This is the full biography of Gladys Aylward whom I mentioned in my last book review and whom we looked at briefly in Missiology. It’s quite a famous book but I hadn’t read it before. I’m glad I did!
Gladys Aylward wasn’t smart enough to join even China Inland Mission that had pretty low expectations of its missionaries. But she had guts and managed to make her own way to China, working in a variety of roles with children, criminals, muleteers, generals, mandarins and ordinary village folk. Never expecting to return home, she became so Chinese that when she eventually did return to England, some people were confused about her nationality!
There’s plenty of juicy action in this story – wolves, prisons, confrontations with bandits, rescuing an abused woman from an insane asylum, trekking with 100 children for a month to escape an advancing army, beheadings of masses of believers. For all the amazing stories, Gladys describes herself as “insignificant, uneducated and ordinary” and I believe her! She carefully plots the changes God worked in her, rejoicing in how he changed her rather than excusing her failings. God is the hero of this biography.
One of the greatest heartbreaks for Gladys after being in China for 20 years was when she was urged by a Chinese colleague to return to England because it was worshipping other gods. Picking up a newspaper, she saw that that “every item of reported news from England, every picture, was concerned with a film star, or a sportsman, or a horse race – not one mention of God. England, seemingly so prosperous… had forgotten what was all-important – the realisation that God mattered in the life of a nation no less than in that of an individual.” The great sadness for Gladys was that while she was away from home, her country people had become hard of heart, swept up in worrying about what to wear to church social events!
Reading Gladys Aylward’s story makes me want to be used by God in amazing ways like she was. But it also challenges us about how we live in our own country. Will our hearts be soft? Will we be filled with zeal to see those around us come to know Christ? Will we be different from the prevailing culture? Will we pray for God’s kingdom to come?
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.