Gladys Aylward

gladyswilling / obedient

"I Wasn't First Choice For What I've Done In China"

Gladys Aylward was born short in size and short in worldly status but what was lacking in height and social standing she made up for in determination and spirit.

Born in London, in 1902, to a working-class family Gladys became a wealthy family's parlor maid at the age of 14. She trudged through this life of routine until one day after attending a church service a stranger confronted her with the message of salvation.

Gladys, newly reconciled with God, began attending Young Life services and reading about the far-away land of China from books in the vast library of her employer. This birthed an unstoppable desire to go to China herself. Gladys applied with CIM as a candidate for China. After reviewing her advanced age and test results it was determined that she was too old and unfit to learn the difficult Chinese language. At the age of 28, Gladys dreams were momentarily crushed; she decided if she couldn't go with CIM she would go on her own. Every month, Gladys would save all the money she could from the small paycheck she received to buy a one-way train ticket to China.

On Oct. 15, 1932, Gladys left Liverpool Street Station by train to travel across Russia and eventually into Northern China. She carried two suitcases, a bedroll and wore a bright orange jacket. At one point on her journey she was asked to get off the train as it was being used to carry only Russian soldiers. She insisted on staying and was dropped off later in the middle of nowhere to eventually retrace her steps on foot and take another train through Siberia. After a brief journey to Japan to confirm with the British counsel, Gladys finally set foot in her beloved China.

Gladys begin her missionary career in Yangcheng working with veteran missionary Jeannie Lawson. She helped operate an inn for mule drivers where she learned Chinese from daily interaction with these travelers. After Jeannie's death, Gladys was unable to financially sustain the Inn. The local officials approached her and asked if she would be willing to be a "foot inspector." The tradition of binding Chinese women's feet had recently been outlawed, but due to cultural perceptions of beauty it was still being practiced in many places. Gladys began traveling around inspecting the bones in women's feet. As she traveled she would tell stories from the Bible and many looked forward to the days they could hear these strange new stories.

The people's esteem and respect for Gladys also continued to grow throughout the region. What was even more remarkable was the ability she had to take on Chinese culture and language. By 1937, when the Japanese begin bombing nearby mountain villages, Gladys had so identified herself with the Chinese people that she refused to leave even as artillery shells begin to fall. She even became a spy for the Chinese army using her foreign appearance to travel across battle lines and also bring food to trapped villagers. She was so effective that the Japanese even put a price on her head.

During this time Gladys also adopted war orphans and eventually had over 100 children in her care. In 1940, the war had escalated and she was forced to leave Northern China and head south to Sian through the thickening battle, over mountains and across the Yellow River. When Gladys climbed over the mountains to Sian, she had 100 children with her, that she was taking to a refugee area. The journey took 12 days and they left with inadequate clothing or food supplies – but God looked after Gladys and the children throughout the entire journey. This experience left her mentally and emotionally drained. After recovery in 1943 she moved to Chengdu to begin work in a local Church as a Bible woman. This work was usually reserved for only Chinese women and involved travel, evangelism and Bible teaching. Gladys had taken on so much of the Chinese culture that it was unquestioned whether she would fit in the role.

After 20 years in China, Gladys returned to England in 1940. She was embarrassed to find that she quickly became a celebrity. A book, movie and TV documentary were all made about her life. To many Gladys became known by many as "The Small Women," the title of her biography. She continued to travel and speak about her beloved China, returning to Taiwan in 1957.

Humble in spirit, Gladys once made this comment to a friend, "I wasn't God's first choice for what I've done for China. There was somebody else. I don't know who it was --- God's first choice. It must have been a man --- a wonderful 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."

Thanks to the Traveling Team.

Sources: Tucker, Ruth. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983.

From our friends at the Traveling Team (www.thetravelingteam.org)

Comments (38)add comment

Judy Boyd said:

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You left out the most important thing--when Gladys climbed over the mountains to Sian, she had 100 children with her, that she was taking to a refugee area run, if I remember correctly, by Madame Sun Yet Sin, or Madame Chiang Ke Shek. I met Gladys in Hong Kong. What a delightful person she was to talk to! She invited me to come with my then fiance to a local resturant with a few close friends. It turned out to be an EIGHTEEN COURSE banquet in honor of her birthday!!!
February 02, 2011

Julie Beckett said:

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Gladys was my grandmother's cousin and I met her when I was 3. We have many interesting letters, photos etc from her and thank God for her obedience
March 15, 2011

georgia said:

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it is lovely to know that some people care for others loads of people in thoose times in china people if you had 2 babys a boy and girl you would keep the boy not girl they did not find them useful smilies/grin.gifsmilies/cheesy.gifsmilies/wink.gifsmilies/smiley.gifsmilies/grin.gifsmilies/angry.gifsmilies/sad.gifsmilies/shocked.gifsmilies/cool.gifsmilies/tongue.gifsmilies/kiss.gifsmilies/kiss.gifsmilies/cry.gif
March 17, 2011

Kerry said:

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I needed this to write something for school. I found it very enjoyable and useful. Thank you xx smilies/wink.gif
June 30, 2011

Anita said:

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Ya, it seems like God loves to use 'small' people, (In the worlds's eyes), to use for big things in His Kingdom. Theres a verse in the Bible that says, "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." 1 Car 1:27
I think Gladys is a wonderful example of that verse, and I find her story intresting, because of some things in my past that we can relate on, and I because of my past, I believe God is going to send me to China in the next few years, to peach His word to the out casts of China (Disabled and mentally ill.) Thanks for the website. smilies/smiley.gif
August 27, 2011

morgan huberty said:

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i say she did a great thing in our history she is a great women who risked her life every day. she changed may people.smilies/smiley.gif
October 28, 2011

Payton : D said:

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I think she is brave for what shes done!!!!!!smilies/grin.gif
November 14, 2011

shapoopoo said:

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i know where you live! mwahahahaha!>smilies/cheesy.gif
December 19, 2011

Rebekah said:

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gladys alward is a wonderful person my little brother had to read a book
about her in school so my mom sied that the hole family should read it so we did and so now im just doing alittle reaserch and i find her story fasanating exspessiuoly when she took the ax from the man in the prison riot it takes alot of courage to do that or to go to a strange country where no one understands you we shuold all try to please God the way she did
February 16, 2012

debby said:

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TO JULIE BECKETT
WE ARE INTERESTED IN PUBLISHING A BOOK OF SHORT STORIES THAT EMHASIZES
CHARITY. WOULD YOU BE INTERESTED IN WRITING THE STORY ABOUT GLADY'S CHARITY? SINCE YOU ARE A FAMILY MEMBER IT WOULD BE IMPORTANT TO YOU. WE COULD INCLUDE SOME OF YOUR PICTURES. LET US KNOW IF YOU ARE INTERESTED. DEBBY
March 12, 2012

D Norman said:

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She was indeed called, chosen and appointed to bring the good news and was found faithful. May we too be found faithful and true.
May 14, 2012

ghsfs said:

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willing / obedient


"I Wasn't First Choice For What I've Done In China"


Gladys Aylward was born short in size and short in worldly status but what was lacking in height and social standing she made up for in determination and spirit.

Born in London, in 1902, to a working-class family Gladys became a wealthy family's parlor maid at the age of 14. She trudged through this life of routine until one day after attending a church service a stranger confronted her with the message of salvation.

Gladys, newly reconciled with God, began attending Young Life services and reading about the far-away land of China from books in the vast library of her employer. This birthed an unstoppable desire to go to China herself. Gladys applied with CIM as a candidate for China. After reviewing her advanced age and test results it was determined that she was too old and unfit to learn the difficult Chinese language. At the age of 28, Gladys dreams were momentarily crushed; she decided if she couldn't go with CIM she would go on her own. Every month, Gladys would save all the money she could from the small paycheck she received to buy a one-way train ticket to China.

On Oct. 15, 1932, Gladys left Liverpool Street Station by train to travel across Russia and eventually into Northern China. She carried two suitcases, a bedroll and wore a bright orange jacket. At one point on her journey she was asked to get off the train as it was being used to carry only Russian soldiers. She insisted on staying and was dropped off later in the middle of nowhere to eventually retrace her steps on foot and take another train through Siberia. After a brief journey to Japan to confirm with the British counsel, Gladys finally set foot in her beloved China.

Gladys begin her missionary career in Yangcheng working with veteran missionary Jeannie Lawson. She helped operate an inn for mule drivers where she learned Chinese from daily interaction with these travelers. After Jeannie's death, Gladys was unable to financially sustain the Inn. The local officials approached her and asked if she would be willing to be a "foot inspector." The tradition of binding Chinese women's feet had recently been outlawed, but due to cultural perceptions of beauty it was still being practiced in many places. Gladys began traveling around inspecting the bones in women's feet. As she traveled she would tell stories from the Bible and many looked forward to the days they could hear these strange new stories.

The people's esteem and respect for Gladys also continued to grow throughout the region. What was even more remarkable was the ability she had to take on Chinese culture and language. By 1937, when the Japanese begin bombing nearby mountain villages, Gladys had so identified herself with the Chinese people that she refused to leave even as artillery shells begin to fall. She even became a spy for the Chinese army using her foreign appearance to travel across battle lines and also bring food to trapped villagers. She was so effective that the Japanese even put a price on her head.

During this time Gladys also adopted war orphans and eventually had over 100 children in her care. In 1940, the war had escalated and she was forced to leave Northern China and head south to Sian through the thickening battle, over mountains and across the Yellow River. When Gladys climbed over the mountains to Sian, she had 100 children with her, that she was taking to a refugee area. The journey took 12 days and they left with inadequate clothing or food supplies – but God looked after Gladys and the children throughout the entire journey. This experience left her mentally and emotionally drained. After recovery in 1943 she moved to Chengdu to begin work in a local Church as a Bible woman. This work was usually reserved for only Chinese women and involved travel, evangelism and Bible teaching. Gladys had taken on so much of the Chinese culture that it was unquestioned whether she would fit in the role.

After 20 years in China, Gladys returned to England in 1940. She was embarrassed to find that she quickly became a celebrity. A book, movie and TV documentary were all made about her life. To many Gladys became known by many as "The Small Women," the title of her biography. She continued to travel and speak about her beloved China, returning to Taiwan in 1957.

Humble in spirit, Gladys once made this comment to a friend, "I wasn't God's first choice for what I've done for China. There was somebody else. I don't know who it was --- God's first choice. It must have been a man --- a wonderful 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."
June 05, 2012

Shirley Asquith said:

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I went to the Alambra in Bradford to see Gladys Aylward or a talk about her and her work in china. I was only 12 at the time so did not apprciate what she had done back then. I was bought the book the small women but i lost it. I have just read a copy i borrowed from the library. It was so inspiring. I would love to have a copy of the journey she took. It reminds me of the artist way if we believe we can do something and ask god for it. If he thinks it is right for us he will give it to us. Shirley. I will now buy a copy to keep in my labrary.
July 20, 2012

Peg said:

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I read the book many years ago and whenever the movie is on, I always watch it. But, I've always wondered whatever happened to Sixpence and the other children she adopted. Does anyone know?
September 19, 2012

Laura said:

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You know i really appriciate people who take the time to spred history. it suprises me that a women who did so much is barely known it seems like she deserves so much more credit for what shes done. think of what would had happened to all of those mind you 100 children?!? they would probly all be dead without a chance and this one women changed their lives for good starving herself to save these children. i admire this women to no extent for the things she has done.
October 04, 2012

Sara O. said:

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I'm doing my Leaving Cert Religion Project based on the life story of Gladys Aylward and it has been great smilies/smiley.gif I thank God for her life and the Courage she had smilies/cheesy.gif
November 21, 2012

Mary said:

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This is great information for the speech I'm doing about Gladys. I've read lots of books about her. I wish I could do the things she did.smilies/smiley.gif
December 12, 2012

michelle said:

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i have only jst watched the film, i would love so much to help as she did. a wonderful woman. much respect. god bless her and those children she saved.
January 18, 2013

Amanda said:

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Julie Beckett, I would love to get in touch with you. I am teaching two missions classes. One to middle school age and one to high school. I will be sharing the story of Gladys next week. It would be so wonderful to connect with you.
January 20, 2013

Dan said:

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When I first became a Christian a missionary from California John Dunlop, wanted me to pray with him. When he prayed, I heard him said, "...Heavenly Father, I pray that you will chose Dan to be a missionary to China. Deep in my mind I prayed my own, "Dear God, I want to be a missionary but not to China..." I grew up, went to college, involved in church activities and the yearning to be a missionary intensified but not to China...it was to the Czech Republic. In fact I have led a group of Canadians to conduct English Summer Camps in Prague. A chance to be a (self-supporting) missionary came via TESOL. I am now teaching EFL (English as a Foreign Language) in where???...I am in China. But I signed an agreement to respect the religious policies of the PRC and as a Christian I have to abide by it. Abiding by the rules and regulations of my host country is one way of witnessing too. I am still praying for the rules to change but God can work in very mysterious ways.
February 19, 2013

Dan said:

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OH Sorry, I missed the important one. I also read the story about Gladys Aylward told in comic form. I read there places like Sian and Fufeng where the children went to school after their escape from the Japanese.
February 19, 2013

Graeme Rule said:

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I too heard Miss Gladys Alyward when I was young, there is an error re her return to England which was well after the war in 49 or 50.
March 09, 2013

Andrea Samtiago said:

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I wrote a two page report on this incredible woman! She changed my life. I see things more different now. That anything is possible if u believe xin God. She was scared to believe in God. But now her missionary story is one of the greatest of our era
April 02, 2013

Mrs. Stypayhorlikson said:

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Wow she very inspiring. I'm doing a paper on her and I highly reccomend that movie THE INN IF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS. It's truly inspiring. smilies/smiley.gif
April 10, 2013

R. Schmitz said:

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We actually named our home school after Gladys. We want our girls to follow in her footsteps..obedient to the Lord, courageous, self sacrificing and self- educated. We will be graduating our second child from the Gladys Aylward School for Girls this May.
April 28, 2013

Ivy Walsh said:

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SO GOOD! Wow! Really helped my English paper that I needed to write! Thanks!smilies/wink.gifsmilies/cheesy.gif
May 02, 2013

greg said:

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she was my mom and a great person
May 06, 2013

Greg said:

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I just thought I'd mention that 'The Small Woman' inspired me so much that I decided to go to Yangcheng and see the Inn of Eight Happinesses for myself. That was in 2006. I found out later I wasn't the first foreigner to go and seek the inn out, but I seem to be the first one to post my photos on the Internet -- belatedly in 2013! At any rate, my photos are here:

http://www.cjvlang.com/Photos/yangcheng/smallwoman.html

I hope people find them interesting, because I can honestly say it was one of the most interesting trips I've ever made.
June 03, 2013

Barbara mcmillan said:

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whilst in secondary school GWLADYS ALYWARD was one topic in R.E.i was taughtabout along with other very notable people eg. ELIZAETH FRY, ALBERT SCHWEITZER and more I was 15years old at that time; I am now a grandma to three wonderful children and still am inspired and humbled by what knowledge I have of this wonderful woman over 50years later; as a possible point of interest the BBC.TELEVISION CO. some 40years ago aired a program THIS IS YOUR LIFE and this little lady was a guest,perhaps said company carry a DVD of this show I am convinced it could be worth following up if so desired
August 30, 2013

Linda Gabriel said:

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I'm confused about how long Gladys was actually in China the first time. The book I read and this article says she left in 1932, at the age of 30. From what I can tell, she returned to England around 1948 or 49, but the book, and again this article, states that she was in China for 20 years. The second-to-last paragraph above says she went back to England in 1940, but that is obviously incorrect, because that would mean she was only in China for 8 years.
September 08, 2013

Lizzy said:

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This helped fo school, but some peices of info is missing, that's all thopugh! Great job!smilies/wink.gifsmilies/grin.gif
September 14, 2013

j anderson said:

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During the 1970s/80s part of my job was to clear houses that became empty prior to sale.ONE OF Those houses in Edmonton North London was that of Gladys Alyward, i believe it would have been occupuied by Doris Alyward.One of those items removed by myself was a large vase which i assume to be chinese, it had been broken in many places and repaired by staples.I do not know whether Gladys brought this home with her on her return . James Anderson
October 24, 2013

charlotte said:

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shes so coolsmilies/grin.gifsmilies/cheesy.gifsmilies/grin.gifsmilies/cheesy.gifsmilies/cheesy.gifsmilies/smiley.gif
November 12, 2013

Karen Staples said:

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Sitting here watching The Inn of the Sixth Happiness is like watching a family documentary. Gladys Aylward is my husbands great Auntie, his Grandad was Laurence Aylward who was Gladys' s son. His Mother still has her travel chest and various other items belonging to Gladys.
November 14, 2013

jeff rickert said:

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This is for Julie Beckett and Karen Staples. My name is Jeff Rickert and I came across a website that had a picture of Gladys Alyward. I was wondering if I could use your photo to help make a powerpoint presentation on the Gladys Alyward story. I will never sell your picture. They will just help me tell the story with visuals. I am a Christian and like to use historical stories or books to bring out Biblical truths to tell to my audiences. This will be my nineth powerpoint series. Others I have done include Eric Liddell, Pilgrims Progress, George Muller, etc. In the powerpoint series, I would give you credit for the photo and let me repeat, I will never sell the photo. Of course, I do get paid for speaking and showing the pictures, but not from selling the pictures. I will send you a copy of the powerpoint series upon its completion. By the way, do you have other photos of her or know of anyone else who I could contact about using their photos?

Thanks for considering and I look forward to hearing from you.

Jeff Rickert (backtoconway@bellsouth.net)

November 17, 2013

Andrea Marshall said:

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There is an error in the information about Gladys which would have us believe that she left England and lived in Taiwan never to return to England. I was about twelve years old, around 1966, when I met Gladys at our church, St. George's Church in the centre of Leeds, next to the Leeds General Infirmary. She had her adopted daughter Sixpence with her. Gladys was a small quiet spoken lady, getting on in years. Other people met her in England too, well after 1958. The historians would have us believe she was in Taiwan 1958 and lived there until she died in 1970.
January 28, 2014

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