I finally decided to heed Mrs. Harmon’s advice to write “at least one” serious article. Okay, Mrs. Harmon, you win. But this ain’t no pattern. Next week it’ll be back to my frivolous, superficial articles.

James Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) was a missionary for 50 years. From China, Taylor wrote hundreds of letters home, giving updates about the Chinese Inland Mission—an organization he founded. In 1978 I met Herbert Hudson Taylor whose great-grandfather was the aforementioned missionary. We met in my brief stint in Lubbock at Texas Instruments (TI). Many of Hudson Taylor’s letters are now in museums, but Herb told me, as the radio broadcaster, Paul Harvey, would say, “The rest of the story.”

As a child, Herb never considered that his family line contained a missionary, but while exploring in his grandmother’s attic he discovered a bundle of letters from J. Hudson Taylor. He was fascinated by, (in his words), “The most beautiful penmanship I’d ever seen,” written by someone who shared his middle and last name. The letters contained appeals to Herb’s grandparents to “come to the Lord,” (whatever that meant).

Herb noticed a secret code in the letters:

“all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” Rom 3:23

“The soul that sinneth, it shall die…” Ez 18:20

“He loved me and gave Himself for me” Gal 2:20

“You must be born again…” Jn 3:7.

Could this code have something to do with the Bible? Herb took a Bible to the attic and re-read each letter and attempted to use the Bible to decipher the secret code.

“I broke the code, Johnny!” he told me.

Each code had letters that stood for a book in the Bible, followed by numbers indicating the chapter and verse that was quoted. Even from the grave, the great missionary spoke to a needy sinner. As Herb read the scriptures alluded to in the secret code, something changed inside him. He knelt and asked the Lord Jesus Christ to save him right there in the attic.

When Herb and I met at TI, we were the only Christians that we knew at work. Herb later said, “Johnny, it was love at first sight!” (Listen, guys, IT’S A QUOTE. I didn’t say it. Herb did. So quit laughing! Besides, my girl readers love that gooey, gushy stuff.)

My wife, Karyl, and I began hanging out with Herb and his wife, Polly. Karyl and Polly did girl stuff while Herb and I did real stuff, like talking football and playing chess. After a chess game, we replayed each move with the mover explaining why he’d made that move, and how he thought the game was going at that moment. I usually won, but don’t ask Herb about it. He might remember just the opposite for some reason.

At work, the computer Herb and I were helping build lost funding so Karyl and I moved to Garland. There I continued to work for TI at the Dallas plant. Herb and Polly moved to Austin where he continued with TI in our beloved capital.

Once, when we visited them in Austin, we noticed an enormous painting of a flower on their living room wall. I’m no art critic, but there was something special about this painting.

“Where’d you get the picture?” I asked.

Herb explained:

Polly’s family was old money up in New Jersey when she converted to Christianity. Her parents thought she’d gone crazy and took her to a psychiatrist, but she would not renounce her new faith. Not only that, she married Herb—a lowly (though brilliant) electrical engineer.

One summer for their vacation, they decided to drive to Walt Disney Resort in Florida. Polly told Herb about Lily, a lady who’d married her great-grandfather, Bill, when he was in his seventies and she in her twenties. Polly’s family had declared Lily a gold-digger and had nothing to do with her. Since Herb and Polly were going to Florida, they called Lily, now in her seventies, to see if they could drop by to see her. She said, “I’d be delighted!” So Herb and Polly added Palm Beach to their itinerary.

Lily’s mansion was impressive on the outside, and indoors they heard the delightful, enchanting sound of an indoor fountain. But there wasn’t any fountain. The water they heard was flowing down the wall from upstairs. Upon investigation, Herb (the engineer) uncovered the problem. Twelve years prior, Lily had gotten a ridiculously high water bill from the city. When she refused to pay it, they cut off her water. With her water off, Lily had her driver take her to her club where she bathed and spent much of the day. The day she’d gotten off the phone with Polly, she wrote a check to the city for all that she owed including a fee to turn her water back on. But with the water shut off for all those years some of the water pipes had corroded. In one day Herb found and fixed the leak in her sprinkler system that had led to the original high water bill. Then he called plumbers to repair the pipes in the house. When Lily gave them a tour of her mansion, Herb stared at her picture of a bright flower in full bloom.

“In my whole collection that’s my favorite,” Lily remarked.

A few years later Lily passed away. She left the bulk of her fortune to her driver and the doorman at her club, but after their visit, she rewrote her will leaving Herb and Polly the Van Gogh painting of the flowers. That was the painting we saw in their living room.

Now if you’re thinking the lesson here is “Be nice to rich people and maybe they’ll give you something,” you’re wrong. The real lesson is that even from the grave your legacy lives on. Hudson Taylor left a legacy of love and hope that still inspires us. I talked to Herb last night. Polly was asleep. She gets up at 4:00 a.m. to help an incapacitated lady. Their daughter, Charlotte, goes on mission trips and is active in a “church plant.” And Herb’s love of God pours out like water flowing down a wall. He’s one of my heroes.

Those letters changed everything.

Johnny Hayre worked at E-Systems/Raytheon/L-3 until he retired in 2013. He and wife Karyl have lived in Greenville since 2002 and are now “empty-nesters.” They have three living children and seven grandchildren, who are each beautiful, intelligent and  all the usual parent-grandparent praises. Email him at GHB.JohnnyHayre@gmail.com.

Recommended for you