Gladys Aylward (1902-1970) grew up in London, England. She was raised in a Christian home and attended church and Sunday school as a girl. But as she entered young adulthood she became impatient with religious matters. Her one great ambition was to become an actress. While working as a housemaid in London, she took drama classes in the evening.
One evening, instead, she attended a church service, although she hardly knew why. There she heard again the Gospel truths she had been taught as a child, realized that God had a claim on her life, and placed her trust in Christ Jesus as her Savior from sin.
Sometime later Gladys read a magazine article that spoke of millions of Chinese who had never even heard of Jesus, a thought that staggered her. She spoke with friends and relatives about that alarming situation but none of them seemed too concerned. Before long Gladys came to sense that God was directing her to go as a missionary to China.
She learned of the China Inland Mission training school for prospective missionaries in London. She went through three months of its training program but was rejected as a suitable missionary candidate due to her lower academic performance.
For a time she served with a ministry in Swansea that sought to rescue young women from prostitution and drunkenness. While she thought that ministry worthwhile, she could never escape the thought that God desired her to be serving in China.
As Gladys endeavored to read and study through the Bible, she was arrested by the story in Genesis 12 of God calling Abraham to leave his relatives and country, to go to a distant land, and to be used there as a blessing to others. Her attention was also drawn to the example of Moses in the early chapters of Exodus. In order to carry out the challenging mission God called him to, he had to leave the comfort and security of the work and family he enjoyed in Midian. Gladys couldn’t help but draw parallels to her own situation and sense of God’s call on her life.
Eventually she returned to London and resumed working as a parlor maid. The third day on her new job she began reading the narrative concerning Nehemiah. She could relate to his being burdened over a distressing, distant situation that he could do nothing about. But after reading Nehemiah 2, she was filled with elation and exclaimed, “But he did go. He went in spite of everything!” From that Scripture passage Gladys was convinced that God was giving her marching orders – to go, as Nehemiah had in his own time and place, to play a part in addressing the concerning situation in China that had been so long on her heart.
She laid her Bible on her bed as well as her copy of a Daily Light devotional guide and all the money she possessed – only two and a half pence (cents). “O God,” she prayed simply, “here’s the Bible about which I long to tell others, here’s my Daily Light that every day will give me a new promise, and here is two and a half pence. If You want me, I am going to China with these.”
Just then her new mistress rang the service bell to summon her. “I always pay the fares of my maids when I engage them,” the mistress informed Gladys. “How much did you pay getting here?” When Gladys told her, the mistress promptly gave her three shillings, slightly more than she had paid for her travel fare. “So in a few moments my two and a half pence had increased by three shillings,” Gladys afterward related. (A shilling was worth twelve pence.)
Gladys worked hard, scrimped and in time saved up enough money to buy a one-way railway ticket to China. At last, at age thirty, she traveled to China to assist an aging lady missionary in her ministries in the mountains of Shansi Province in northeast China.
That was just the beginning of Gladys’s many years of devoted, sacrificial, faith-filled service in China. Her colorful missionary career there included ministries to muleteers, women, orphans, refugees, prisoners, soldiers and others. Her years of service were full of adventures, dangers, remarkable providential protection and provision, as well as much spiritual fruit.
After World War 2 Gladys helped establish and carry out ministries to Chinese refugees and orphans in England, Formosa (modern Taiwan) and Hong Kong. She also traveled widely throughout Britain, Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Korea and Japan, sharing of and raising funds for her ongoing ministries.
Books worth reading on Gladys Aylward’s life and ministry include: Gladys Aylward, The Little Woman (her autobiography, co-authored with Christine Hunter); A London Sparrow, The Story of Gladys Aylward, by Phyllis Thompson; Gladys Aylward, The Courageous English Missionary, by Catherine Swift; The Small Woman: Gladys Aylward, by Alan Burgess.
Copyright 2016 by Vance E. Christie