GLADYS MAY AYLWARD

I listed some books I’ve enjoyed a couple of days ago, and I want to share a little bit about one I just finished: The Little Woman. This is the story of a young woman, Gladys, who lived in England the first 30 years of her life but ended up in China for most of the rest of her life. She was born the same year as my Dad: 1902 (24 Feb), and she died on 03 Jan 1970. She worked as a housemaid when she was young, but always had a desire to be a missionary.  As she approached 30, she heard that there were millions and millions of Chinese who had never heard of Jesus Christ. She had a great desire to go there and teach them of Christ.

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She used her life savings on a train passage to Yangchen, Shanxi Province in China. It was a perilous journey, including traveling across Siberia. She had lost almost all her belongings by the time she escaped from the Russians, was allowed on a Japanese ship, and then took another ship to China. She lived with an old missionary, Jeannie Lawson, when she first arrived. She eventually learned the language and became a “foot inspector” for the government at a time when they said young girls could no longer have their feet bound (I saw many Chinese women when I was first in Hong Kong who’d had their feet bound… they could hardly walk on the little stubs). Gladys became a Chinese citizen when she was 34 and was loved and respected. Her Chinese name was Ai Wei De, an “approximation” for Aylward meaning “Virtuous One.” The same Ai character, along with “Sister” [2 more characters], was my name when I served in Taiwan and Hong Kong. When the Japanese began invading and killing in 1938, Gladys led over 100 orphans to safety over the mountains, despite being wounded herself.

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She never married, but she adopted quite a few orphans. She returned to England when she was 46 and helped many Chinese people because of her love for them and her fluency in Mandarin. After 10 years she tried to return to China but the communist government would not allow her to come back. So she settled in Taiwan and founded the Gladys Aylward Orphanage. She worked there until her death in 1970, just short of being 68. I almost made this a SHOUT-OUT but wanted to tell about the book… please consider it both about BOOKS and READING, as well as a SHOUT-OUT to a wonderful, amazing soul!

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A movie about her life – “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness” – was made in 1968 (and filmed entirely in North Wales and England). The film didn’t please Gladys because of all the liberties that were taken. She felt her reputation was damaged. Her real Chinese name wasn’t used; “Zhen-Ai” was instead, meaning true or real love. Ingrid Bergman was tall, blonde, Swedish, and didn’t speak with a cockney accent. The movie also left out the struggle that was made by Gladys and her family for her initial trip to China. Many other extremely hard times were “dressed up” in favor of a happier story, with her real life made way too “Hollywood.”  You can read more about her amazing life at http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/73.html (it’s NOT the Hollywood version).  A school was named in her honor, and there is a commemorative plaque on the house where she lived in England. I hope I’ve shared enough about her that you will know why the following section from her story touched me SO DEEPLY: She performed miracles working in leper colonies and in prisons, and she was devoted to orphans (many of whom she adopted).

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When the communists took over, they encountered the large group of young people whom Gladys and others had been teaching (almost all of whom had started in Christian schools such as those started by Gladys). They handed out a long form for each student to fill in. Gladys somehow got a copy of it and said there were strange and even ridiculous questions asked, with nothing about religion or politics. However, the very last question asked the students to put a CIRCLE if they were FOR the communist government, and an X if they were against it. When the forms were examined, 300 had put circle, and 200 had put an X (they were against the government – they were Christians). The government gave the 300 a command to use any method they chose to bring the 200 “in line.” It was horrific. The forms were handed out again after a few months, and there were more X’s!! Fewer young people in favor of communism! They found out that the group of 300 would interrupt the 200 having a special prayer meeting at 7:00 each morning before breakfast at 8:00 and classes beginning at 9:00. When their prayer meeting was disrupted, they began meeting at 6:00. Disrupted again, so they began meeting at 5:00, then 4:00 . . . it went all the way to midnight!… and the Christian students weren’t getting much sleep. So the government isolated each of these Christians and put them under the guard of 10 “red-hot” communists for 3 MONTHS. They were watched constantly, jeered, talked at, indoctrinated.  Gladys and others could have no contact with them. They watched and worried. They knew that many were “babes” in the Christian faith. They prayed for them. At the end of the 3 months, everyone was forced to meet in the market square, surrounded by a huge squad of communist police. In a witness box a man with a list began calling out the names. He called out the first, and a girl of 17 stepped forward. Now I’ll quote from the book to the end of this experience: She was refined and beautiful, and had been brought up in one of those lovely courtyards that belonged to the wealthy of Peking before the war. She had been sent here for safety – now she stood before her accusers! “What position are you standing in now?” bellowed the voice of the man in the box. She walked to the little platform. She faltered a little and we thought she was going to fall. Why put this slim, frail slip of a girl up first? we questioned. Poor child, how can she stand? Then her voice ran out, suddenly clear and strong. “Sir, when I went for my three months’ indoctrination, I thought Jesus Christ was real. I thought the Bible was true. Now I KNOW Jesus Christ is real, I KNOW this Book is true!” One after the other of these two hundred names were called out, and not one faltered, though they knew enough of their persecutors by now to know that they would be made to suffer. Every one of them was beheaded that very day in the marketplace. Before each execution the victim was given one last chance to recant; but even those at the end, who had been forced to watch the terrible butchery of all the others, did not flinch. “Why,” people ask, “did God allow it?” Was it because He loved them so much that He took them before worse terrors and tortures befell them? Theirs, maybe, was the easier death. They went straight to those many mansions their Saviour had gone before to prepare for them. They had followed Him even unto death. I look forward to meet Gladys someday, and I feel comforted knowing that she is with the 200 young people who were murdered that day and MANY others whom she loved and served during her life. (No wonder WHNF is trying so HARD to prevent us from going into Mainland China! I love it that there is already a mission in China, many members, several stakes, and even a TEMPLE! (In Hong Kong, which is now part of China again).  ONWARD, EVER ONWARD!!!!!

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11 thoughts on “GLADYS MAY AYLWARD

  1. Janet Kerr

    Loved the movie. I think I need to read the book now. What an amazing woman. Thanks for sharing this.

    Reply
    1. Janet Kerr

      I just finished the book. Thanks for suggesting it. W.O.W. or W(hat ) O(h) W(oman). I know that’s a stretch, but WOW! Loved it. I hate to think of what Hollywood would do with it now. Probably focus too much on the violence to get the R-rating and somehow blame Christianity for it. Oh how society’s wants have changed since 1968. I prefer the “happier” version myself as far as the movie goes. Though I’m glad I read the book to get the fuller, more accurate story. Now I want to watch the movie again just to compare a bit. Though I do love the movie and I think Ingrid Bergman did a great job. And again…WOW!!!

      Reply
      1. MEEThinks Post author

        I watched the movie again too after reading the book. Inspiring… but the book was better (for me). But yes, Ingrid Berman did an amazing job.

        Reply
        1. Janet Kerr

          I watched the movie again the other day and still love it. I’m glad I watched it again after reading the book. I agree, the book is better.
          Side note. It’s been a while since I saw this movie and this time Ingrid Bergman, at least in this role, reminded me of someone. There were several times when the way she walked, or the look in her eyes when she was planning something, or knew she just got what she wanted in a way she hadn’t expected, that reminded me of Sheri Dew and it just made me laugh. After all, they are both tall, beautiful, strong, independent, and very kind, good women. Actually, I think they do look quite a bit alike and I’d not noticed that before. In the book though, Gladys reminded me of you. The type that just gets in and does what needs to be done the best way they know how, trusting the Lord will make it all work out somehow. So I guess the combination of the two is “Sheri Ellen Edmunds-Dew” and that’s quite a combination and one that causes “whnf” lots of trouble I think. LOVE the thought.

          Reply
  2. fran ottewell

    Dear MEE:
    Thank you for setting me straight about Gladys. I first saw the film as a young teenager, with a friend [who is still my BFF], it totally blew me away. I cried and cried when the children were climbing over the mountains to safety.
    I still love the movie, with all its imperfections, and Hollywoodizing, it is one of faith, hope, and charity, determination, and love.
    I really appreciate your telling of her story, her true story. I hope I can find the book somewhere, sometime.

    Reply
    1. MEEThinks Post author

      Thank you, Fran. I agree that the movie is SO good. And I loved reading of Gladys’s “real” life. I found the book on Amazon

      Reply
  3. Delores

    Oh, and I wanted to say too that I was a missionary when you were the sisters leader in the MTC. I remember you had a beautiful picture of the Savior in your office, and you allowed my companion and I to come in and take a picture of it. :). Your talks and lessons were always amazing. I think I still have some of your handouts among my mission mementos!

    Reply
    1. MEEThinks Post author

      Shieh Shieh ni! ?? (I have NO idea what the current Romanization is like, and I’ve probably not done this correctly… but I think you’ll “get it.” Thanks for your notes. I think it’s remarkable that after serving in Taiwan you have spent so much time in China. Millions are waiting, aren’t they . . . such wonderful people!! Thanks, Delores!

      Reply
  4. Delores

    Thank you for sharing this! I definitely want to read more. I was a missionary in Taiwan, then in recent years spent time living in China. I have gone for a couple of years at a time, but can’t imagine spending my whole life there. But if I could find something wonderful to do like she did, I think that would draw me to stay. The Chinese people are so faithful to the religions they practice. What an honor it would be to be a missionary there. (Of course missionaries aren’t currently allowed.)

    Reply
  5. Kate

    Oh, Gladys! I would not be surprised if YOU were the Lord’s first choice!
    What a remarkable woman! Thank you for sharing about her! 🙂

    Reply

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