A little, brown-eyed, onetime parlormaid was making Englishmen sit up & take notice last week. The BBC had broadcast the story of her remarkable life as a missionary in China, and she was drawing crowds to churches every afternoon and evening in Swansea, Wales. Wearing her Chinese clothes, Gladys Aylward lectures for no pay, but she speaks to people as often as she can. Says she: "There will be more people praying for us."
In London's Belgrave Square in the prosperous '20s, Gladys Aylward enjoyed her life as a downstairs maid. But one Sunday after church, a preacher shaking hands with her said, surprisingly: "Well, Miss Aylward, God is wanting you." Gladys pulled her hand away and ran down the churchyard path perplexed and a little angered. But back in her servants' quarters, she found that the preacher's words had taken root. She had lost her taste for parties and dancing, and life seemed suddenly meaningless and empty. When she finally spoke to a neighboring minister's wife about her strange new feelings, the lady declared: "My dear, the Lord's caught you!"
What About You? One day Gladys Aylward, deeply troubled, picked up a mission pamphlet which said: "There are millions in China that have never heard the name of Jesus Christ. WHAT ABOUT You?" She knew, then, what she must do.
The Protestant nondenominational China Inland Mission accepted her for a three-year training course, though, at 26, she was a year over the age limit. But her education was not good enough, and she flunked out miserably in the first term of the course. Determined to serve in China, she went back to London and took on two maids' jobs at once. She wanted to earn enough money to go to China on her own and work with Mrs. Jeannie Lawson, an old China missionary who had grown tired of retirement and, at 74, had returned to China.
One day in 1932, Gladys left Liverpool Street carrying a bedroll, a kettle and saucepan, a suitcase of canned food, ninepence in cash and a thin packet of travelers' checks. Said she to her mother & father: "Never get me out or pay ransom for me. God is sufficient."
Her faith and determination were sufficient to get her through the long, Trans-Siberian Railway trip and to help her track down Mrs. Lawson in Yangcheng in northern China, hundreds of miles from the China coast where she had begun her search. There the two Englishwomen set up an inn for mule drivers. Gladys' first Chinese was a chant: "We have no bugs, we have no fleas. Good, good, goodcome, come, come." Her job was to grab the leading mule of a caravan and lead him into the courtyard. After the mules were fed, their drivers became willing listeners to simple Bible stories.
When Mrs. Lawson died a year later, Gladys went on alone. Once her converts were formed into groups, Gladys Aylward, who belongs to no denomination, saw to it that they joined the nearest Christian mission. Some became Baptists, some Methodists. Says she: "I work kind of alongside everyone. We're all after the one thingsouls for Jesus Christ. I don't care if they're sprinkled or immersed."