The Latymer School History Magazine - page 23

destination. One might say
she we was ‘courageous’ as
this was clearly not the norm
of woman of her era. This
only highlights Gladys’
profound desire to achieve
more in her lifetime than to
just be a housemaid and
stereotypical 20
The missionary work began
in Yangcheng where she, and
fellow missionary Jeannie
Lawson, were operating an
inn for mule workers.
However, when Jeannie
died, Gladys had no stable
income to keep the inn
running, and therefore
became a ‘foot inspector’.
The tradition of binding
Chinese women’s feet was
still an evident problem in
China, despite it being
outlawed. Gladys began
travelling around and
inspecting the bones in
women’s’ feet and whilst
travelling she would tell her
Bible stories to anyone that
would listen. Gladys gained
most respect from the
people of the region when
she mastered the tricky
language of Chinese.
Aylward adopted China as
her homeland, becoming a
citizen in 1936, and even
spied on the Japanese who
put a bounty for her capture
– dead or alive. In the midst
of the Second Sino-Japanese
War, a military conflict fought
predominantly between The
Republic of China and the
Empire of Japan, the artillery
shells of the Japanese fell.
Yet Gladys had so identified
herself with the Chinese that
she refused to vacate China.
Whilst sharing the Gospel in
the surrounding villages,
Gladys had begun to take in
unwanted children and in the
heart of the Japanese
bombings Gladys cared for
up to 100 children. The
greatest feat of her life is
described in the book ‘The
Small Woman’, an account of
her life story. In 1940, the war
had greatly escalated and
Gladys was forced to leave
Northern China and take
refuge in the safer province
of Sian. The journey, through
the thickening battle and
across the tricky mountain
range, took 12 days. The
devoted missionary and her
100 children travelled with
inadequate clothing and
limited food supplies – but
Gladys believed that God
had looked after her and the
children. The strength of this
one woman was accredited
even more when doctors
discovered she had been
suffering physically from
illnesses such as pneumonia
and typhus, as well as being
severely mentally drained.
After 20 years in China,
Gladys returned to England
in 1940. Despite being a
modest woman, the English
celebrated her and a book
and film were made about
her time in China. However,
the film portrayal was greatly
disappointing for Gladys as it
portrayed her in ‘love scenes’
that she believed soiled her
reputation and the
remarkable work she had
done in China. When she
returned to Asia, she was
unable to settle in her
beloved China due to
communist rule so she
established refuge centres in
Hong Kong and Taipei where
she spent the rest of her life.
Humble in spirit, Gladys once
commented to a friend, “I
wasn’t God’s first choice for
what I’ve done in 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.” To me, this quote
sums up the question I have
been trying to answer which
is, ‘Why isn’t Gladys more
well known?’ The answer is:
She wasn’t well educated or
wealthy, but most
importantly she wasn’t a
man. If Gladys had been a
man perhaps her mission
across the mountains would
be a story remembered by
the vast majority of us.
Similarly, Gladys was an
extremely modest and
humble woman, so she
didn’t feel it necessary to
gloat about the incredible
work she had done. Her
missions in China were very
dear to Gladys so when the
film ‘The Inn of Sixth
Happiness’ came out and
highlighted a more
‘provocative’ side to her life,
she was mortified. Perhaps
her story was not intriguing
enough to be told without
slightly altering her
character. Perhaps the world
wasn’t prepared to hear a
tale of a woman so
infatuated by God and his
teachings, that she felt
destined to have an impact
on the less fortunate.
In contrast, I believe Gladys
Aylward has had a significant
impact on society and has
made a well-deserved mark
in history. She gave the
young Chinese children
hope when their country was
in the midst of a terrible war,
followed immediately by
communist rule. She fulfilled
her mission to inspire those
around her. Her legacy
remains today on Windmill
Road in Aylward Academy.
The local secondary school
in Enfield, formerly ‘The
Gladys Aylward School’ is the
physical representation of
the link Gladys had with
Edmonton and young
children. Gladys may have
believed she ‘wasn’t God’s
first choice’ but it’s fair to say,
nobody could have
accomplished what she did
any better. “God looked
down and saw Gladys
“My heart is full
of praise that
one so
and ordinary in
every way could
be used to His
glory for the
blessing of His
people in poor
China” – Gladys
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