John and Mary Jones served together in China from June 1856 to 1861, when John died.
We know nothing about his birth or background, except that the highly critical Miss Aldersey of Ningbo reckoned him as one of only “two Englishmen here who are Gentlemen … by birth and manners” and Mary “came from a very well-circumstanced family, who had lost almost everything through a swindle” (All references are to Broomhall’s Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century, with Arabic numerals for volume numbers. 3.97, 3.54).
John Jones and his family arrived in Hong Kong in March 1856, having been sent out by the Chinese Evangelization Society (CES). It had been decided that they would join William Parker in Ningbo.
“Little is known of John and Mary Jones … but obscured by their inconspicuous names were two exceptional people” (Broomhall 2.34). They had great influence upon Hudson Taylor’s spirituality. From the beginning, they had agreed to receive whatever funds the CES sent them, but did not place any obligation upon the society, choosing instead to trust God to supply all their needs.
Immediately, their family began to fall sick with dysentery, one by one. On May 1st, John reported that his oldest child had died and he was sick. Still not well, they took a boat to Shanghai where, almost penniless, they were taken in and cared for by missionaries of the London Missionary Society, who also paid their expenses for a trip to Ningbo. “On the way overland to Ningbo, John and Mary Jones were delighted by the reception the Chinese also gave them, pressing them to bring the three remaining children into their homes and producing cakes and tea. The freedom given to the missionaries to preach in temples impressed John Jones. They were allowed to sit and even to stand on tables with their backs to the idols while addressing the crowd” (2.348).
Arriving in Ningbo on June 15, they were warmly welcomed by the William Parkers, who took them into their home. Broomhall writes that “John Jones could not have come to a more promising place for the start of his missionary life” (2.351). Missionaries from different societies had already planted healthy churches and the people were receptive. “His warm, affectionate personality shines from his early letters. He could not hide it” (2.360). He and Hudson Taylor became close friends almost as soon as they met in the fall of 1856. Taylor took him out into the country, first to observe the beauties and rich flora of the land, and then to preach in village. He wrote to his mother, “It very much moves me at such times to long to speak of Jesus,” though he did not yet have the language (2.361). People were always ready to listen, some with real interest, and especially when they returned to the same place a second time.
He and his wife Mary were deeply in love with each other, which caused Taylor to long for such a marriage also.
John Jones had not fully recovered from dysentery, so Taylor took him and his son Tom, also sick, on a trip to Shanghai to purchase supplies. On the way, John came down with excruciating pain from renal colic, which lasted for several hours and recurred severed times. They returned three weeks later, exhausted and with John still sick. Mary had been living with the F. F. Goughs of the Church Missionary Society, so they took John into their home also – another example of the kindness and hospitality of missionaries to members of other societies.
When he recovered, John began “going with Frederick Gough from street to street, preaching in the open-fronted tea shops… Mary Gough took Mary Jones with her to visit Chinese women in their homes … By degrees [they] were becoming more fluent, too, and learning Chinese customs, the essentials for any rapport with the people” (3.24). Shortly thereafter, they rented a house from the American Presbyterians in the center of the city and moved in on November 17. “It was a big step for a couple with so little command of the language, but when Mary Jones called on her Chinese neighbours, they welcomed her, and returned her call” (3.28).
During this early period of his life, Hudson Taylor had not yet come to his later conviction that God would supply all his needs, and that without his telling anyone about them. John and Mary Jones played a crucial role by their unshakeable trust in God’s provision. They shared in his sense of shock when they learned that the CES had gone into debt and “stood by him faithfully, feeling for him and buttressing his faith with insight and understanding” (3.34). At the same time, Taylor’s desire to find a wife grew almost daily, and he was beginning to accept the suggestion of Mary Jones that Maria Dyer was the right girl (she was nineteen) for him. Already, the Joneses were like a brother and a sister to Hudson Taylor, providing much-needed companionship and love.
Though the residents of Ningbo welcomed the missionaries, the Cantonese who lived in the city burned with anti-foreign hatred because of the British shelling of their home town. They concocted a plot to kill all the missionaries while they met for prayer in one of their homes. Though that plot was foiled, continuing danger led Taylor and the Joneses and others to go to Shanghai, where they stayed in an empty house belonging to the London Missionary Society.
While they were there, Taylor wrote that He was distraught when Mary came down with smallpox: “She is such a real sister to me, kind, sympathizing, all I could wish her to be, and her husband as a dear brother. I have not met many, if any, more advanced in the Christian life, more dead to the world, more anxious always about the Master’s work. Mrs. Jones’ illness has been a very heavy trial” (3.55). At this time, the Joneses had three small children aged four, two, and one.
When their health recovered, John Jones resumed going into the country on evangelistic forays with Hudson Taylor.
When Maria, under pressure from the redoubtable and domineering Miss Aldersey, sent Hudson Taylor a letter telling him to desist from seeking to court her, Taylor wrote to his mother, “My dear Brother and Sister, Mr and Mrs Jones, are more than I could have hoped to have found them or anyone else to be, but their kindness, love – and the happiness they enjoy and love they bear to each other, seem to make me long the more for the same blessing” (3.61).
Meanwhile, Hudson Taylor and John Jones were responding in different ways to the failure of the CES to live up to its financial commitments to its missionaries: Jones’ “letters to George Pearse” [the secretary of the CES] “were always cordial, even affectionate, and above mere business. He accounted for such sums as he had received and expressed his gratitude. But in answer to a request from the secretaries for an estimate of his future needs he replied, ‘I hope to use that which God sends me and as He shall direct.’ No complaints, no requests, just gratitude and confidence that by some means or other God would provide all he and his wife and children and work might ever need” (3.63-64). Taylor did not yet have such faith, but as he talked and prayed with John and Mary, their views began to influence his thinking.
The Joneses and Taylor finally decided to resign from the CES and launch out entirely on their own in May 1857. They had, moreover, agreed on certain principles of their missionary work, at least for the present: “They would work together in a treaty port until a congregation of Chinese Christians was formed, a long-term policy. They would aim to develop the gifts in those Christians and encourage them to go out with the gospel to their own people. They would pool their resources, living as one family and sharing a common purpose” (3.66). When conditions allowed, Chinese trained by them would be sent into the interior as evangelists and church planters. They believed that itinerant evangelism must be carried out, but since John Jones was unfit for travel most of the time, the work would fall mostly to Hudson Taylor. Frequently, John’s health was not even up to leading the weekend worship services.
Except for the residing in a treaty port, a necessity as long as the treaties were in effect, these were the lines along which Taylor later formed the China Inland Mission (CIM). In a very real sense, therefore, John and Mary Jones can be considered “parents” of the later CIM.
The Joneses and Taylor returned to Ningbo from Shanghai in June 1857 and took over the home of the W. A. Russells inside the Chinese city. Hudson Taylor and John Jones almost immediately planned a short journey into the countryside to preach the gospel there. While they were away, Maria Dyer told Mary Jones that her refusal of Taylor’s proposal was not voluntary, but imposed upon her by Miss Aldersey. She then told Taylor, who was encouraged to continue pursuing Maria. The Joneses were, therefore, instrumental in bringing Hudson Taylor and Maria together as a powerful team for the advancement of the gospel in China.
As before, Hudson Taylor found communal living with the Jones family to be “enjoyable and rich in spiritual fellowship” (3.405).
In the summer heat of 1857, “[John] and Mary had acquired a skin disease which was to deprive them of sleep and comfort for more than a year. And their youngest child nearly died from dysentery” (3.96). The next year, however, he was well enough that “he and Mary often went out together and would sit down among the village people and gossip the gospel as they sipped tea brought to them as a welcome. Often a hundred women would gather found and then John would preach to them” (3.135). In the city chapel, however, he found little encouraging response at first: “The people listen to the gospel message with the utmost indifference, without any sign of feeling; they acknowledge the truth of it, and yet are unaffected by it. We are ploughing the ground all around us, and casting in the seed. We expect a crop” (3.135). Inexperienced in the ways of the Chinese, he did not realize that an impassive face did not necessarily indicate an indifferent heart.
The Taiping rebellion was raging at the time. Some missionaries, because of the leaders’ professed faith in God, considered the Taipings Christian, but Jones did not. Though they did destroy temples and idols, “yet, in addition to their being rebels, and thus worthy of death, they commit every excess… Such a movement can never recommend anything good” (3.135). His judgment turned out to be correct, as the Taiping leaders degenerated into profligacy, a lust for pomp and power, and blatantly anti-Christian doctrines.
The “Ningbo Mission”
Cast upon their own resources, the Joneses and Hudson Taylor were at first reduced to absolute poverty, but God graciously provided for their needs at the last minute through the gift from a friend in England, and from then on, though never rich, they always had enough of everything needed to live and work in China. Daily they prayed for their material needs, not telling anyone else of their situation, and God answered their prayers. In this way, the foundation of the CIM as a “faith” mission was being laid.
They slowly planted a church by preaching the gospel, instructing new believers desirous of baptism, and regular worship services, which John Jones took turns leading. By the summer of 1858, a hundred people were crowding into the Bridge Street chapel for daily morning preaching services, led by Jones and Taylor. He also joined in the daily teaching of baptized believers, which took several hours. Conversions came entirely from the world, not from other churches, and individual instruction augmented public teaching. One who would become a pastor was “soaking up the Scriptures while reading the Bible as Jones’ language teacher” (3.179).This little church was “the training school which only a few years later was to provide the evangelists and pastors of the fledgling China Inland Mission. ‘In watching over them,’ John Jones wrote, ‘I see much to grieve me, as I do in my own heart… Our hearts are often made heavy by discovering things far different from the fruits we expected to find.’ Dishonesty was the common failing” (3.159).
As the summer wore on, however, “John Jones suffered more pain and fever and could do less and less of the work” (3.136).
Even in the winter and early spring of 1869, “John Jones was never well and often ‘suffering very acutely’ from kidney stones and their effects… but John continued working” (3.175). In the first months of 1860, it could be said that he was “dying by slow degrees” from constant illness and overwork (3.197).
Nevertheless, despite danger from rebels and deaths among the missionaries, in 1860 he wrote, “If we had to choose again, we would choose just this work in this place” (3.193). And he went with Taylor out into the suburbs and nearby villages to care for those wounded in battle. In the city, they also took turns sharing the gospel with patients in Dr. Parker’s hospital.
Meanwhile, they faced constant danger from Chinese who had been stirred to murderous hatred against foreigners by slanderous posters. On August 12, John Jones wrote:
We are living only from night to day and from day to night. The people here are thirsting for our blood. Satan has filled the multitudes with lies… They mix up together missionaries, traders and the government. There was one man who raised a mob at Bro. Taylor’s, but no damage was done … they have placarded the streets calling for our blood; one of the most forward in this is the man who supplies the officers with buckets to contain the heads of the decapitated, a fearfully large trade here … Our wives and little ones are in the same danger, but we are resting on Him who says to them, “thus far shalt though go and no farther.” When they told [an enquirer] that we were fighting his emperor and taking his fellow-townsmen to fight against their own sovereign, he said, “There must be a mistake somewhere. Satan has blinded your eyes; for those with whom I am joining… only preach Christ; they have nothing to do with fighting. (3.187)
In July 1860, Hudson Taylor’s health was broken by overwork and constant stress, so he and Maria decided they must return to England for him to recuperate. Taylor turned over Dr. William Parker’s “premises to the chronically ill John and Mary Jones on whom the full burden of the church work was to fall” and departed for home (3.207).
That burden was to become heavier. In the spring of 1861, John Jones wrote to Hudson Taylor. As he tried to serve as pastor for the Bridge Street church, Broomhall writes:
his health was deteriorating fast. His good friend FF Gough of the SMA (Church Missionary Society) had also left China with his seriously ill wife, and with only EC Lord to consult, Jones was trying to cope with ‘disorderly’ church members. Bickering, dishonesty and non-attendance were sapping the vitality of the congregation. Daily life was being lived against the background of war, outrage and their aftermath in the north, and the Taiping rampages in Jiangsu and Zhejiang [provinces], following their repulse by the foreign allies at Shanghai. A gentle man, facing death from renal failure, John Jones was apprehensive about his responsibility, longing to hear that Hudson Taylor would soon be on his way back. (3.249
In August of that year he wrote Taylor that he “could not keep going and could not care for the church members as they needed; James Meadows was still very much of a novice” (3.298).
Tragedy struck the Joneses again in November 1861. The whole family became ill again, and two of their children, John and Louise succumbed and died. “He was afraid he and Mary might altogether break down or die, for the accumulation of distresses was too great” (3.273).
A few weeks later, the quasi-Christian, iconoclastic Taiping forces broke into Ningbo and captured it. Most of the population, having heard of the horrible atrocities perpetrated by the rebels, had fled. The missionaries retreated to the area where they were under the cover of British warships, but John Jones went into the city regularly. He wrote, “My heart bleeds when I go through it day by day… But God was in control and could bring good out of evil. These times have stirred up a world of evil and appear to have broken down many barriers… whether for good or for evil the idols seem to be completely forgotten … they have weighed them and found them wanting… Yesterday I gave the rebel leader … a tract which he read and pronounced to contain truth believed by them” (3. 275).
He and Mary were anxiously awaiting the Taylors’ return to help them with the work in such calamitous conditions, and said so in long letters. Yet, he was “always frank and capable of humour in unusual circumstances,” and never lost his affection for Hudson Taylor, despite the long delay Taylor’s health had necessitated for recuperation in England (3.276). John was ill and could no longer care for the church members as a pastor. All he could do was to advise the Chinese Christians at the Bridge Street Church. The rebels marched on Ningbo again in September 1861. It was too dangerous for the Joneses to remain in the Chinese city, so Mrs. William Parker took them in, even though she had just given birth – such was the love and mutual support among the missionaries in Ningbo.
It was decided that they should return to England, but they planned to wait until the spring brought better weather. Early in the year it was clear that he was dying. Mary, of course, was greatly distressed, but John “was peacefully unconcerned except for her” (3.309). Anticipating his departure, he turned the Bridge Street Church over to E.C. Lord, an independent Baptist missionary.
Only days after their fellow CES missionary William Parker had perished from injuries sustained in a fall from a bridge, they sailed for England in February 1861. John died en route and was buried at St. Helena. Mary and the three surviving children arrived at Liverpool in May.
Mary Jones lived for a while with the Taylors in London after her return from China before settling with her mother in Wendover. “One of Mary’s children had died before she went to China, another was buried on their arrival at Hong Kong, two more at Ningbo and now John at St. Helena. Only Tom and two others remained to her” (3.337). She turned over all the records of the Bridge Street Church in Ningbo to Hudson Taylor. The Christians were under the pastoral care of EC Lord. The Taylors invited her and her children to live with them, which they did until Mary rented a house of her own. She took in the daughter of Frederick Gough as one of her own family. Gough himself later became a lodger in her home. Mary later also took in the fiancée of another missionary, Annie Skinner, whom she employed as a teacher and nanny for her children. At some point, she had adopted a Chinese boy, Kying Hae, as her son.
She later married Frederick F. Gough and, after consulting Taylor about joining the CIM, went back to China with the Church Missionary Society in 1869. Her daughter Mary later married and joined the CIM, but died early.
John Jones was known to be a “hard-working, deeply spiritual” man and a good companion both to Hudson Taylor and then, briefly, James Meadows (3.371). Much of his effectiveness as a pastor in Ningbo lay in his living, with his family, very close to the Chinese whom they served.
As we have seen, he believed that God would provide for all their material needs; he did not rely on the CES, with whom his arrangement was that “he was working with them and welcoming any remittances coming from them, but desired no fixed salary and was peacefully more than content to receive whatever else he might need from God himself through any channel he might choose to employ” (3:239). “The quiet certainty … that God would provide for him and his family if only he did God’s will … transformed Hudson Taylor’s own experimental faith” (3:427). His example gradually led Hudson Taylor and James Meadows to adopt that same attitude, and became the basis for the later CIM’s nature as a “faith” mission. Jones may have learned this way of trusting God from George Muller of Bristol, who supported him financially from the beginning.
His chronic ill-health greatly limited the work he could do, but he bore it with Christian equanimity. During one especially torrid summer, he wrote, “We have learned to consider it a great blessing to be no worse than usual” (3.95).
John and Mary Jones exemplified the very best in Christian character and missionary dedication. Their patient endurance of almost unimaginable trials; their love for each other, the Chinese, Hudson Taylor and Maria, and their Lord; and their faithful labors despite overwhelming obstacles greatly impressed all who knew them, including the Chinese. Though John Jones did not live to serve very long in China, he left a lasting legacy, not only in the Chinese Christians who came under his influence, but in the transformation of Hudson Taylor into a man of unshakeable faith in the God who provides for his children. The Bridge Street church which he helped to plant and to nurture became, as we have seen, the seed bed of powerful witness by Chinese believers for decades to come. He and his beloved Mary would probably have considered this to have been their greatest contribution, but they would have given all the glory to God.
Truly, of them it could be said that they were among those “of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38).
A.J. Broomhall, Hudson Taylor & China’s Open Century. Book Three: If I Had a Thousand Lives. Sevenoaks, UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1982.
______. Book Four: Survivors’ Pact. Sevenoaks, UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1984.
These two books of Broomhall’s seven-volume work were later republished in Volume One of the two-volume set The Shaping of Modern China: Hudson Taylor’s Life and Legacy. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2005.