All odds were against Glady Aylward’s dream to take the good news about Jesus to China.  From a working class home in England, she became a parlor maid at the age of 14. Born in 1902 in Edmonton, England, Gladys life was transformed by the power of the gospel at a revival when she was just 18 years old.  She desperately wanted to go to China, learn the language, and teach others about Christ’s death on the cross as payment for sin.

Like other great women of God, she faced many obstacles before seeing her God-sized dream become a reality.  She had heard of the work Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission.  She applied but was ultimately rejected.  Because of her low level of education, it was thought she would not be able to learn the difficult Chinese language.

However, she didn’t give up on her goal of reaching China.  She continued praying, reading about China, and saving her money earned as a maid.  Eventually, she heard about an aging woman named Jean Lawson who needed an assistant.

She didn’t have enough money for the voyage by sea, so against the advice of many around her, she took a train through Siberia.  It was a war-torn area at the time, and through many adventures and difficulties God brought her to China safely.  Her dependence on Christ during her journey was nothing short of miraculous.  At one time the train stopped and she had to get off and carry her belongings through the snow not knowing how she would make the rest of the journey.  God answered prayer again and again seeing that she made it safely to Chinese soil.

She found herself in a foreign land with a great language barrier as well as unfamiliar customs.  Jean Lawson welcomed her and together they restored an old Inn.  They called it the Inn of the Eight Happiness’s.  They fed mules and their drivers and allowed them to sleep on the hearth.  In the evenings they would tell the stories of Jesus to the traveling drivers.  These mule train drivers then took the stories of Jesus and told them to others along their journeys. During this time of hard work, Gladys learned the language she was told would be too difficult for her.

She did all sorts of things I’m sure she never imagined.  She helped fix up an old building, led mules by her hand into their courtyard, and learned to enjoy the food and culture of the Chinese.  When Jean Lawson took a fall that led to her death, Gladys carried on the work with their translator cook.

Little did Gladys know that more challenges lay ahead.  The government gave her the job of inspecting girl’s feet in the villages surrounding her.  Foot binding had been a common Chinese practice since the people valued small feet for women.  However, the infections and health detriments caused the government to forbid the ancient practice.  As an inspector, Gladys was not always popular but she got an opportunity to travel and share stories about Jesus in all the villages.

On these trips she noticed many disturbing things.  She found orphans roaming and hungry without anyone to care for them.  She began to bring them back to the Inn, adopting many of them.  She also noticed the horrible conditions of Chinese prisons and spoke out for reform.

In 1936 she became a citizen of China and soon became known as “Ai-weh-deh,” which means Virtuous One.  The locals loved her for her dedication to children and those who were suffering.

When Japan invaded China she also cared for wounded soldiers.  Because of her help to the Chinese, the opposition placed a bounty on her head so she had to flee to safety with 100 children.  I’m sure in her days as a parlor maid she never dreamed of being a fugitive.  She led these children through the mountains and across a river with God supernaturally making it possible for them to survive on many occasions.

When they finally arrived, she was sick and malnourished.  Gladys never recovered to full health though she did get better with medicine and nutrition from the typhus and pneumonia she suffered from on the trip.  She returned to England for ten years to share her stories about the need for the gospel in China.  When she tried to return to China, she was denied entry by the communist government that had come to power while she was gone.  So she went to Taiwan where she set up an orphanage and lived out her days serving others until her death in 1970.

She gained recognition through a Hollywood movie that was supposed to be based on her life.  This was done much to her chagrin as the movie contained many inaccuracies and suggested a romance between her and a Chinese official that was far from factual.  Ingrid Bergman played the role of Gladys in the Inn of the Sixth Happiness in 1957, but she never approved of the movie.

Her life story should inspire us to seek out God’s purpose for our lives.  Even when seemingly insurmountable circumstances come up against our call, we can pray and boldly step out in faith like Gladys .  She didn’t let her lack of education, her station in life, or the opinions of others stop her in accomplishing her God-sized dreams.

Though not always glamorous, her life inspires us to follow God with reckless abandon.  Matthew 10:38-39, “If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”


  • The Small Woman by Alan Burgess
  • Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime (Christian Heroes: Then & Now) by Geoff and Janet Benge Gladys Aylward: The Little Woman by Gladys Aylward with Christine Hunter
  • Gladys Aylward No Mountain Too High by Grant Myrna
  • Gladys Aylward: The Courageous English Missionary Whose Life Defied All Expectations by Catherine Swift
  • Gladys Aylward: Daring to Trust (Heroes for Young Readers) by Renee Meloche and Bryan Pollard