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Determination in a Small Package, Part One

How could tiny, uneducated Gladys Aylward trudge alone through parts of Siberia, stop a prison riot, and walk one hundred children a hundred miles over mountains to flee enemy soldiers? This small dynamo believed she carried out the will of God. Results affirm that she did.

Life began for Gladys in 1902 in a suburb of London, England. She had little formal education and went to work as a household servant while a teenager. Attending an evangelistic meeting one night, the girl accepted Christ as her Savior and surprised those around her by a radically changed life. Her interest in temporal pleasures was replaced by a burden for those who never had a chance to hear about eternal life through Jesus Christ.

Gladys applied to the China Inland Mission, but the person in charge thought she was too dull-witted to learn the Chinese language. This determined, ordinary young girl then decided to launch out on her own and began saving her meager earnings for a ticket to China.

Gladys learned she could travel cheaper if she went overland through Europe, Russia, and Siberia by train. When the train came to an abrupt stop in the Siberian wilderness due to war conditions, the lone missionary walked back several miles through the howling wind, carrying her bedroll and suitcases.

As she heard wolves yipping in the distance, she wrapped herself in an old fur coat and slept on the ground. This was only the beginning of a life of hardship in a foreign land.

Gladys’ first introduction to the Chinese people was marked by unpleasant incidents. Children mocked her and women threw dirt clods at her. To them, she was “The Foreign Devil.”

Arriving at the mission station, Gladys met Jeannie Lawson, senior 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 treacherous mountain trails. The established missionary gave mule drivers something to eat and a place to sleep, then told them stories from the Bible.

Gladys’s first job assignment was hardly what she expected.

Mrs. Lawson told her to dart 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. Soon the muleteers relented and agreed to spend the night. Gladys then fed and watered the mules and cleaned the mud from their flanks.

As foreign women, Gladys and Mrs. Lawson became objects of curiosity. The women especially became fascinated by their feet. In those days, Chinese custom mandated binding the feet of little girls to make them look smaller. Parents and others bent baby girls’ toes back against their heels and wrapped tight cloths around them.

What looked like a problem for Chinese females led to an opportunity for Gladys to spread the gospel. 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 the missionary to enter each home and share the gospel.This was one of many occasions when the God of heaven worked wonders with the tiny, uneducated missionary.

Stopping a Prison Riot

One day a government messenger arrived with a summons for Gladys to come at once to the men’s prison. Screaming and fighting inside the walls had alerted guards that a full-blown riot was occurring. In fact, the prison soldiers were afraid to enter the courtyard; inmates were killing one another.

“Why do you want me, if your soldiers can’t stop the riot?” Gladys asked.

“You have been telling people that God lives inside of you. You tell us God protects you.”

And so, the woman who was less than five feet tall, gulped and let them shut the door behind her. A crazed inmate ran towards her with a bloody meat cleaver. She stepped toward him and demanded that he hand it over. Looking around at the fifty or sixty convicts, she then shouted, “Come over here and line up, all of you!”

Meekly, they obeyed. Gladys discerned the inmates were rioting due to horrible conditions in the prison. She persuaded the warden to give the men meaningful work to do, thus bettering their situation.

Part two of this true story will appear Thursday, April 15.


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