A strange sight drew curious eyes in London’s fashionable Bayswater, one cold November morning in 1860.
An Oriental gentleman, accompanied by what appeared to be his European wife, was walking slowly down the street, carrying a toddler. The pregnant wife and the toddler were in decidedly outmoded Western dress. Behind them came a shorter, sickly-looking man – a servant no doubt – in scruffy Chinese attire.
Wang Lae-djün had had the dubious privilege of leaving wife, family, country, everything he had ever known, to travel to the West with Hudson Taylor (the sickly-looking man!) and Maria. This had come about through the strong brotherly bond between the two men. Hudson Taylor knew the future of the church in China depended on local individuals – they would need nurturing and equipping, but eventually, he was in no doubt, they would take full responsibility. Chinese churches, under God, must be in their own hands.
Wang’s interest in the gospel had been first aroused when he overheard a conversation while working as a painter/decorator, back in his home town: the lady of the house was requesting incense containers, but the onetime supplier was explaining he no longer produced them, as he was a Christian. Wang’s curiosity and spiritual hunger awakened, he began to meet with Hudson Taylor; he was baptised on 8 May, 1859.
Not long after this the Taylors began to make plans to return home, as much as anything for the sake of Hudson Taylor’s health. If Wang Lae-djün came too, Hudson Taylor surmised, he could continue to disciple him during the long journey, and while in London Wang would be the best possible language teacher for new recruits. But there was another plan. Many of the Chinese (not including Wang) were illiterate; Hudson Taylor had begun to compose a written form of the Ningbo dialect in the Latin alphabet, which he (and in time Wang) could then comparatively easily teach others to read. The next stage was the mammoth task of translating the entire New Testament into this colloquial written form; Wang’s familiarity with the dialect would be invaluable.
But meanwhile, there was the long voyage home. Wang helped to care for little Grace Taylor, whose parents were far from well. He also had to take responsibility for the goats, the family’s source of fresh milk, throughout the voyage. When Grace slept, and the parents were well enough, Wang joined them in fervent prayer for the work in China, and the need for more workers. Sweet times of fellowship together confirmed to Hudson Taylor that Wang was indeed a man after his own heart.
After an initial stay with the Bayswater relatives, the Taylors rented a house in the East End of London; Wang, a willing worker, remained with them, turning his hand to cooking and laundry. He was treated as one of the family: at Christmas he accompanied them to Yorkshire to stay with Hudson Taylor’s parents; he was taken to see the Great Exhibition, now permanently erected at ‘Crystal Palace’, and joined others lining the streets of London when Alexandra of Denmark arrived to wed Edward, Prince of Wales.
In 1863 Wang’s planned return to China was imminent. Although remittances had faithfully been sent to support his wife and children, nevertheless they needed him – but so did Hudson Taylor! There was now no time to lose, so Wang the future
church leader, the missionary to his own people, responded diligently to
the increasingly demanding time-table of Hudson Taylor – whose own capacity for work, even when tired and unwell, seemed almost boundless. With fresh urgency the translation work continued late into the night, and pharmacology, even anatomy dissections, were added to Wang’s educational repertoire.
As the time for his departure drew even closer, the already full medical and theological training schedule grew ever more demanding.
There were final visits to Guy’s Hospital Museum, the Houses of Parliament, Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle, Westminster Abbey…and one last trip to George Müller in Bristol, before Wang finally departed via Gravesend on 2 June, 1864.
Back in Hangzhou and without Hudson Taylor, but now with his wife by his side, Wang shepherded the flock wisely; in time he was caring for a whole network of new churches within a hundred mile radius, continuing faithfully for forty years. Typical of Hudson Taylor’s principled desires for the indigenous church, Wang had no wish to depend on foreign aid: in time his churches were meeting financial needs elsewhere.
Hudson Taylor invested heavily in Wang Lae-djün, and he in turn was all that Hudson Taylor could have hoped for in his earliest converts. Throughout their close and loving brotherly friendship Hudson Taylor recognised that this investment by God’s grace would produce not only a strong and mature believer, it would yield heavenly returns in the lives of countless others.