Women of Purity: Gladys Aylward
Ai-weh-deh means “Virtuous One”
By Selma Komisky
Gladys May Aylward was a British evangelical missionary in China. She was a small four foot ten inch woman but she was tall in spirit, faith, humility, and determination.
She was born on February 24th, 1902 in Edmonton, London England. She was oldest of two sisters and one brother and was 14 when she became a parlor maid for a wealthy family.
Aylward attended a revival meeting where the preacher expounded on the salvation message and giving one’s life over to the service of God. Aylward responded and felt she was called to go to the mission field. She saved money to buy a one-way train ticket to China Oct. 15, 1932, leaving Liverpool Street Station for northern China. Beginning her missionary journey in Yangcheng, China working alongside a 73 year-old Jeannie Lawson (a seasoned missionary who lived in China nearly fifty years) she helped this woman turn her house into “The Inn of Happiness.” They provided food, beds, and bible lessons to the mule travelers as there were no Christians that lived in Yangcheng in the mountainous region and you would have to get there by mule. Aylward shared the gospel with all the muleteers that passed through the mule trail. Later she was left to run the inn alone when Mrs. Lawson died and Aylward became the only European and English speaker to live in Yangcheng.
She identified herself with the Chinese people. She even looked like the Chinese and she lived like them too taking on the culture and language. The people esteemed and respected Aylward and it continued to grow throughout the region. In 1936 she became the first foreign missionary ever to become a Chinese citizen. Although she was never married, she started a school, rescued abandoned children, and became the mother to hundreds of orphans.
Later, the Japanese bombed her town of Yangcheng and brave Aylward chose to stay in the war zone instead of fleeing to safety to care for injured bomb victims. She also confronted Japanese soldiers to protect women. Aylward risked her life for the unwanted orphans, walking a dangerous journey – twelve days over mountainous terrain to escape the Japanese and dodge their planes. Leaving Yellow River with inadequate clothing or food supplies, God watched over Aylward and the children throughout the entire time. They finally arrived at the Yellow River with no way to cross and Aylward prayed and believed with confidence that God could do anything – God would send help to crossover. Waiting four days, a boat finally came and took them to a train headed to Sian. Unfortunately the train couldn’t continue and another obstacle arose – the bridge was destroyed by Japanese bombs. Exhausted, Aylward trusted God while stranded in the mountains.
Once again they persevered walking this unbearable journey following their leader who would constantly assure the children they would be fed and cared for. By Gods mercy a train carrying coal offered them a ride on top of the heaps of coal. They made it to Sian only to be stopped by guards not allowing anyone in.
Moving to the city Fufeng where Aylward almost delirious managed to find safety found an orphanage that took all 100 children. Not one child died or was even seriously ill! However within two days this experience left Aylward mentally and emotionally drained from exhaustion, malnutritioned, and plagued with pneumonia and typhoid fever falling into a coma. Later in a hospital she slowly regained her strength and it was a miracle she survived by Gods grace.
Additionally, Aylward accepted the job of being a foot inspector when the government needed one (it was against the law to bind women’s feet [a cultural Chinese practice] that needed to cease). She was able to enter women’s quarters without scandal and patrol the district to enforce the decrees. Furthermore, Aylward felt these were opportunities to spread the gospel. She was also summoned by the Mandarin (Chinese official) to stop a riot in the men’s prison. God used Aylward to bring peace and settled the men down and brought order improving the conditions of the prison. Aylward also became a special advisor to the Mandarin. Because of her steadfast witness for Christ, God did a work in the heart of this man and he became a convert for Christ.
Among other endeavors, this missionary also started a settlement for lepers near Tibet and was interviewed by Theodore White, an American freelance journalist who later published her story in Time Magazine.
Aylward had a servant’s heart, was a bearer of Good News wherever she went was very bold and humble, loving and compassionate, while also being a visionary and evangelist. She inspired and encouraged many and was extremely faithful. She believed that God could use the weak things and her abilities when you give yourself over to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
She returned to England to t and remained tend to her health needs and remained for ten years. Aylward’s fame traveled all over as she dined with heads of state and met with Queen Elizabeth. Her amazing ministry in China became widely known and Aylward worked with hundreds of Chinese refugees coming into Liverpool, England. She helped them to learn English and invited them to church in their own language continuing to correspond with her adopted children and orphans.
In 1957 Aylward left England and returned to China amongst her people whom she loved. However, she could not re-enter mainland China so she headed for Formosa (modern day Taiwan) Where she continued teaching Bible studies, sharing the gospel, and looking after babies and children. Then on New Years Day January, 1970, at the age of 67, Ai-we-deh, the virtuous one, went to sleep and entered eternity.