Gladys Aylward; also known as Ai-we-deh

Photo of Gladys Aylward

Everyone has a heart and passion for a certain area, and Gladys’s was China

Gladys thought she had finally accomplished her dream of going to China as a missionary.  She was on a train heading towards Tietsin, China.  Gladys was forced to get off the train and walk back to the nearest station in Chita, Russia because of a local war.  Once Gladys walked back to the nearest station in Chita, she was forced onto a train heading for Vladivostok, Russia.  Once she arrived in Russia, Gladys was forced to stay in a hotel with an intimidating official that confiscated her passport and changed “missionary” to “mechanic”.  An anonymous woman warned her that she had seen people come the hotel and never be seen again.  The woman helped Gladys escape and sent her on her way to China.

Gladys had to travel through many different areas to finally arrive at Yangchang; a mountain village.  Gladys eventually came up with the idea of  turning the house into an inn.  They decided to name the inn Inn of Eight Happinesses.  Mrs.Lawson would tell Bible stories while the muleteers and other travelers ate; because Chinese people love to hear stories.  Later on, the mandarin, the ruler of a certain district in China, arrived at the inn and asked Gladys to become the foot inspector.  A foot inspector would need to check every woman’s feet to make sure that her feet were unbound (a woman’s feet were bound to make them short and doubled over).  Gladys was the only person able to do this because she was the only woman with unbound feet that spoke Mandrin Chinese; and also because it is disrespectful for men to look at a woman’s feet.  Gladys agreed to this only because she would be allowed to preach to the local people while she was traveling.  In doing so, Gladys became well known and well liked in Yangchang and the surrounding villages.

Over time, Gladys became known for her stubbornness and bravery.  It was for that reason that she was asked to calm a prison riot.  At first, she was fearful she would die, but she slowly gathered her strength and stepped into the prison.  With a commanding voice she told the prisoners to hand her the weapons, lay the dead in a corner, and move the wounded into the shade.  To her surprise, the prisoners obeyed!  Before long, she had discovered the cause of the riot.  The prisoners received little food, had thin clothing, and had nothing to do.  She demanded that the prisoners be allowed to grow crops within the prison to feed themselves and given looms to occupy themselves while making warmer clothing for themselves.  The prison marshal agreed and Gladys was given a new name by her village: Ai-we-deh, which means virtuous one.  Ai-we-deh was now as well known as the mandarin!

A few years later as Ai-we-deh was inside praying with some new missionaries, the floor fell out underneath her.  The Japanese had bombed Yangchang!  Once the Japanese planes had passed, Ai-we-deh grabbed her tiny medical bag and started helping in any way she could.  After everyone was calmed down enough the mandarin, his officials, and Ai-we-deh decided to move the village to a small mountain village that wasn’t even on the map.  They would move into the surrounding caves used to house livestock in the winter.  Ai-we-deh started an orphanage and medical clinic in her cave, and  soon had adopted around 200 kids!

After hearing from a Chinese soldier that the Japanese were looking for her, she decided to move her and the kids to a safer location.  A good friend helped to take the first half of the kids, and Ai-we-deh transported the second half.  This turned out to be very difficult.  After passing through many mountains, the group came to the Yellow River.  There was no one in the village near the river, and no way across, that is, until a Chinese soldier came with a way to get the other side.  Once they got across, the group rode a train to Tung Kwan after a few more delays.  At the Tung Kwan station, Ai-we-deh discovered that the only trains that were allowed to travel were coal trains, so she and her children rode on the coal trains to Sian; their original destination, only to discover they were no longer accepting refugees.  After more train rides, the children finally made it to a refugee home, were the children were kept and Ai-we-deh fell into a coma!

Some time later, Gladys, as she was known by the English doctors, woke up and discovered she had fever, pneumonia, typhoid, and malnutrition!  Over her life, Ai-we-deh (Gladys Alyward) never gave up on her mission and goals, no matter how difficult they were!

photo by Magnus Manske

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