Part One of a Two-Part Series
How could a tiny, uneducated woman trudge alone through parts of Siberia, stop a prison riot, and walk one hundred children over one hundred miles through wartime mountains to freedom?
Gladys Aylward was this small dynamo, motivated by sheer determination that she was carrying out the will of God. And results affirm that she was.
It all began in a suburb of London, England. Gladys Aylward, born in 1902, had little formal education, but went to work as a household servant while a teenager. Attending an evangelistic meeting one night, she accepted Christ as her Savior and surprised those around her by a radically changed life. Gladys’ interest in temporal pleasures was replaced by a burden for those who didn’t have a chance to hear about eternal life through Christ.
She applied to the China Inland Mission, but soon had to drop out of the program. The principal thought she was too dull-witted to learn the Chinese language.
Spending most of her income on a travel ticket, Gladys learned it was cheaper to go to China overland through Europe, Russia and Siberia. The train taking her through Siberia came to a stop due to the war. Gladys walked back several miles through the howling wind, carrying her bedroll and suitcases. She heard wolves yipping in the distance yet wrapped herself in an old fur coat someone had donated, and slept on the ground.
Arriving at the mission station in China, Gladys met Jeannie Lawson, the missionary. Mrs. Lawson operated The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, a run-down place where mule trains stopped for the night on their way over the treacherous mountain trails. Mrs. Lawson would give mule drivers something to eat and a place to sleep, then tell them stories from the Bible.
Gladys’ first introduction to the Chinese people was unpleasant. Children mocked her and women threw dirt clods at her. She was “The Foreign Devil” to them.
The new missionary’s first job assignment was equally unpleasant. Mrs. Lawson told her to dart out into the street when she saw a mule train pass their gate, grab the halter of the lead mule and drag him into their courtyard. The other mules would follow, and soon the muleteers would resignedly decide it was as good a place as any to spend the night. Then Gladys would feed and water the mules and clean the mud from their flanks.
The Chinese women became fascinated by Gladys’ and Mrs. Lawson’s feet. It was a Chinese custom in those days to bind the feet of little girls to make them look smaller. Adults would bend the girls’ toes back against their heels and wrap tight cloths around the feet. Walking became painful and females had to hobble around, crippled.
After Mrs. Lawson died, Gladys had no income and no way of providing for herself and those under her care. Just as she was tempted to despair, the Mandarin—the local magistrate—commanded her to unbind the feet of all the girls and women in his region. He would provide a steady income and two soldiers to accompany her.
This plucky little woman informed the Mandarin she would be telling the people about Jesus if she unbound the feet of women and girls. Amazingly, he understood.
The very act which Gladys shrank from became not only God’s way of providing a steady income, but a way for her to enter each home and share the gospel.
Watch this blog on Thursday, August 22nd for the second part of the story of this amazing woman.