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Great Women Missionaries:     Gladys Aylward
Gladys Aylward in China

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  Gladys Aylward  

Unlikely Heroine for China

Gladys Aylward was determined to work in China

Bullets spattered around Gladys. The Japanese shouted. Running for her life, Gladys fell. The bullets came nearer. The brave woman pulled off her thick padded coat and rolled under a bush, wadding the coat as a shield against the bullets. Bullets riddled the coat. Gladys jumped up and ran on, falling, running, crawling until at last the pursuit ceased. After that she walked all day. Japanese High Command in China had put a reward of 100 on her head, dead or alive.

As a teenager, she read a magazine article about China that changed her life. She kept thinking about the millions of people in that distant land who had not yet heard of God's love. She knew she had to tell them.

She was told she would have to attend missionary training school first, which she did. After three months the mission agency broke the news: she was not qualified for service in China.

A Young Woman with an Obsession

Young Gladys couldn't accept that decision as final. She tried to serve God in other ministries, but her inner sense of calling to China continued to obsess her. She just had to go--even without a mission agency to send her. She began to save the meager wages she earned as a housemaid, confident that God would help her pay her way.

Invisible Barrier Makes Her Enemy Shiver

Saturday, October 15, 1932, at the age of 30, Gladys Aylward left Liverpool station in London for the long train ride across Europe and Russia. Japan was at war with both Russia and China, and travel in that region was dangerous. Her trip included several narrow escapes in the midst of war zones. In Vladivostock, her passport was taken from her and Russian authorities refused to allow her to depart for days. In desperation, she boldly snatched her passport from the hand of the interpreter who had taken it and threw it behind her into her bedroom. "You are not coming in here," she said with a boldness she did not feel.

The interpreter declared himself her master, saying he could do as he wished. "Oh no you cannot. You may not believe in God, but he is here. Touch me and see. Between you and me he has put a barrier. Go!" Shivering, the man left. Gladys escaped to a Japanese vessel with the help of an old man and a girl. A few days later, she reached Yangchen, China, and took up work assisting a retired missionary lady at an inn for muleteers.

An Impressive "Feet"

For centuries, the Chinese had observed the cruel practice of foot-binding. From childhood, women's feet were bent and tightly wrapped to prevent normal growth. About the time that Aylward reached China, the authorities were outlawing this practice. The local magistrate appointed Aylward foot inspector, since she had normal feet. She used the opportunity to spread the Christian faith. As she had expected, God had met her financial need.

Aylward learned the Chinese language, a feat she called "one of God's great miracles." (The mission agency had been sure that she lacked the education for that.) Sharing the Gospel in the villages around Yangchen, she began to take in unwanted children. Before long she had 20 little ones under her roof, these in addition to the thirty or forty wounded soldiers that she cared for at any given time.

One Hundred Miles through Enemy Territory

Through the years, the band of children she cared for in the midst of repeated Japanese bombings grew to 100. Aylward adopted China as her homeland, becoming a citizen in 1936, and even spied on the Japanese, who put out a bounty for her capture--dead or alive.

Should she leave? Praying, she turned to the Bible. The first words her eyes fell on were "Flee ye, flee ye into the mountains." She made up her mind to leave early the next morning. The Japanese came late that night. The next day she fled, narrowly escaping the bullets of her pursuers. Her children, fortunately, were in the village of Cheng Suen. Gladys met them there and decided to lead them into the province of Sian. She had been promised safety there by Madame Chiang.

The devoted missionary led her 100 children over the mountains on foot--a perilous journey of over a 100 miles to the safer province of Sian. After twenty-seven exhausting days and shivering nights she brought her children safely into Sian and collapsed. How had she made it? The doctors were amazed at this woman, who was suffering from typhus, pneumonia, relapsing fever, malnutrition, and absolute exhaustion.

Once she had regained her strength, she resumed her ministry in this new region, sharing the Gospel in the villages, prisons and among lepers. Throughout her years in China her ministry was characterized by a humble dependence upon God in a steady stream of extreme circumstances.

Burden for Britain

Aylward returned to Britain in 1947, not so much because of difficulties in China, but because of a burden for the spiritual condition of her native country. She wrote, "England, seemingly so prosperous while other countries passed through terrible suffering at the hands of Communist domination, had forgotten what was all important--the realization that God mattered in the life of a nation no less than in that of an individual."

Despite Everything She Wanted More of China

After ten years in England, Aylward returned to Asia. Unable to settle on the Chinese mainland owing to Communist rule, she established refugee centers in Hong Kong and Taipei.

Author Unknown

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© 1999 The Old Time Gospel Ministry
"When to seek God has become life and to glorify God has become self, then you have truly found God."