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Grace-Driven Audacity

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In discussing Harry Taylor’s rich life and legacy with my friend and former colleague, Bob Niklaus, he indicated that he’d consider it a great honor to write about this veteran Alliance worker. Shortly after completing this article, Bob went to meet Jesus (and Harry), and heaven gained a prolific pen.
—Peter Burgo, editor

Audacity—“willingness to take risks” (Rogets II, The New Thesaurus)

At first glance, “audacity” fit Harry Taylor about as well as Saul’s clunky armor on the fresh-faced shepherd boy David.

But Harry, promoted to his heavenly reward last November at age 97—after more than 70 years of ministry—might have been comfortable with such a description. How else to explain this introspection in his autobiography:

In those early years I seemed to be in trouble more often than not. Playing with matches resulted in burning the roof of a barn belonging to the bakery; an accident while playing “follow the leader” caused me to lose my front teeth; a BB gun escapade, which included shooting into the neighbor’s shed through a small window, regrettably ended when the neighbor’s son was hit; and skating on “rubber ice”—all appealed to my venturesome nature (Edge of Conflict, p. 19).

Harry’s voice, low keyed with a bit of dry rustle like autumn leaves, cloaked his “venturesome nature.” He was like one who stood on the edge of a crowd, detached, taking it all in and wondering how to be useful, even if it involved taking risks—for Harry was endowed with a generous nature whose first impulse was to help.

But at times his demeanor told a different story. If he felt a wrong was being done, his features would harden and his pale blue eyes would turn cold and narrow to a squint reminiscent of Clint Eastwood, revealing deep feeling and strong conviction. His words would turn sharp and blunt. On one such occasion a dispute arose between Harry and a colleague over the use of funds. In an official report he rebuked his brother for “doing a superb job of beating around the bush.”

It was this “venturesome nature,” this audacity guided by grace, that carried Harry through one conflict after another. On the very day World War II began, with France near collapse, Harry and his equally indomitable wife, Miriam, left language study and sailed to French Indo-China in the mistaken hope they could still fulfill their calling there with The Christian and Missionary Alliance.

But that hope was short lived. When Japan invaded, the Taylors left for the Philippines—jumping from the frying pan to the fire. The family, now with two children, Donald and Janice, spent the next three years in prison camps in Baguio and Manila along with hundreds of other civilian foreigners.

The years of imprisonment so ravaged their health that the family needed two years to recuperate in America. Was it time to seek a less demanding ministry stateside? Hardly. The door to ministry in Cambodia swung open again in 1947, and that grace-driven audacity prompted Harry and Miriam to head eastward again.

From 1947 to 1965 the Taylor team served in a broad sweep of ministries: district and prison evangelism, direction of the field office, the Bible school at Takhamau and production of gospel radio programs beamed from Manila back into Cambodia. For Harry’s contributions to the country, King Sihanouk decorated him—and then in 1965 kicked him and all the other international workers out of Cambodia.

The king’s defection and the collapse of the pro-Western regime forced Harry and Miriam back into the painful role of hastily packed suitcases and refugee status. So again the question arose: Was it time to seek ministry in quieter, gentler surroundings?

Harry’s “venturesome nature” said no. The next stop was another cockpit of conflict. It was off to Lebanon, which was embroiled in a vicious civil war. The Taylors’ autobiography is titled Edge of Conflict, but at times they stepped over the line into the real world of bullets and spilled blood. Again the hounds of war and close encounters with death forced them to seek refuge, this time in Jordan.

The Taylors’ work in Lebanon, however, was more than dodging bullets. The years between 1966 and 1988 were productive in church planting and personal evangelism. Harry opened the International Church of Beirut and played a major role in founding a Bible school that trained workers from several mid-Eastern nations, especially Iraq. He helped organize a church in Karentina that had a remarkable impact on the city and surrounding areas.

On a personal level, probably the most significant fruit of evangelism was winning Sami Dagher (see sidebar) to Christ. With his marriage on the rocks and his personal life a total mess, Sami was ready for salvation. The impact of Harry on Sami’s life is like a circle that widens as those won to Christ continue to multiply and spread in every direction.

By the time Harry and Miriam retired in 1988, the pattern of grace-driven audacity was clear. From France to Indo-China . . . to the Philippines . . . to Cambodia . . . and to Lebanon, they were free to be themselves as God created them. Following the derring-do of their hearts, they left their mark on countless lives, churches and other institutions.

For the next two decades Miriam sought to match her husband stride by stride, including a two-month victory lap in the Middle East. But in 2005, her body finally whispered, “It is enough,” and she quietly slipped away to her Master’s welcoming smile and eternal reward.

What a “tailor-made” legacy she left her children! She herself was born to missionary parents, George and Lola Breaden, who pioneered Alliance work in Lebanon. At the time of her death, all three children—Donald, Janice and Judith—were in ministry.

On one of my last visits to his home, Harry settled back in his recliner and said with a smile, “It won’t be long now until I shall again see my beloved Miriam.” In a matter of weeks his anticipation was fulfilled. On November 12, 2010, Harry exited this world.

How to sum up his life? To paraphrase St. Augustine, “Love God and live boldly.” Grace-driven willingness to take risks for God; that’s what discipleship meant for Harry Taylor. The result was a life rich in meaning for him and rich in blessing to many others.

When Harry Met Sami

After a divinely ordered encounter with Harry Taylor, followed by several months of deep conversation between the two, Sami Dagher faced a dilemma. “After I read and studied the Bible with Rev. Taylor, I knew exactly what I should do, but was so afraid that I would be leaving all my friends and the life that every man is running after. Coming to faith in Jesus would be a very, very hard step. Rev. Taylor used to say to me, ‘Sami, whatever you leave for Christ will become as dirt when you take Him as your Savior.’ And this is what I have done. I left the dirt to discover the true life Jesus had for me.”

Sami went on to establish the Alliance national churches in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq and has led countless lost and wandering souls to Christ, including Franklin Graham, the eldest son of Billy and Ruth Graham and president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

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