She didn't have what it took ... or, did she?

Gladys Aylward
Inspiring people come in all shapes and sizes. Some, like Gladys Aylward, are small dynamos.

This is the first in a series of stories about inspiring people.

Working wannabe

Gladys Aylward's (1902-1970) limited educational abilities and work-related credentials as a parlor maid did little to impress the China Inland Mission Center. She didn't measure up. She failed their tests.

Determined to follow her passion

Aylward didn't let rejection stop her. She wanted to go to China and work as a missionary, even if she had to pay her own way. She worked as a parlor maid for years, saving all she could, so she could fund her vision of what God wanted for her.

By the age of 30, Aylward had saved enough money to leave London to follow God's leading to China. Wages in early 1930s London were low. Since she hadn't saved enough money to travel by steamer, she purchased rail tickets that took her across Europe and Russia to Yangchen, in inland China. This was an arduous trip for anyone, especially a young single woman.

Aylward was small in stature but revealed a brave and determined spirit. The journey was only the beginning of big challenges she and her faith would face.

Willing to serve

In China, Aylward helped Agnes Lawson, an aging missionary, establish the Inn of the Eighth Happinesses, where travelers could rest and hear Gospel stories. After the older woman died, Aylward's ministry expanded to serve the needs of unwanted children and wounded soldiers.

Aylward found a variety of unconventional ways to earn money so she could serve others and share the Gospel message. She served as a foot inspector for the government, convincing  families to adhere to the new unpopular law that forbade binding a young girl's feet. She was successful when others before her were not.

During a prison uprising, Aylward successfully negotiated order. She worked to improve prison life. These and other acts of kindness earned Aylward the respect and love of Chinese people who called her "Ai-weh-deh," (Virtuous One).

When hostilities between Japan and China accelerated, reaching poor inland sites, Aylward lead nearly 100 children to Sian, a safer area. They traveled on foot for twenty-seven days and more than 100 miles over mountainous and difficult terrain with few resources. The feat ruined her health in ways she never fully recovered from, but it solidified her caring reputation.

During the 1940s, Aylward lived in England. After ten years in away from China, in 1953, Aylward tried and failed to get permission from the Communist government to return. She settled in Taiwan where she founded an orphanage. She lived there until her death.


Alan Burgess made Aylward famous beyond China in his 1957 novel, The Small Woman. The next year, 20th Century Fox released a heart-warming and inspiring movie, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, that stared Ingrid Bergman as Gladys Aylward.

The popular movie had all the makings of a great story: exotic settings, interesting characters who grappled with difficult and unusual problems, a love interest and a happy ending.

Although the movie was popular, "Ai-weh-deh" wasn't pleased. She didn't like the way Hollywood changed details of her life. Aylward was short and brunette; Ingrid Bergman was tall and blond and not living a missionary-chaste lifestyle. The military officer was Chinese; the movie character was half Dutch, half Chinese. Most of all Aylward was deeply distressed by embellished love scenes in the movie.

Faith propelled Aylward to serve others in China and through hardships she couldn't have imagined. Kindness, courage and love revealed the diminutive Aylward to be a giant, more than able to do what she believed God wanted her to do.

Who inspires you? Why? Please respond in the Comments.

For further reading
Gladys Aylward, missionary to China
Gladys Aylward: Facts and an extensive reading list


  1. I saw that movie with Ingred in it and now that I read who the missionary was, I agree with her in the casting of the movie female lead. It was a poor choice for casting.
    Miss Aylward was quite the missionary. Her desire to follow the Lord, no matter how difficult is amazing. I wonder how many who desire to be or are missionaries now could live and work like that.
    Interesting posting!

  2. Yes, the movie was fun. I saw it a few days ago on Netflix. Then I researched her life. What an amazing determination and faith she had.

    I don't think I could do what she did.


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