All four gospels include the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. No matter how we might imagine the sizes of the fish or the loaves of bread, they will always remain pathetically insignificant compared to the enormous crowd of hungry and tired people. In John 6:9, Andrew asks Jesus, “what are these” (ταῦτα τί ἐστιν in Greek) for so many? Half Crown Media is tasked with the difficult job of making of the HUDSON TAYLOR movie. When I look at our team, myself included, I often ask the same thing: “what are these” for such an impossible task?
Hudson Taylor too, was inspired by this story. He wrote of Jesus’ miraculous feeding:
The five loaves and two fishes of the disciples, first given up to and blessed by the Lord, were abundant supply for the needy multitudes, and grew, in the act of distribution, into a store of which twelve hampers full of fragments remained when all were fully satisfied.
In considering his brief exegesis, I am reminded of the mission conference being jointly organized by CCCOWE Canada, OMF Canada, and Half Crown Media in August 2022. The conference has two interconnected programs—one in Chinese, and one in English. The Chinese theme,《突破、傳承、回饋-----顧往瞻來聚焦戴德生》, can be translated as, ‘Breakthrough, Legacy, Response: Refocusing on Hudson Taylor’. Each of these three phrases describe a step in the history and impact of Hudson Taylor’s work from his time till today. The breakthrough of his ministry in bringing the gospel to 19th Century China; the legacy of The Great Commission, passed down to the indigenous Chinese Church; and our response, to engage in mission work just as Taylor and so many after did. The English theme, ‘Back to the Frontier: Rediscovering the Frontlines of Missions in the 21st Century’, further expands on our response today. Just as Taylor brought the gospel to the inlands of China, the neglected frontiers of mission work in his day, we must now search for the new frontlines to reach.
In the same way that we have identified these three steps in the history of Hudson Taylor’s work, we can see the same steps present in the feeding of the five thousand. It starts with a breakthrough—a simple act of giving what we have, taken as a small step of faith.
When we have very little, it is very hard to give up something crucial to our survival. Although we know in our minds that God can work miracles, our hearts are often tested by insecurities, doubts, and unbelief. It can be even harder when we struggle to see how the little we have could possibly make a meaningful difference. “What are these?” But just like the five loaves and two fish, when we entrust our lives and resources to God, he can use them to great ends.
Hudson Taylor understood this well. He testified from his own experience, "Many Christians estimate difficulties in the light of their own resources, and thus attempt little and often fail in the little they attempt. All God's giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on His power and presence with them." When we are willing to take a small step of faith, trusting that God’s work will never lack God’s supply, we will witness a breakthrough—a chance for God to work miracles in the face of impossible tasks.
According to Hudson Taylor, there are typically three stages in the work of God: “First Impossible…then Difficult…then Done.” When it comes to the HUDSON TAYLOR movie project, welcome to Difficult. We have already seen God do the impossible. How else could we explain an unexpected million dollar donation—from a single couple, no less—to help fund the initial development of this project? Not only has this gift helped seed the funding for the entire movie project, it has also enabled us to hire a gifted screenwriter who has crafted a powerful and exciting script for the film. What brought us to this stage was only a small act of faith: to pray and initiate the movie project. The rest is merely witnessing the continued provision and guidance of God.
After everyone had been fed, the disciples were called to collect any remaining fragments. The leftovers filled twelve whole baskets. One for each of the disciples, who would be contemplating what they had just been a part of. Hannah Flint of Bread Church in London has said it well, “Maybe the most significant thing about this miracle is not that God can provide, but what it shows us about what happens when we trust and follow him…. It is [the disciples] who I think many of us are called to see ourselves in…we are supposed to imagine the feeling that we get from handing out, basket after basket after basket to finally produce provision, handing out miracles, symbols of inclusion, symbols of this new era, symbols of the new things that he is doing.… This is the Kingdom of God.”
There is nothing more transformative than to experience God’s work firsthand in our lives. Each of us has experienced God in unique ways—perhaps the kindness of a Christian friend during a time of need, or the moving lyrics of Christmas Carols sung in the park, or the radical transformation of a loved one who recently came to Christ. This is the legacy of God’s work, and of the church. For the Chinese Church specifically, much of our legacy can be traced back to Hudson Taylor and the early CIM missionaries who served alongside him. Through them, many in China experienced God in their lives, birthing the indigenous Chinese Church. As the first wave of believers lived transformed lives and shared their stories, a new generation of believers encountered God, and so the cycle continued from generation to generation, until today. The HUDSON TAYLOR movie project is merely the next step in the continuing legacy of God’s work.
Fast forward from the feeding of the five thousand, to after Jesus’ death and resurrection. In following Jesus, the disciples had experienced God in a multitude of ways. But now, they had been called to do something even further: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) Having experienced God’s work in their lives, now they had to respond.
It has been said that the church is always only one generation away from extinction. While this may not be literally true, especially in view of God’s divine protection over the church, there is a wisdom to this saying. We cannot afford to sit idle, leaving the work of the Great Commission to God or to others, people who we think are more spiritual or capable. God has called us as believers—each and every one—to respond to his great work as we have experienced in our lives. We must share our experiences with others, and take active steps to continue the legacy of God’s great work.
Psalm 145:4 reads, “one generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” Underlying the HUDSON TAYLOR movie project is a vision for a missional discipleship movement, enabled through storytelling. In telling the story of Hudson and Maria Taylor on the big screen, we hope to share God’s faithfulness exhibited through their lives to every generation, both young and old. But to extend the legacy of God’s work is not possible only with big stories like these. The full impact of the movie can only be realized when the global church and Christian organizations work together in unity, sharing with the world each of our own unique, personal experiences of God’s work.
As I consider the task ahead of us, not only for the HUDSON TAYLOR movie project, but for the global mission movement, I am overwhelmed by the scale of what God is calling us to do. But Hudson Taylor reminds us that “God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply. He is too wise a God to frustrate His purposes for lack of funds". All we need to do is to respond to His calling. Trust that whatever we may have to offer, be it our money, our testimony, our service, be it great or small, God can use it to accomplish great things. We invite you to witness God’s work done in God’s way. Would you join us in passing on the spirit of service to the next generation, and continuing the legacy of God’s great work?