Kingdom Women: Gladys Aylward by Emily Selway

This is part of an ongoing series on Kingdom Women—women God has used and is using in His great Kingdom endeavor.  We will meet these women in God’s Word, in the early church, in the dark  ages, in the past great missionary efforts and among today’s true followers of Jesus.  This women has an amazing story of courage and faithfulness

Two words characterize Gladys Aylward’s life: obedience and provision.

Born in 1902 into a working-class family in Edmonton, England, Gladys’ early life was hardly noteworthy. A poor student, she dropped out of school at the age of 14 and began working menial jobs wherever she could find them. Though her parents were Christians and took her to church often as a child, by her late teens she had lost her interest in God.

But God had not lost interest in Gladys, and He led her into an evangelistic meeting in her early twenties, where she accepted Christ as her savior. At that same meeting, the course for the rest of her life was being set. She found an article about China, and was struck to her core by the thought of “millions of Chinese [who] had never heard of Jesus.”

In characteristic humility, Gladys’ first thought was to recruit others to do this important work. But she found no interest. Even her own brother refused, saying, “Not me!...That’s an old maid’s job. Why don’t you go yourself?”

Though the sentiment was less than polite, the thought made its impression. Gladys set her mind toward China, and in December of 1929, she applied to the China Inland Mission. This was Gladys first act of obedience towards God’s call, and would begin a long chain of simple, focused acts of obedience that would continue throughout the rest of her life.

The second characteristic of her life was also about to begin – that of God’s provision. A poor student from childhood, Gladys struggled with the more academic portions of her formalized missionary training. At the end of the first portion of her training, Gladys was deemed “not fit” and was asked to leave.

Gladys was heartbroken–she had been so sure that God wanted to send her to China. Confused and disappointed, she went to work as a household servant for an older couple who had once served as missionaries in China. They encouraged her to continue to be obedient to God’s calling, reassuring her that if God wanted her in China, He would put her there. And indeed, within a few short years, that is exactly what He did.

Through a series of connections, Gladys heard of a missionary woman in China who needed an assistant. This was it – God’s calling! She determined that she would travel there on her own, via train (through war-torn Russia). To afford the fare, she worked several jobs. Friends and family pitched in what they could. In less than a year, Gladys, a poor, working-class girl, had managed to pull together the 90-pound fare. God was providing.

This provision continued throughout the rest of Gladys’ life. When she was hungry, He would provide food. When she was in danger, He would provide escape. When she needed money, He would provide a job.

Gladys, in turn, responded with simple, direct obedience. Gladys never considered her obedience extraordinary, either. Once, when approached by a reporter who wanted to interview her, she brushed him off saying that she had led a very uninteresting life. This humble attitude allowed her to gratefully take up whatever opportunities arose. Whether tending to a pack of mules, caring for a dying missionary, or cleaning a church. Gladys did what needed to be done.At one point, Gladys was offered a position with the government as a “foot inspector.” This job entailed traveling from village to village, educating villagers about and enforcing the recent legislation that banned the practice of foot binding.

Realizing the opportunity before her, Gladys informed the mandarin (the officer who would accompany her to the villages) that she would use the chance to share the Gospel. The officer allowed her, reasoning that Christians didn’t bind their feet. And so, in fluent Mandarin (the language the missions board had concluded she would never be able to learn) she traveled from village to village, preaching the Gospel and establishing new churches.Gladys’ life was characterized with opportunities like this. God would provide an opportunity, and Gladys would seize it. It never seemed extraordinary to her. In her mind, God was the master, and she was the servant. She was only doing what she was told–even if that meant single-handedly stopping a prison riot, or leading a group of 100 orphans through the mountains with an army of invading Japanese soldiers at their heels.Gladys was a simple, poor, uneducated woman. But God used her for great things. She is a perfect example of the saying, “God doesn’t call the qualified—He qualifies the called.”

Her example encourages me to live my life by faith, attending to each calling with obedience and trust. Her lifetime of obedience, even in menial tasks, pushes me to lay down my pride in pursuit of God’s kingdom. Ultimately, she reminds me that there is one qualification to do God’s work, and that is a willingness to live by faith.

"I wasn't God's first choice for what I've done for China. There was somebody else. I don't know who it was--God's first choice. It must have been a man--a wonderful man, a well-educated man. I don't know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn't willing. And God looked down and saw Gladys Aylward." – Gladys Aylward

What about you?  Has God seen your willingness?

Emily Selway is a hyperactive dreamer with a passion for seeing people come to know and treasure Christ. A graduate of Ohio University with a degree in Visual Communications, Emily loves writing, photography, coffee and cats. She has never met an ice cream cone she didn’t like, and enjoys spending her free time reading, hiking, and making other people laugh. She and her husband, Clay, recently joined staff with Cru and are preparing to serve with the ministry at Ohio University. You can find Emily on Twitter, Instagram, or at her blog.


“Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God” by Noel Piper