Gladys Aylward, born of working class parents in London, England, in 1902, became a domestic servant at the age of 14. From the time she attended a revival meeting at which the message was about dedicating one’s life to the service of God, her heart was in missions. She longed to go overseas as a missionary to China. However, when she applied to the China Inland Mission, she was turned down because of her inadequate education–she failed the mission’s entry exam. They also thought at the age of 28 she was too old to learn Chinese.
Undeterred, by 1932 she had saved up her money and eventually spent her life savings on a one way train ticket to China, via Russia. She couldn’t afford the boat fare. She had been invited to work with Jeannie Lawson, an older missionary who was looking for someone to take over her work.
The two of them decided that the best way to reach out in their city, which was an overnight stop for mule trains carrying consumer goods, was to open an inn. So they founded the “Inn of the Eight Happinesses.” (A movie, “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness” starring Ingrid Bergman was based on this work.) After the first few months when they had to be coerced to stop, the mule drivers willingly stayed there because the food was good, the beds were warm and the innkeepers provided free entertainment in the evenings. They were storytellers, telling tales of a man named Jesus.
Gladys learned Mandarin from them, and adopted Chinese dress and culture.
After Jeannie’s death following an accident, Gladys Aylward served as a “foot inspector” for the Chinese government, traveling around the countryside enforcing the ban against the cruel practice of footbinding in which an infant girls feet were tightly bound with cloth to make their feet tiny–thought to be a sign of beauty, but crippling the girls in the process. It enabled her to get into many situations where she could tell the good news of Jesus. She also gained great favor when she stopped a prison riot.
Gladys took in orphans, adopting several herself. When the Japanese invaded her region of China in 1938, and with a price on her own head, she led 100 orphans to safety over the mountains. It was a twelve day journey with some nights spent unprotected on the mountainside, but eventually she delivered all the children to the safety of an orphanage in Sian. She promptly collapsed with typhus.
After 10 years back in Britain, she was denied re-entry to China by the Communist government, so settled instead in Taiwan where she became a friend of Tony (my husband’s) family. Again, she founded an orphanage. She died in 1970.
A book about her life by Alan Burgess, The Small Woman, was published in 1957.
Picture taken from Google images http://www.christianity.com