Gladys Aylward – An Inspirational Missionary

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I was first introduced to Gladys Aylward at age seven, by the book “These Are My People”. It was a biography about her, written by Mildred Howard. Ever since, she’s been an inspiration in my life.

Gladys Aylward was born in 1902 to a working class family in London, Great Britain. She became a parlor maid at the age of fourteen, working for upper class families for many years. One day, she attended a church service that was about dedicating your life to God. Soon after, she felt called to China. At twenty-six, she was a probationer at the China Inland Mission center in London, but failed to pass the exams. She kept on working, determined to get to China, even if on her own. She saved her money for many months, and finally bought a ticket to China. After hearing of the seventy-three year old missionary Jeannie Lawson, Gladys wrote to her, asking if she could come and help her. She couldn’t afford a boat ticket, but managed to save enough for a train ticket and went – the hard way. In October of 1930, Gladys started making her way to China on the Russian-Siberian railroad.  Arriving in Vladivostock, she sailed to Japan, then to Tientsin. By train, bus, and mule, she arrived in the city of Yangchen in the province of Shansi, China.

After arriving in China, Gladys had many things to learn. The culture, traditions, and language – everything was all so different. She and Mrs. Lawson started an inn, “The Inn of the Eighth Happiness”, and at night they told Bible accounts to the muleteers. Many of the muleteers became Christians and retold the stories to their friends. After Mrs. Lawson’s death, Gladys wasn’t able to keep up the inn because of finances. She was asked by the local Mandarin to be a foot inspector – to carry out the law that all women’s feet must be unbound. In China, it was a tradition to bind the women’s feet when they were younger, so their feet would not grow and they would have small feet. Traveling around gave Gladys chances to spread the Gospel. Soon after, she adopted her first child, Ninepence. Her family grew over the years as she began to take in parentless children.

In 1936, Gladys became a Chinese citizen. She was given the name Ài Wěi Dé, meaning Virtuous One. Then, the war came. In 1938, Japanese planes started bombing Yangchen. With a $100 price on her head, Gladys lead over one hundred children across mountains and the Yellow River to the government orphanage at Sian. With many difficulties, they finally made it. She collapsed with Typhus fever at Sian and was in delirium for several days. Her health slowly improving, she started a church at Sian. However, she returned to England in 1947 for a critical operation. In 1957, Alan Burgess wrote a book about her, titled “The Small Woman”.  Soon after, the movie “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness”, starring Ingrid Bergman was made. Gladys was appalled at the movie, as many facts were changed.  In 1970, on January third, Gladys died and was buried in Taiwan.

Gladys Aylward has been so inspiring to me. God gave her incredible courage to stop at nothing. Just think, she didn’t have to bring all those children to safety. She could have given herself up to the Japanese, but she didn’t. Instead she took the long, hard journey to protect those children. After the movie was made about her, she became internationally famous, but she remained humble. All that publicity didn’t make her proud. She once made this comment to a friend: “I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I’ve done for China. There was somebody else. I don’t know who it was — God’s first choice. It must have been a man — a wonderful man, a well-educated man. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn’t willing. And God looked down and saw Gladys Aylward.”