Today’s celebrates woman in history is Gladys Aylward, missionary and defender of the women and children in China.
Gladys Aylward was born in London in February of 1902 to a working class family. She entered the work force at age 14 as a parlor maid, otherwise know as a house servant, and her responsibilities included doing heavy chores, long hours, and low pay. Gladys had been going to church off and on in her life and was familiar with the Gospel message but had no personal relationship with God. One night a stranger confronted her and asked about her spiritual need which convinced her to go see the pastor. She talked with the pastor’s wife and trusted Christ alone for her salvation.
Gladys’ life was overwhelmingly changed after she was converted. She dreamed of going to another country and sharing about Jesus as a missionary which led her to the China Inland Mission. She enrolled in the training but failed. So she worked at other jobs and saved money.
One day, Gladys heard of a 73 year old missionary, Mrs. Larson, who needed a young assistant to help her in China. So with all the money she had saved, she bought a train ticket on the Trans-Siberian railway. Finally on October 15th, 1932, Gladys said goodbye to her friends and family and set out for China. She traveled across England and Europe without any troubles but eastern Russia was a dangerous war zone. When she wasn’t allowed to go any farther on the train, she got off and walked in the snow to the nearest station. Her passport was stolen from her and she was forced to take a boat to Japan and then to China where from she rode a train, a bus, and a mule to get to the city of Yangchen. She only could have gotten there by the grace of God!
With not much of a welcoming party, Gladys started missionary work at an inn for muleteers owned by Mrs. Larson. The inn provided shelter for the mules and a place for the muleteers to eat and sleep and Gladys worked alongside Yang, the cook. While the muleteers would eat, Mrs. Larson and Gladys would tell them Bible stories but because Gladys was a foreigner she was not easily trusted.
Gladys slowly but surely learned the language but only 8 months after she arrived, Mrs. Larson became sick and died and Gladys was left with no way of getting any income. A few weeks later, the Mandarin of Yangchen came and asked Gladys to become the official foot inspector, a job that required that Gladys visit all the surrounding communities and tell people that binding girl’s feet was illegal and that they must unbind them. The Mandarin told her he needed someone with big unbound feet and Gladys accepted, knowing it would give her even more opportunities to spread the Gospel!
So Gladys began visiting and revisiting houses to check on the girls and people started to get to know her. Two years after she went to China the Mandarin asked Gladys to stop a riot in the prison. The men were killing each other but Gladys commanded them to stop and tell her what was wrong. They were tired of being cooped up and needed food and work. From then on Gladys was known as “Ai-weh-deh” which means “virtuous one.”
Once Gladys saw a beggar on the road with a very sick child beside her so she bought this child for nine pence and then adopted her, naming her Ninepence! One day, Ninepence brought home a little boy, assuring Gladys that she would eat less if only they could keep him. And so they did, naming him Less, and her family grew! In 1936, Gladys became a Chinese citizen and continued to dress like the people around her.
In 1938, the war began between Japan and China, which later resulted in WWII. Japan invaded China, dropping bombs on Yengchen. All the people escaped into the mountains as the Japanese came into the city. TheNationalist army drove them out and the people settled back into regular life until more bombs were dropped on Yangchen and the whole thing would start over again. Because was working as a spy for the Chinese, there a ransom on her head.
Gladys had about 100 orphans that she felt needed to go to a safer city. Gladys , along with 100 children, hiked for 12 days toward the city of Sian to an orphanage. On the 12th day she was at the Yellow River with no way to get across. She and the children prayed and sang to God. A Chinese officer on patrol heard them and took them across. Finally safe in Sian, Gladys collapsed with typhoid and delirium.
Once Gladys got better she resumed ministering to lepers and prisoners, and soon started a church. Gladys was still very weak and ill and never quite regained her strength. In 1949, after nearly 20 years in China, she finally went home to England where she received lots of publicity and even dined with Queen Elizabeth. She stayed in London for 10 years because China had closed its doors. But she wasn’t comfortable in England so she went to Hong Kong and Formosa and opened orphanages and ministered to people there until her death in China in 1970. She was 68.
Gladys was a very faithful missionary and although experienced lots of troubles, she kept her faith and hope in God. In the world’s eyes, she may not have done very much, but she helped many “small” people and did without so that many could know the richness that comes from a relationship with jesus Christ. The world would be a better place if there were more people like the “insignificant, uneducated, and ordinary” Gladys Aylward.
(adapted from an article from a now-defunct website, author unknown.)