language for this illiterate people in order to translate the Bible into the unique Ahmao script; a script that is still in use today. Of the 400,000 Miao people, 80% were said to have been converted to Christianity as an extension of Pollard’s work. Their churches are alive, serious-minded, and full of beautiful choral music – the Miao can sing! To this day, the Miao believers celebrate God’s work through their spiritual father, Samuel Pollard – a man they lovingly call, BoGeli. They follow in Pollard’s train.
I have logged a lot of miles sitting in the jump seat of a “bread van” (the vehicle’s shape looks like a loaf of bread) as the little vehicle makes its way on the narrow dusty roads of Yunnan, transporting mission teams from the big city of Kunming to the isolated mountain villages of the Big Flower Miao. This was a special trip as my dear friend, Stephen was in the van. He and his family had followed God’s call to live in Kunming and to quietly work in the Miao villages. He is a theologian, a teacher, a translator, a shepherd, a mentor, a trekker of mountain paths, and a friend to those who live as subsistence farmers and serve in the Miao churches scattered across the mountains. Over the years we have worked together to provide motorcycles so that itinerant preachers can more easily travel the mountain paths, resources for clean water cisterns and plumbing for villages, reduce the effects of dysentery, expand the quantity and care of livestock to improve income, and offer training for church leaders.
It is an amazing work. But for those who live and serve this way full time, the feelings of isolation and discouragement, are often a difficult companion in the journey. The work of translating Luther’s Small Catechism into Ahmao was taxing. While the Miao have a printed Bible and a hymnal in their own language, they don’t have much else. The blessing of a little book that can provide the church with a simple and systematic understanding of faith is invaluable, in training, and in practice. But it is hard. It is like giving birth and Stephen was caught in the minutia. It is easy to lose perspective. Why am I here? Am I being effective? (Can you imagine the questions Robert Morrison asked as he labored for 25 years to translate the Bible into Chinese and baptized a grand total of 10 souls?) All of us experience these feelings and questions in life’s valleys. It’s what it means to be part of the Church Militant – living in the now and the not yet.
At the moment that Stephen expressed this struggle in the holy place of that little bread van bumping along the dirt roads of Yunnan, God gave an answer. I was sure it was a word from His heart to Stephen’s. “Stephen,” I said, “I know this is hard. Harder than I’ll ever understand. But remember, remember that YOU are part of God’s answer to the prayers of Samuel Pollard, as his health declined from typhoid and he approached his entrance into the Church Triumphant. YOU are God’s answer when he prayed that the Father would send people to work the harvest field among his beloved Miao. As you walk these mountain paths, you are following in Pollard’s train. You are a direct descendant of his life, his work, and his sacrifice.”
Tears flowed. Prayers followed. Perspective reclaimed. All of us – in life and ministry – follow in someone’s train. I am honored to follow in Stephen’s.