Miss Taylor was a strange complexity of daring, devotion, and diplomacy. A biographer referred to her as intrepid, daring, and patient. With unconquerable courage, she demonstrated the heroism of faith.
She was born in the United Kingdom, October 17, 1855. As a child she was a weakling and not expected to live. As a result, she had very little formal schooling. At the age of thirteen, she accepted Jesus as her Savior. She noted, "He died for me. He lives for me. Jesus my Savior, my constant and closest friend."
She was challenged to missions work by an address given by the son of Dr. Robert Moffatt, who was pleading for men to go to the mission field. As a school girl, she heard this plea, and God spoke to her heart.
This remarkable woman sailed to China October 1884 under the China Inland Mission, but her goal from the beginning was to work among the Tibetans and to enter their land. She was the first white woman to get into Tibet and, within three-days' march from the sacred city of Lhasa, the first Protestant missionary to enter this forbidden land.
I want to digress a little and speak about the religion of the Tibetans. It is Lamanism, a form of Buddhism. It is described as a chaotic crowd of gods, demons, and deified saints. The holy city of Tibet is Lhasa, which means "the seat of the gods." The city is a shrine, and the Grand Lama is its human idol. To the Tibetans, the man is God! "Lama" means "superior" and is applied to the head of the monastic and priestly order of the highest quarters or ranks. The Lama are neither loved nor respected. Their power is due to fear alone.
As to the Tibetans themselves, they are a laughter-loving, peaceful, but unspeakably dirty people. They do not wash. Their garments are "zoological preserves," and their homes are as savory as themselves. Murder is rare, but they are notorious thieves and liars. They practice fraternal polyandry.
The Tibetans consume immense quantities of tea, but it is hardly "Bully tea" or "good English tea." They use a Chinese brick tea and mix it with salt, soda, butter, and barley flour. It is in fact a gruel. This is their staple diet. Miss Taylor reports that she managed to drink it but not with relish.
J. Hudson Taylor, director of the CIM, saw that Annie was unique and unlikely to work with others of the missionaries. He permitted her the liberty of reaching out to the Tibetans. She went to the far north of China to the city of Tau-Chau. For the next four or five years, she studied the Tibetan language, culture, and religion. She spent time in some of the centers of Lamaism-particularly visiting some of their monasteries. At one place, the abbot showed her some of the areas that were normally forbidden to women. The Tibetan women themselves expressed warm regard for her. She ate their food and drank their tea, and they appreciated that. She had a vision of traversing the land, totally unevangelized. She well knew this land was shut to foreigners, but she did not know the word "impossible." She wanted to claim this closed land for God. She said, "We have received no orders from the Lord that are impossible to be carried out. I am God's little woman, and He will take care of me."
All my trust on Thee is stayed
All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of Thy wing."
If no one else was ready in Christ's name to try to scale "the roof of the world" and press on into the sacred city of Lhasa, she would make the attempt. Her first idea was to make India her point of departure. Lhasa was much nearer to India than to China.
After returning the whole length of China, she made a stop in Australia to regain her health. Then she proceeded to Tibetan towns on the border of India and Tibet. Here she spent a year in further language study. The Tibetans were very suspicious of her. They asked her what they should do with her body if she died. Her answer was that she had no intention of dying just yet. She was on one occasion poisoned with food. She was severely ill but recovered.
She found that this border was much more jealously guarded than that of China. The time spent in India was not in vain. She learned much more about these people and made a friend and attendant that proved of invaluable service to her. It was a young Tibetan nomad by the name of Pontso. Annie treated a serious injury of his and led him to the Lord. He was a native of Lhasa. She returned to China with Pontso-back up to the Tibetan frontier and made preparations to enter Tibet. Lhasa was her goal.
A Chinese merchant named Noga knew the way to Lhasa and was making the journey. Annie engaged him as her guide. He turned out to be a real rascal. He robbed her of much of her possessions, tried to kill her several times, and finally deserted her. He was the one who betrayed her to the Tibetan authorities, who prevented her from entering Lhasa. Annie Taylor traveled 1300 miles in Tibet. Most of these areas had never been seen by white men. Her travel kit was very meager. She had four books: Daily Light, the New Testament and Psalms, a hymnbook, a diary. These she sewed into her clothing.
She left Tau-chau September 2, 1892, with supplies for two months: horses, tents, trade goods as gifts, etc. Very early thieves robbed her of her horses and goods. She had to pass through a tribe of people called Galoka, a people never subdued by Tibet or China. She was taken by these fierce warlike tribes people, but this clan was ruled by a chieftainess-a woman named Woaka-Bumo. Woaka-Bumo, upon learning that Annie was a woman, showed her great kindness and protection. She replenished some supplies and sent her on her way with an escort.
Annie suffered indescribably difficult situations of extreme cold and blinding storms of sleet and snow. She had been robbed by her own servants as well as by brigands and was left virtually destitute. She slept in the open many a night, lived on extremely limited rations, and suffered great hardships in order to get to the heartland of Tibet.
Annie and her group joined themselves to some caravans; and she notes, "that I should have survived the exposure of this journey, to which two strong men had succumbed, was indeed marvelous." She was referring to the fact that two men on the party she was traveling with died of exposure.
She talked about going over one of the higher passes at 15,000 feet. "Breathing was very difficult, and if you stopped, some people actually froze to death. We had to drink our tea very quickly to prevent a crust of ice forming on the top. On the last day of the old year (1892), we crossed the river and found ourselves within the sacred district of Lhasa."
Within three days of Lhasa, she was taken prisoner by the Tibetan guards, who prevented her from going any further toward Lhasa. The Chinese Mohammedan servant tried to kill her on several occasions and then departed from her and betrayed her to the Tibetan authorities.
Annie was forced to return to China. The return trip was worse than that she had already endured. Most of her outfit had been stolen. She slept in the open for twenty nights. She finally reached the city of Ta-choun-lu in China April 15, 1893. It had been seven-and-a-half months of travel.
Annie accepted her failure to reach Lhasa stoically and as of the Lord. But she did not lose her burden for Tibet. She left China.
She later apparently left the CIM and founded the Tibetan Pioneer Mission. She could enter Tibet as a "trader," so she settled at Yatung in the Chumba Valley, at 10,000 feet, just inside of Tibet on the Indian border. Here she kept her famous "shop." Miss Ferguson and Miss Foster were her coworkers. They set up a small trading business as well as a medical clinic. The Tibetans preferred to trade with her as she was honest. "The trading is not a hardship." She wrote, "If Paul could make tents for Christ, surely we can do this for our Master."
But first of all she was a missionary, as all knew, ministering to the physical and spiritual needs of her beloved Tibetans. Miss Taylor, Miss Ferguson, and Miss Foster noted, "The little organ and the singing are always a delight to them, and none ever come without being told of Jesus, the mighty to save, or go without a copy of one of the gospels, which they take gladly." Annie's house was always open, and many times the small sitting room was filled to overflowing with Tibetans-all very smelly in their unwashed clothes.
While they were at Yatung, they had a Christian Christmas celebration. Annie said, "Oh how we long for them to know Jesus as their Savior and thus receive the gift of eternal life."
There are few in the annuls of missionary history who have endured greater hardship so joyfully for the cause of making Christ known.
"But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ."