Why is the China Inland Mission/North America's 100th year celebration so significant for us today?
by Ralph D. Winter
More than any other human being, James Hudson Taylor, that young upstart, who did not heed his station in the social order, made the greatest contribution to the cause of world mission in the 19th century.
He pioneered the idea of going inland, of planning to finish the job, not just working on and on hopelessly on the coastlands of Africa and Asia. He envisioned that "closure" in the case of China could be reached if only 1,000 missionaries evangelized 50 Chinese per day for 1000 days. Note that at that early stage he was not thinking in church-planting terms, nor in this illustration doing more than demonstrating the relatively small scope of the task.
In the providence of God his mission attracted the Cambridge Seven from the most aristocratic levels of British society. The older brother of the C.T. Studd who was one of the Seven made a trip to America in 1885-86 at Moody's request to reach out to hundreds of American college students (who then became the famous, unprecedentedly powerful Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions).
Taylor did not just incidentally drop by America on his way back to China, and casually do what he had never done before. (He had always helped local people start their own mission rather than to extend a branch of the CIM.)
No, several curious and potent factors explain his presence at the Niagra Falls conference and at a Mt. Hermon student conference, and his unusual decision to found a North American branch of the China Inland Mission (against the consensus back in London).
His trip back from China in the first place was timed to allow his significant involvement in the largest mission conference up to that time, the London 1888 conference, which had been proposed when J.E.K. Studd had come over in 1885.
Back then it was publicly proposed, with Moody behind it, that evangelicals try to complete the Great Commission by 1900. He was involved in the hope of Jesus' Return. The Niagra Conference was a center for such thinking. An explosion of interest in missions drastically altered the plans of the China Inland Mission (now called the Overseas Missionary Fellowship).
Then, as now, considerable interest had developed in the possibility that the world could be evangelized by the end of the century. Both then and now it was probably feasible÷if even a small portion of Christendom could focus on this task. Then as now there was some opposition (especially from German missiologists), immense distraction from the imperialistic mood in this country, and the even more tragic dissipation of evangelical resources in trivialities, like very expensive parties.