For the very first time, an enthusiastic team of ecumenical volunteers gathered at Emmanuel Methodist Church, Barnsley for two days in June to host a pilot Lifepath around the life of James Hudson Taylor. The pioneering Victorian missionary is a 'son' of the town, and inspired by the opening of a historical trail based around Hudson Taylor's famous landmarks, the Lifepath team hosted 120 Year 5 children from three local Primary schools over two days. The life of Hudson Taylor is little know amongst many Christians, not to mention residents of Barnsley, and encouraged by the local Hudson Taylor group, the aim of the Barnsley Lifepath was to inform, educate and inspire local children about this famous local character who took the Christian faith to China, and inspired the setting up of the Inland China Mission.
Each day children gathered to engage in collective worship based around the energetic Lifepath songs that had been taught to the children in the previous weeks at a school based assembly. The children were then split into groups of 8-10 to share in four different elements of the Lifepath programme. In the 'Living' section the children watched and acted out various parts of the James Hudson Taylor biography – including his nine visits from Barnsley to China! In the 'Believing' section contemporary prayer exercises enabled the children to participate in prayers around thanks, love, sorry and praise. In the 'Exploring' stream children made their own model of a Terracota warrior out of clay. In the 'Skills' section children made their own Chinese fans, chopsticks (and learnt how to use them!) and dragons. Accompanied by their Pilgrim guides, the children had lots of fun, learnt an enormous amount about the life of James Hudson Taylor and were encouraged to think about their own life journey.
Because of the weather children were able to enjoy their packed lunch out on the church lawn, and also had the privilege of meeting Chinese Christians who now are resident in Leeds or Sheffield. The children were able to ask them questions and enjoyed the cross-cultural experience. Many Christians today in China own their Christian ancestry to James Hudson Taylor who not only shared his faith, but also contextualised the message learning to speak Mandarin and adopting the clothes and customs of Chinese people. Barnsley is becoming a place of spiritual pilgrimage to many Chinese Christians so it was good to get the children ready and share Hudson Taylor's remarkable story with them.
The feedback from the schools was excellent. One teacher said, "we have been on a number of school trips this year, and this has been by far the best!". Another said, "the welcome has been so warm, the children have been kept so busy and engaged, and we have all learned such a tremendous amount about the life of Hudson Taylor". The volunteers too had a great time, and we are already looking forward to extending the numbers of children participating and the number of days we will offer for Barnsley Lifepath 2015. Like James Hudson Taylor we feel it is 'onward and upward'!