Gladys Aylward was a British missionary renowned for her obedient faith that carried her into a life proclaiming the love of Christ to the people of China. Aylward’s trust in the Lord and sacrificial compassion led many people to Christ and peace in the midst of a turbulent time of war.
Gladys was born in 1902 and spent her teen years as a domestic servant in Northern London. That’s when she heard of the need for God in the tribulation brought on by wars in East Asia. A desire to share the gospel with people who were clouded by spiritual darkness was sparked.
Though she struggled to make it through initial trainings with China Inland Missions, Gladys was confident in the call on her life to cross national borders for the sake of expanding the gospel in China. With few supplies and deep reverence for God, she made the treacherous journey to Yangcheng, China by train and boat in 1932. Once there she began an apprenticeship under Jeannie Lawson, a seasoned China missionary that she held to high esteem.
The two women worked to restore The Inn of the Eight Happinesses that offered what other hotels could not—Bible stories and a clean place to rest. About a year after Aylward’s arrival, Jeannie Lawson passed away. As the only English-speaking British woman left within a two-day mule ride, Gladys found herself in a season of refinement as she was forced to press deeply into God. Despite this setback, she maintained her commitment to preach the gospel while serving as an agent of God’s restorative power among the Chinese.
As the Second Sino-Japanese War picked up in 1938, Aylward and the 100 children—ranging from four to eight years old—she had taken in were forced to flee from the Japanese murderous march against China. Lacking food, shelter and water, they fled 100 miles to safety where Aylward, in her physical depletion, fell into a coma. She was hospitalized for two months and slowly regained her health.
After many years in China, she returned to England at the start of World War II where she pleaded with churches to act on the need for more missionaries in China. As the first missionary to become a citizen of China, Gladys was loyal to the nation she’d come to love and serve. She returned to China where she remained boldly proclaiming the Gospel and helping her neighbors until her final breath.
Gladys Aylward sacrificed her time, resources and energy to the people of China. Her deep understanding of the love and grace of God was evident in her actions as she gave her life for the sake of others.
Gladys Aylward’s work in China was a compilation of small acts done in great faith. She worked tirelessly to care for children and prisoners, both of which were culturally marginalized populations at this time. She fought for freedom in the lives of young girls that were forced to bind their feet in response to a societal standard of attraction. In the midst of ensuring that this act came to an end, she also took the opportunity to share Jesus to these young girls and their families.
Later in her ministry she was found talking down prisoners from making use of their weapons. By making daily visits she assumed the role of improving the living conditions of the prison and nurturing neglected people. Her hospitality, love, care and compassion earned her the title “The Virtuous One.”
Gladys Aylward’s great affection for the Lord led her life as she aligned her heart with His in an effort to house orphans, advocate justice, and free captives.
Gladys Aylward’s life stands out because of her surrender to God. She embodied fervent commitment to His mission as she willingly took up her cross for the sake of the gospel. Below are a few encouraging words that inspire believers today to follow in her footsteps.
- “I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I’ve done in China…I don’t know who it was…it must have been a man…a well-educated man. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn’t willing…and God looked down…and saw Gladys Aylward…and God said, ‘Well, she’s willing.”
- “The eagle that soars in the upper air does not worry itself how it is to cross rivers.”
- “Oh God, here’s my Bible, Here’s my money. Here’s me. Use me, God.”
- “Life is pitiful, death so familiar, suffering and pain so common, yet I would not be anywhere else. Do not wish me out of this or in any way seek to get me out, for I will not be got out while this trial is on. These are my people, God has given them to me, and I will live or die with for Him and His glory.”