"When life throws you lemons, make lemonade." I've heard this saying a few times and thought of people who made great things with the terrible situations in life they faced.
One woman in particular was underestimated, rejected, and faced many challenging situations several times in her life. Her response was love, kindness, faithfulness, and perseverance which resulted to the changed lives of hundreds of people, especially children. It is not an overstatement to say that she may have influenced thousands during and after her lifetime.
Gladys Aylward was poor and terrible at academics. The 4 foot, 10 inch Englishwoman wanted to become a missionary to China but was considered unfit by the China Inland Mission. When she heard of Mrs. Jeannie Lawson, an elderly missionary needing help in China, she decided to send herself there.
In order to raise money for her passage, she worked hard as a parlormaid. Luckily, the house where Gladys worked had an extensive collection of books about China. At the end of each working day, she would read the books to further her knowledge about the country.
She needed £40 pounds for a train ticket across Europe into China. Gladys was strongly advised to take a ship instead because of the civil war in Russia. She declined however because that meant spending more time in England to raise double the amount of a train ticket.
After being stranded, walking for days, getting locked up as prisoner in Russia, traveling by ship to Japan then bus and mule to China, Gladys finally arrived in Yangcheng county in Shanxi province in 1932. Her troubles seemed to have no end as she received a not-so-warm welcome from Mrs. Lawson. The Chinese also despised her (and Mrs. Lawson) being a “foreign devil” garbed in English clothing and not able to speak Chinese.
The inn of virtues
Yangcheng county was a mule station. In order to preach the gospel to the muleteers, the two women opened an inn which they called the Inn of Eight Happinesses based on these eight virtues: love, virtue, gentleness, tolerance, loyalty, truth, beauty, devotion. Gladys would forcibly drag the mules into the Inn to ensure that the muleteers would stay there. The women would then regale the travelers of "stories" about their God.
When Gladys was finally starting to adjust to mission life, Mrs. Lawson died after a tragic fall. Gladys continued to run the Inn with their Chinese Christian cook, Yang. She had finally started to speak the language and gotten rid of her English wardrobe donning instead traditional Chinese clothing in order to assimilate into the community.
One time, the Mandarin, the local government official, came to Gladys with a proposition. Would she be willing to become his “official of feet”?
She accepted with the provision that she could tell "stories" about her God to the different villages. The Mandarin agreed and soon Gladys, as an employee of the Chinese government, was going from village to village informing the people that foot binding had become illegal at the same time telling “stories” about her God.
"The Virtuous One"
The village where Gladys lived had a prison filled with men who were imprisoned for life. They lacked clothing and food and spent all their days doing nothing which resulted to desperation and hopelessness. One time, one of the prisoners grabbed a hold of an axe and ran amok. He killed a few of the prisoners and was brandishing the ax.
The prison guards and officials were terrified. Unable to contain him, the Mandarin called Gladys for help. He had grown to respect her and knew she talked about having no fear in Christ. It was time for Gladys to show the truth of what she preached. She was pushed in the middle of the courtyard and immediately saw blood splattered all over the place and frightened prisoners huddled in a corner,
The man with the ax started to approach her. As he drew closer, Gladys mustered her courage, looked into the man's eyes, reached out her hand and said, "Give that to me." The man looking at her eyes, lowered the ax and handed it to Gladys.
Seeing the wretched situation the men were in, Gladys was able to convince the warden to give the men some sort of livelihood by raising rabbits and engaging in some sort of trade. Eventually, the prisoners began to have hope with some declaring faith in Jesus Christ. Through these events the villagers started to call her "Ai-wei-de (Aylward)" which means "Virtuous One."
Save the children
One day a woman sold Gladys a package for a few coins. The package turned out to be an infant! Although not quite sure of what to do, she took care of the baby with all of her heart. As World War II broke out, more babies and children were dropped at her doorstep as refugees fled the advancing troops of the Japanese Army.
Gladys, in an attempt to save the now more than hundred children under her care, took them on a dangerous trek to another village several days’ journey. Before they left, the Mandarin called her in for a final meeting. Knowing that they may never meet again, he confessed that because of Gladys’ love, kindness, and faithfulness toward the Chinese, he had come to believe in her God.
The arduous journey took a turn for the worse when the village they went to closed the doors on them. It was already overflowing with refugees fleeing the war. Tired, cold, hungry, and sickly, the unlikely band of travelers continued to the next village. They were finally welcomed inside and found a place of safety.
Gladys collapsed after entering the village. Fortunately, there was a doctor in residence and treated her immediately. It took her several months to recover because the whole ordeal had taken its toll on her body.
Home in England
Gladys eventually had to leave China as foreign missionaries were barred from staying. She went home to England where her parents hardly recognized her. She was now an old woman and wore Chinese traditional clothes.
Her time in England was precious as she reconnected with her family and was given many opportunities to talk about the work she did in China. When her parents passed however, Gladys felt that there was nothing more keeping her in England. She knew that her work among the Chinese was not finished and went to Hong Kong then moved to Taiwan since she could not enter China anymore.
A beautiful surprise awaited her there. She was reunited with her adopted son! Each thought that the other was dead so it was a wonderful reunion. Soon both of them started the work among the Taiwanese.
A life well lived
One day, a baby was dropped off at their doorstep. Just like in China, Gladys was unsure of taking in an infant. Already in her 50s, she was hesitant of taking care of a baby. Once again, she took to the task with all of her heart. Soon, she established the Gladys Aylward Orphanage where abandoned babies and children of Taipei found a home. Gladys saw her "family" grow continuing work in Taiwan until her passing at the age of 68 in 1970.
This "Little Woman" is a shining example of what a person with a willing heart and unwavering faith in the Lord can do. It also demonstrates how a loving Father fulfills His purposes in the lives of His children in the most unexpected ways.
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