Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Women of the China Inland Mission: The Kid Sister - Amelia Hudson Taylor Broomhall

 See other postings on missions history here.

I'm not doing all this reading about the CIM because I'm obsessed with China. It's more that the story of the CIM is so well documented... and it featured so many women, which is great. With our present proximity to the OMF US office I have a library of books about 'em practically at my fingertips. Furthermore, many of the struggles these missionaries from 100+ years ago faced are not so different from the challenges that face our mission efforts today.

Mission historian Ruth Tucker – never one to pull her punches – has some more critical things to say about the CIM than I've seen elsewhere (though she praises them in many ways as well). One of her claims is that after facing as much high-profile criticism as they did, the CIM became very secretive. JHT himself laid down the law when he insisted that nothing "potentially harmful" to the mission make its way into the files. Kind of a sketchy policy, that!

That may have helped lay the foundation for a lot of writing that is just too... worshipful? This volume which I found online is a good example – Looks to be a tiresomely treacle-y tribute, no alternate interpretations or dark sides allowed! Members of the family were also careful to clean up Taylor's own writings lest any of his foolishness or quirks hurt his respectability. (Even now, you'll find more balanced accounts coming from publishers other than OMF).

I wonder if anyone has written a book or done a study that specifically looks at the women in ol’ James Hudson Taylor's world? What roles did they play in his life and the life of the mission? Maybe such a work exists, something a bit less ambitious than Valerie Griffith’s Not Less Than Everything, which is much more far reaching.

I'd put his mom on the list, and Maria and Jennie and Emily too.

But right up there would have to be Amelia, Taylor's younger sister. Here are some glimpses of her life, drawn primarily from this engaging little paperback I read over the weekend, Each to Her Post: The Inspiring Lives of Six Great Women in China, by Phyllis Thompson.* Brace yourself; it's awfully sweet!

Amelia's Story
“Hudson Taylor’s sister Amelia has been a rather shadowy background figure in the annals of the mission he brought into being, yet she had a most significant bearing on it. She was her brother’s closest confidante for years, and from the beginning to the end of his life she was woven into its warp and woof.

“Let us draw back the curtain of time, then, and meet a thirteen-year-old Victorian schoolgirl, complete with corkscrew curls, a demure expression, ankle-length skirts and well-starched pinafore, named Amelia…” (Thompson, p. 8)

Although their father was a local preacher on the Methodist circuit and actively training up young men as evangelists, his 17-year-old son Hudson apparently found the whole business rather irksome. Even after his strict religious upbringing he was skeptical about God, Christianity, and the church. Thirteen-year-old Amelia knew just what was wrong.
“She had found that arguing with him about it left him completely unconvinced, so she decided to get at him another way. She would pray for him every day. She would pray three times every day that God would convert him.” (Thompson, p. 13).
Ha, there’s a way to get back at your rebellious siblings! (Can't say I've tried it. Though I'm more the rebel than Meg is!)

It was not long before he did, indeed, have a conversion experience, which began to bear fruit immediately. Amelia was the first he confided in about the matter. In her "maidenly reticence," she could never have confessed her role in the matter, but he found out anyway, and was grateful. It only strengthened the bond between them.

The two of them took to the streets distributing tracts door to door, and frequently spoke or wrote to each other about their desires and efforts to grow in godliness. During this time, Hudson became persuaded God was calling him to go to China as a missionary.


Amelia, like most girls of her set, was schooled entirely at home until this point. But she soon left to join the small boarding school run by her aunt in a nearby city. There she continued her sheltered, protected existence, never going out without an escort. You can imagine her delight when, for her sixteenth birthday, her brother arranged to bring her on a remarkable outing – to spend a week in London!
“She had never been there before. Whether she actually saw Queen Victoria and her consort is not recorded, but it is certain that her kindly uncle took her around to see the sights, including the newly opened British Museum within a few minutes walk of his home.

"She saw the coaches of the wealthy conveying dignified gentlemen and elegantly dressed ladies, clip-clopping along the broad thoroughfares of Regent’s Park and Piccadilly, the bands playing in the park, and the magnificent homes on Park Lane, though it is doubtful if she ever caught more than a glimpse of the filthy narrow back streets and yards of Dickens’ London. A Victorian uncle would have shielded an innocent young niece from anything so sordid.

"She must be shown only the splendid sights, the most wonderful of all being the fabulous Crystal Palace, the masterpiece of cast iron and glass dominating the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park.

"It was Hudson who took her there, on her birthday, and after wandering among the fairy-like scenes set among ferns and flowers, he crowned it all for her by taking her to a restaurant where they were served, among other delicacies, with a pineapple.” (Thompson, p. 19)
Nice! I do like the bit about the pineapple. While they were in London they met with others interested in China and moved things further along on that front.


Amelia’s schooldays came to an abrupt ending when one of her aunts died, leaving an uncle and brood of young cousins in need of someone to keep house for them. It was clear to everyone that this was where Amelia’s duty lay. Oh yes. Such were the times.

That’s where she was when the news came that her brother had made an arrangement with the China Evangelization Society to leave for China as soon as his passage could be arranged. Though this had been his dream for some years, its realization was sudden. It was September when he left, and she got her first letter from him – written the day he arrived in China – in April or May. He was to write frequently, and often he mentioned his earnest desire for Amelia to come join him in China.

But she hesitated; much as she loved her brother, she did not want to leave her parents "bereft" of two children, and she did not feel that compelling sense of calling which her brother had. She went back and forth on it.

And then there was Benjamin Broomhall, a young man in her father’s Sunday school class, and a friend of Hudson’s, who in time asked permission to begin corresponding with her. This was equivalent to engagement in their circles, and Hudson made no secret how deeply grieved he was by the news:
“For the last ten years I have hoped to have you with me in China; now you have disappointed me, you know not how much. This week this thought has sometimes come over me with such force that I have felt almost heartbroken.” (Thompson, p. 24)
Amelia apparently had a similar struggle when her brother, having found the woman who would be his wife and partner (after being rejected by the lovely Miss Vaughn, Amelia's music teacher!), he no longer put Amelia first in his affections but only had eyes for Maria! In her letters, Amelia mentions that her brother had often said he wished she wasn't his sister so she could be his life's companion. Doesn't that sound a bit creepy? So maybe it's best they both married!

The Broomhalls and the CIM

Amelia was by no means selling out when she married Benjamin: Both were devoutly seeking God and willing to serve in China, but came to the conclusion, after much struggle, that they were not called there. So they lived a more common life; Benjamin built a career and Amelia raised ten healthy children. (No small achievement, that. Certainly not one her friends and relations who went to China managed).

Thompson describes how she carefully trained her children to pray, and to sit still when necessary; she seemed to have a knack for running a happy, orderly household. In fact, she was really good at homemaking and raising kids. Those are important if unglamorous skills. Not just everyone can do them well.

Amelia's life was quite different from that of some of the outspoken, adventurous, independent women God raised up in and through the CIM – women like Maria and Jennie – but she was to play an important part in her own way.

At age 40, when her youngest was just three months old, she put those skills and talents to work in some new ways. The CIM had survived its shaky beginnings and reputation problems and begun to grow. Fresh, capable leaders were needed for the home office and training program. The ever-steady Benjamin and Amelia seemed just the couple to step into that role.

He became the imperturbable administrator, advocate, and spokesperson, roles in which he thrived. She, while shrinking from the limelight, kept the mission home running smoothly – with meals on the table, a welcoming, hospitable and peaceful environment, and a listening ear for mission candidates and anyone else who needed encouragement. She was always there. She knew everyone's name. She prayed for them.  When Hudson’s second wife, Jennie, went back to China by herself for an important mission, Amelia took in their seven children in addition to the ten of her own; they were a rollicking brood of 17. The neighbors naturally thought someone had opened a school!

I love the way Thompson describes the impact the Broomhalls had on soothing and supporting the members of the young mission:
“As for Mr. Broomhall, he always seemed to have at his fingertips all sorts of useful information… If you had been in inland China for ten years, it was very bewildering to find yourself in the busy streets of London where everyone seemed in a hurry and the horses pranced along at such a pace… It was helpful to have someone who could find out the time of your train back home to Scotland, and tell you which station it went from.

"But when he did all that and then escorted you there, saw about getting your luggage into the van, tipped the porter, bought your ticket, saw you comfortably settled in your compartment, ensured that you had all you needed for the journey... well, it somehow put new life into you and made you forget how shabby and old-fashioned you felt wearing the clothes you’d pulled out of the trunk you’d left behind ten years ago.” (Thompson, pp. 34-35)

The Broomhalls ran the mission home for 20 years, and saw four of their own children go to China with the CIM (one married Hudson Taylor's successor D.E. Hoste). Even after Benjamin died and she was old and frail, having to be pushed about in her "bath chair," Amelia continued to take an active role through prayer and relationships. The Candidate Secretary liked her to meet the prospective new missionaries so she could "size them up." Amelia was considered a kind but shrewd judge of character. Her encouragement helped candidates through the rough patches; her discernment kept the mission from making mistakes.

Thompson sums up her legacy like this:
“She never went to China, performed no acts of outstanding courage, had no spectacular achievements to her credit, swayed no audiences with her eloquence. Hers was an unusually sheltered life, from beginning to end surrounded by deep family love… On the face of it she has no claim to a place in the annals of a mission that has worked and suffered in the Far East for over one hundred years, and she certainly would not have claimed it for herself. But the sum total of a mission’s quality is not contained in its outward activity, any more than the value of a tree lies only in its fruit. Without the root under the ground, there would be no tree. Without the Amelias, there would be no Mission.” (Thompson, pp. 40-41).
* Thompson's book also includes biographical essays on Jennie Taylor, Margaret King, Jessie Gregg, Dr. Jessie McDonald, and Lilian Hamer. This work is evidently written more for a popular audience than an academic one, and her sources are not well documented. A. J. Broomhall (grandson of Amelia) ended up writing a seven-volume history of the CIM which probably includes a great deal of what is known about this early cast of characters, but I haven't checked it out.

6/23/15 See a recent piece about the Broomhall family (though focused on the men) here: http://omf.org/us/the-broomhalls-and-china/


Paul Merrill said...

Inspiration for us all!

Anonymous said...

Researching stuff for International Women's Day. Loads of famous single lady missionaries, but the married ones get wrapped in their husbands and kids. Great article on Amelia, Taylor, thank you.

Marti said...

Glad you could use it! I have quoted rather liberally from some of those CIM/OMF books... mostly because I want people who don't browse mission agency archives or have very well-stocked libraries to come across these stories. Especially those who teach on these topics. One reason I like Amelia's story is that it's not a story about a famous missionary who went far away, but one who made a big difference without leaving home. We need more "senders" like the Broomhalls!

mgunn said...

Marti. Thanks for this. A heartwarming story of a remarkable Christian lady. She is my great, great, great Grandmother! Although I knew who she was I did not know much of the detail of her life. Thank you again for bringing her to life for me. Kind regards Mervyn Gunn