The true story of Hudson Taylor and Maria Dyer’s God-honoring courtship is both beautiful and beneficial to consider. Their God-trusting example is inspiring and instructive.
In October, 1856, Hudson Taylor began ministering in Ningpo, China. By that time he was twenty-four years old and had served as a missionary in China for over two and a half years.
Near the center of Ningpo, about a mile from where Hudson settled, a forceful Englishwoman named Mary Ann Aldersey operated a Protestant girls’ school, the first of its kind in China. Miss Aldersey had been one of the first missionaries to arrive in Ningpo, having commenced her tireless labors there in 1843. She was so influential that some local Chinese residents believed that, just as England was ruled by a woman, Queen Victoria, so Miss Aldersey had been delegated to be the head of the British community in Ningpo.
Miss Aldersey was assisted in the work of her mission school by two attractive young ladies, Burella and Maria Dyer. Their parents had served as missionaries in China when they were young girls, so they grew up speaking fluent Chinese. Both their parents died before the girls became teenagers, and they were subsequently brought up under the guardianship of an uncle in London, spending most of their time at a Quaker boarding school in Darlington in northern England. Late in their teens, having received some training as teachers, they returned to China in response to an appeal that Miss Aldersey had made for assistance with her girls’ school.
Hudson Taylor’s ministry colleagues with the Chinese Evangelization Society in Ningpo were Dr. and Mrs. William Parker and Mr. and Mrs. John Jones. The Parkers, Joneses and Hudson were sometimes invited to dinner at Miss Aldersey’s home. Miss Aldersey generally disapproved of Hudson, viewing him as something of a renegade because of his lack of connection with a specific denomination and, especially, his decision to wear Chinese clothing and a native hairstyle. Nineteen-year-old Maria Dyer, on the other hand, found herself strongly attracted to the earnest young man. She told no one about this, but instead made it a matter of private prayer.
In the closing months of 1856 marked hostilities developed between China and England over trade issues. Foreigners living in certain parts of China came under grave danger. In January, 1857, a scheme was devised to destroy all the foreigners in Ningpo. The missionaries there decided to send their wives and children to Shanghai, where the securest British settlement was located. Because of Hudson’s extensive connections and experience in Shanghai, he was asked to help escort the missionary family members to that city and to remain there with them indefinitely.
Miss Aldersey opted to remain at her school in Ningpo, and the Dyer sisters, though encouraged to go to Shanghai, chose to stay and assist her. Hudson, for his part, was inwardly reluctant to leave Ningpo, having started to become romantically attracted to Maria Dyer. When the missionary party departed for Shanghai, Hudson and Maria were unaware of the feelings each had begun to privately cherish for the other.
As Hudson labored in Shanghai, Maria was very much in his thoughts. Eventually his feelings for Maria slipped out, quite unintentionally, to his good friends, John and Mary Jones, who had come with him to Shanghai. They heartily encouraged him to inform Maria of his true thoughts and to entrust the outcome to God.
On March 21 Hudson wrote Maria a letter in which he expressed his feelings about her and asked whether he might be allowed to become better acquainted with her with a view toward marriage. When she received the correspondence in early April, she was delighted and immediately divulged the news to her sister.
Together they went to inform Miss Aldersey, hoping she would approve of the relationship. Instead she responded indignantly, “Mr. Taylor! That young, poor, unconnected nobody. How dare he presume to think such a thing. Of course the proposal must be refused at once, and that finally!”
When Maria sought to express the mutual affection she had for Hudson, Miss Aldersey became more upset. She instructed Maria to write Taylor immediately, not only to close the whole affair, but also to request most definitely that it never be reopened. Miss Aldersey also insisted on reading the letter before it was mailed.
Bewildered and heartbroken, Maria sat down to her difficult task a week later after much prayer. She wrote a masterful letter with carefully chosen wording that might satisfy Miss Aldersey while at the same time hinting to Hudson of her true feelings in the matter.
Maria later testified of her own thoughts after Miss Aldersey had given her approval to the letter and it had been posted: “I felt that I could not wish one way or the other. I could only leave the matter in God’s hands, praying Him to do what He saw best.” She took comfort in the fact that absolutely nothing that was the Lord’s will would be too difficult for Him to accomplish. If He desired them to be engaged and married, He would bring it about.
When Hudson received Maria’s reply in early May, he read it repeatedly and carefully. He perceived a degree of ambiguity in her response and suspected that Miss Aldersey’s involvement might have had something to do with that. Privately he continued to make the whole affair a matter of fervent, ongoing prayer.
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You can learn much more about Hudson’s life of exceptional Christian faith and service in my book Hudson Taylor, Gospel Pioneer to China. I think you’ll find (as I certainly have) his outstanding example both instructive and encouraging in your own relationship with and service for the Lord.
Copyright 2018 by Vance E. Christie