The sounds coming over the prison wall were terrifying. The prisoners were rioting. The soldiers were too afraid to go in. Gladys Aylward stood outside the prison looking in astonishment at the warden. He had just asked her to go in and stop the riot.
“Why me?” She gasped.
The prison warden responded. “You tell us your God is all powerful. Is He or is He not?”
Gladys could do nothing but enter the prison yard. She took a deep breath and replied, “He is, but only through the help of Jesus will I prevail, for the Gospel of God in our Bible states, ‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.’” Then, she went through the gates.
Men were screaming and chasing each other with swords and knives. The dirt was red with blood. As Gladys walked through the crowd of rioting men, their eyes turned to follow her. She stopped before the man in the center of the fighting, wielding a cleaver. She stood as tall as her 4’10” figure allowed and commanded, “Give me the cleaver.”
Surprised, the man did as she asked. Then she said, “Now, form yourselves into lines.” The men slowly obeyed, and then Gladys was able to determine the root of their rioting.
It turned out, the men did not have adequate food, clothing, or shelter. They had no way to make money to provide these things for themselves, and they had nothing to occupy their time. Gladys spoke to the warden, and through her advocacy, conditions in the prison improved. Looms were brought in so the men could make cloth to sell. This gave them something constructive to do as well as a means to make money to buy the food and clothes they needed. Gladys continued to come back and minister to the men, teaching them about Jesus along with basic hygiene and skilled work. Many of the men turned to Christ.
It’s easy to say that Gladys Aylward had great courage when she walked into this situation, but I believe she herself would say that she did not have courage – God gave it to her.
God gave her courage.
In fact, God gave her many things. Gladys Aylward lived an extraordinary life. She did many things that seem impossible, but as she herself said, “I am very weak; my courage is borrowed from Him.” Here are some of the things God gave her.
He gave her ability. When Gladys first felt called into missions, she joined a mission board and began her training. However, after a year they told her that she was not smart enough to learn Chinese. However, once she was in China, she not only learned Chinese, she learned it well enough that she became a Chinese citizen.
He gave her tenacity. Not only was Gladys rejected by the mission board, but she did not have enough money for a boat fare. So, she decided to go by train. The train was stopped in Russia, and Gladys traveled by foot and mule cart the rest of the way into China.
He gave her insight. Gladys arrived to work with a Scottish missionary, Mrs. Lawson. They started an Inn to reach mule caravaners, but the men were afraid to stay with white women. The women discovered, however, that they loved stories. So they began to tell Bible stories that kept the men coming back.
He gave her access. While worked at the Inn, Gladys often wondered if there were a way to reach the surrounding villages. Then one day, a local magistrate asked her to be the official Foot Inspector. Her job was to travel to different villages and make sure they were no longer binding women’s feet. Wherever she went, she brought stories of Jesus with her.
He gave her compassion. On one of Gladys’ trips to the prison, she saw a woman sitting by a wall and begging with a small child. When Gladys asked about the child, the woman sold the child to her for only ninepence. This began a new season of ministry where Gladys took in more and more children, eventually totaling over 100.
He gave her strength. When the Japanese invaded China, Gladys had to take all 100 children and flee over the mountains. With little food and worn out shoes they trekked for nearly a month. When they arrived, Gladys had typhus, pneumonia, and was severely malnourished. She had made the trip only with the strength of the Lord.
We look at Gladys Aylward and wonder, “Could I do those things if I were called to it?” Gladys only did these things because God gave her the ability, tenacity, insight, access, compassion, strength, and courage to do them. And God will give them to us as well, as we devote our lives to Him.
Once Elizabeth Elliot asked Gladys if she had ever wanted to be married. Elliot recounts her answer, “She talked to the Lord about it. She was a no-nonsense woman and very direct and straightforward and she asked God to call a man from England, send him straight out to China, straight to where she was, and have him propose. I can’t forget the next line. With a look of even deeper intensity, she shook her little bony finger in my face and said, ‘Elisabeth, I believe God answers prayer. He called him,’ and here there was a very brief pause and an intense whisper, which carried more power than her loudest voice. ‘He called him, but he never came’.” (Elliot)
Let us not be those who never come for fear of what will happen! Instead, let us remember Gladys’ own words as we answer God’s call: “If God has called you to China or any other place and you are sure in your own heart, let nothing deter you. Remember, it is God who has called you and it is the same as when He called Moses or Samuel.”
Elliot, Elisabeth. Gateway to Joy.