Today the South Yorkshire town of Barnsley is quite a pleasant place. Though it has parts marred by spiritual, moral and social disorder, overall it may well be a better place to bring up children than my home suburb of Kew Gardens was in the 1970s.
However, down at the Barnsley Metrodome swimming complex, how many patrons of the Calypso Cove Waterpark would have heard of arguably the most spiritually influential human being the United Kingdom has ever produced? Even though there is a Hudson Taylor museum in Barnsley, due to the deChristianisation of our country almost certainly not as many as even 20 years ago.
Hudson Taylor was born in Barnsley in 1832, the son of a local chemist and part-time Methodist preacher. At the age of 18, he wrote to his sister: ‘I have a stronger desire than ever to go to China. That land is ever in my thoughts. Think of it - 360 million souls, without God or without hope in the world! Think of more than twelve millions of our fellow creatures dying every day without any of the consolations of the Gospel. Barnsley including the Common has only 15,000 inhabitants. Imagine what it would be if all these were to die in twelve months! Yet in China year by year hundreds are dying, for every man, woman and child in Barnsley. Poor neglected China! Scarcely anybody cares about it’ (The Biography of James Hudson Taylor by Dr and Mrs Howard Taylor, Rickford Hills Publishing).
By the mid-1870s, the China Inland Mission Taylor established had reached parts of the Chinese interior where the name of Jesus Christ was even not known. Though conversions did not happen on a massive scale, small footholds for the Christian message of eternal salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ were secured in a pagan land. In the late 1940s, the Communists expelled Taylor’s missionaries and it looked from the outside as if Christianity had been stamped out during Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
But that was not true. By the time China began to liberalise in the 1980s, it became clear that Chinese Christianity had continued to flourish underground through the Mao nightmare. Now there are probably more Chinese evangelical Christians than the entire population of the UK. This spiritual revolution affecting many millions of people was, under God, set in train by the evangelistic vision of an 18-year-old Barnsley boy.
Whatever our views on Britain’s EU membership, it is worth asking ourselves: will the proportion of people at the Metrodome who are educated about the spiritual giants of our nation’s Christian history have gone up or down in ten years’ time?
June AD 2016