Born FEBRUARY 24, 1902

Gladys Aylward [PD-USA]

Gladys Aylward [PD-USA]

The guard opened the gate and Gladys entered. A prisoner with an ax came running toward her. The  man had already murdered two fellow prisoners. The officials had sent Gladys to face him because she’d testified that God protected her. She spoke gently to the man with the ax, persuading him to hand her the weapon. That began Gladys Aylward’s unplanned prison ministry in China.


Gladys grew up in England. Nothing in her younger years suggested she’d accomplish anything special. She worked for years as a parlor maid. After becoming a Christian, she felt strongly that God wanted her to serve Him as a missionary.

She attended the China Inland Mission training school. But the 26-year-old Gladys struggled with her studies. One day, the school told her they doubted she’d be able to comprehend the Chinese language. They dismissed her. The door she thought would lead to China had closed to her.

But her sense of God’s calling remained. So Gladys prepared to pay her own way by work-ing and saving as much money as she could. She eventually heard of a missions organiza-tion that needed someone. Gladys contacted Jeannie Lawson, a woman in China who wanted a young assistant. Jeannie invited Gladys to work alongside her if Gladys could reach the northeastern city of Tienstin.

                                                                                          THE INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS

Trans-Siberian Railway [PD-USA]

Trans-Siberian Railway [PD-USA]

Gladys boarded the Trans-Siberian Rail-way. At five feet tall, she was a short person in a big, unfriendly world. The people who brushed against her on the crowded station platform and who sat near her on the train spoke languages she couldn’t understand. As she traveled east, the presence of Russian soldiers on the train increased. Russia and China were at war. At one point, Russian soldiers took over the train and ordered Gladys off.

Her long, tiring journey finally ended. She arrived in the northern China province of (current-day) Shanxi ready to serve. She helped Jeannie turn a large, old building into an inn. They named it the The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. It welcomed the men who trans-ported their wares from village to village on packs of mules. The two women fed them, then told them Bible stories.

The inn’s reputation grew. Gladys learned not only the Chinese language, but various dialects. Then, a year after Gladys had arrived, Miss Lawson suffered a fall that resulted in her death. Gladys became that area’s only missionary, operating the inn and explaining the Bible to all who would listen.


Chinese women with bound feet [PD-USA]

Chinese women with bound feet [PD-USA]

Gladys had to find other work to support herself. The local mandarin hired her. He was helping abolish the custom of women binding their feet to keep them small. He gave Gladys the glorified title of “Inspector of Feet.” She did her job well, expressing a kindness that drew others to her message.

Then came the incident at the local men’s prison. By the time it ended, Gladys had won the respect of both the prison officials and the prisoners. She served as liaison between both parties, leading to improved conditions at the prison. She visited often, telling the inmates about Jesus, who died for their sins.

Gladys had made China her home. She even dressed in Chinese clothes. She chose to become a naturalized citizen, taking the name the Chinese had chosen for her: Ai-weh-deh, meaning, “the virtuous woman.”

She would later say, “And when God asks us to do something, He doesn’t ask for one hand or one foot or one day. He asks for the complete you.”


In the late 1930s, Japan attacked China. It bombed and destroyed the inn-turned- mission-center. Gladys gave her time to helping the wounded. When the survivors migrated to the mountains for safety, Gladys travelled to other Christian mission stations to help.

Before she left, the local mandarin honored her with a meal. He had observed Gladys’ faith for years. After the meal, the mandarin announced to her that he wanted to convert to the Christian faith that had made Gladys such a wonderful person.



At one mission station she visited, there were 200 orphans the Japanese had marked for death. Gladys volunteered to help them safely reach the city of Xian. She sent half of them and the supplies they’d need with a Christian man. Five weeks later, word arrived that they had reached their destination. But the Christian man who escorted them to safety had been arrested. Gladys was the only hope for the other 100 children.


Photo by Olga Oslina

Photo by Olga Oslina

They prayerfully set out. There was the constant threat of Japanese soldiers, and they had a limited food supply. They slept out in the open most nights. God protected them, and gave them strength to forge ahead under the glaring sun, drenching rainfall and nagging weariness.

The Yellow River [Photo by J i j i]

The Yellow River [Photo by J i j i]

They eventually reached the Yellow River. Because of the approaching Japanese army, the boats had been taken to the other side. They waited three days before a boat came to help them cross. They still had miles to go. 

When, after many weeks, the missionary and the orphans reached safety, Gladys collapsed. A hospital treated her for malnutrition, typhus, and pneumonia.

Health issues caused Gladys to return to England in 1949. She recovered and went back to Asia. She opened an orphanage in Taiwan, where she worked for the rest of her life.

Gladys Aylward died in 1970 in Taiwan. She was a short woman who lived a tall life. She once said, “I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I’ve done in China… I don’t know who it was… God looked down… and saw Gladys Aylward… And God said- ‘Well, she’s willing.’ “


LET ME KNOW:  How has Gladys’ story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.


  • Brown, Joyce Vollmer. Courageous Christians. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 2000.
  • Hanks, Geoffrey. 70 Great Christians. Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2000.
  • Hosier, Helen Kooiman. 100 Christian Women Who Changed the 20th Century. Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 2000.

Books- (Read more about Gladys Aylward from the books available at the following sites)



  • The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. Directed by Mark Robson. 1958; Los Angeles, CA: Twentieth Century Fox, 2003. DVD.
  • Gladys Aylward:The Small Woman with A Great God. Vision Video, 2008. DVD.



About William E. Richardson

I'm married to a wonderful woman named Deb. We're the parents of a son and daughter who bring great joy to our lives. I currently pastor the Assembly of God church in Afton, Iowa.
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One Response to GLADYS AYLWARD

  1. Gladys Aylward’s story really impressed me. She faithfully went where God wanted her to even though she met many hardships along the way. She left a beautifull legacy .

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