Friday, November 04, 2005

"monstrous" woman of the week

Welcome to the fifth in a series of biographical sketches that I plan to publish on Fridays.

These entries will briefly tell about women I believe have done many things to further the cause of Christ in America, and some even around the world, and have maintained a godly femininity while doing so. They will be women whose choices in life have also disqualified them from being given the godly woman status in some of today’s hyper-patriarchal circles, though the hypocrisy certainly has escaped some of these list keepers! Grab a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy! Oh, and feel free to emulate.

This week I am featuring Gladys Alward, missionary and defender of the women and children in China. The following biography is used by permission from, a great resource for anyone who is interested in God's working out of His plan throughout the ages.

"My heart is full of praise that one so insignificant, uneducated, and ordinary in every way could be used to His glory for the blessing of His people in poor persecuted China."
Gladys Alward

Gladys Alward was born in London in February of 1902 in a working class family. She entered the work force at age 14 as a parlor maid, otherwise know as a house servant. It included heavy chores, long hours, and low pay. Gladys had been going to church off and on in her life. She was familiar with the message but had no personal relationship with God. One night a stranger confronted her and asked about her spiritual need which convinced her to go see the pastor. She talked with the pastor’s wife and was saved.

Gladys' life was changed after she was converted. She dreamed of going to another country and sharing about Jesus as a missionary. This led her to the China Inland Mission. She enrolled but failed.

She worked at other jobs and saved money. One day she heard of a 73 year old missionary, Mrs. Larson, who needed a young assistant to help her in China. So with all the money she had saved, she bought a train ticket on the Trans-Siberian railway. Finally on October 15th, 1932, Gladys said goodbye to her friends and family and set out for China. She went across England and Europe without any troubles. But eastern Russia was a dangerous war zone as it struggled to take advantage of China. When she wasn’t allowed to go any farther on the train, she got off and walked in the snow to the nearest station. Her passport was stolen from her. Because of these prroblems she was forced to take a boat to Japan and then to China. From there she rode a train, a bus, and a mule to get to the city of Yangchen. She only could have gotten there with the help of God

With not much of a welcome party Gladys started missionary work at an inn for muleteers. At the inn was Mrs. Larson and Yang, a Chinese Christian, the cook. The inn would give shelter for the mules and a place for the muleteers to eat and sleep. While the muleteers would eat, Mrs. Larson and Gladys would tell them Bible stories. But because Gladys was a foreigner she was not easily trusted.

Gladys was slowly but surely learning the language. But only 8 months after she arrived, Mrs. Larson became sick and died. Now Gladys had no way of getting any income. A few weeks later, the Mandarin of Yangchen came and asked Gladys to become the official foot inspector. This job was to go around and tell people that binding girl’s feet was illegal and then to unbound them. The Mandarin needed someone with big unbound feet. Gladys accepted knowing that she could spread the gospel more.

So she went visiting houses and revisiting houses again to check on the girls and people started to get to know her. Two years after she went to China the Mandarin asked Gladys to stop a riot in the prison. Depending only on God, Gladys walked into the prison. The men were killing each other and it was a bloody mess. Gladys commanded them to stop and tell her what was wrong. They were tired of being cooped up and needed food and work. From then on Gladys was known as “Ai-weh-deh” which means “Virtuous one.”

Once she saw a beggar on the road with a very sick child beside her. She bought this child for nine pence, for which she was later called. She fed her and adopted her. Her family grew. One day Ninepence brought in a boy saying that she would eat less in order to keep this boy, later naming him Less. In 1936 Gladys became a Chinese citizen and continued dressing like the people around her.

In 1938, the war happened between Japan and China which later resulted in WWII. Japan was invading China. Japan started dropping bombs on Yengchen. All the people escaped into the mountains and the Japanese came into the city. Then the Nationalist army drove them out and the people settled back into regular life until more bombs were dropped on Yangchen and the whole thing would start over again. But by now Gladys had a ransom on her head - dead or alive. She was doing a little spying on the Japanese.

Gladys had about 100 orphans that she felt needed to go to a safer city. Gladys with 100 children trekked for 12 days toward the city of Sian to an orphanage. On the 12th day she was at the yellow river with no way to get across. She and the children prayed and sang to God. A Chinese officer on patrol heard them and took them across. Finally safe in Sian, Gladys collapsed with Typhoid and delirium for a couple of days.

Once Gladys got better she resumed ministering in the new region to lepers, prisoners, and she also started a church. Gladys was still very weak and ill and never quite regained her strength. In 1949, after nearly 20 years in China, she finally went home to England. There she received lots of publicity and even dined with Queen Elizabeth. She stayed in London for 10 years because China had closed its doors because of Communism. She wasn’t comfortable in England. When she went back, she went to Hong Kong and Formosa and opened orphanages and ministered to people there until her death in China in 1970. She was 68.

Gladys was a very faithful missionary and although experienced lots of troubles, she kept her faith and hope in God. In the world’s eyes, she may not have done very much, but she helped many “small” people and did without so that many could know the richness that comes from God. The world would be a better place if there were more people like the "insignificant, uneducated, and ordinary" Gladys Aylward.


At 9:10 AM, Anonymous Kevin said...

What a story! I believe I have heard pieces of it before, but the picture of that poor woman's foot was worth the price of admission. It is hard to imagine the evil that would call that beautiful.

At 10:14 AM, Blogger lisa said...

YWAM has published a series of missionary birographies. I just finished reading this one to my children (6,5,3,2. It was inspiring! And apparently the Hepburn movie The Inn of the Sixth Happiness is nothing like her real biography, but I haven't seen it.

At 10:52 AM, Blogger prairie girl said...

Didn't that picture just move you?!?!?! I remember the first time I read her biography outloud to my children, my heart was so touched. What an amzing woman that God used!

At 10:53 AM, Blogger prairie girl said...

Hi Lisa,

I have those biographies, too, and my chidlren are working their way through them. When my older children were elementary age (thye are 30, 28 and 26 now!!!) biographies were a huge part of what we did in homeschooling. The Heroes of the Faith from Bethany House are among our favorites.

Welcome to my site, by the way!

At 9:33 AM, Blogger superkidsmom said...

I am also a homeschooling mom. We read from a series called Christain Heroes Then and Now by Janet and Geoff Benge. Gladys Aylward is AMAZING. I couldn't put the book down. My kids scolded me for reading ahead! She is an inspiration to us all about the simplicity of loving God and our neighbors and never giving up. I would never say that what she did was small. It has made my dreams for what God can do through me bigger than they used to be.
Another female hero that is worth reading about is Amy Carmichael.
God bless!


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