Gladys Alyward



Gladys Alyward, standing at 4’10” was a small woman who did extraordinary things with God’s strength. Aylward was a determined woman. The China Inland Missions thought she was too old and would be unable to learn Chinese, but, Alyward would be a missionary to China no matter what anyone else said. No one would hold her back. Alyward saved her money she made from being a maid to go towards a train fare to China. She continued to persevere in obeying the Lord, despite all she faced.

Early Life

Gladys was born in London in 1902. She only went to school until she was 14, because of family financial problems. Gladys took on a job as a parlor maid. After a church service in which a stranger confronted her with the Good News, she became a Christian.[1] She started attending Young Life. After hearing about China in a meeting, Gladys knew that was where God wanted her to go and so she began to read books about China.

China Inland Missions

Gladys applied to be a missionary with China Inland Missions. She went to training school and was kicked out for failing her Bible class.[2] China Inland Missions also refused to take her and even though Gladys got cut from training school, she was as determined as ever to be a missionary in China.

The Journey to China

Gladys went back to being a maid and she saved every bit she could to invest in a train trip to China. Gladys left from the Liverpool train station on October 15, 1932 headed for China. [3] In the middle of the way, the train stopped and a bunch of Russian soldiers got on. The Russians and Chinese were in an unofficial war. Gladys refused to get off the train, even though all the citizens were forced off. At the second stop, the train conductor kicked her off, requiring Glady’s to walk to the nearest town. The Russians mistook her for a machinist and they even scratched out the word missionary and put in machinist in her passport. In a 2:00 am rescue from her hotel room, she was led to a port where she begged a British captain heading to Japan to take her with him. He agreed to take Gladys as a prisoner. Finally, 21 days after leaving London, Gladys arrived in China.[4] It was time to start her ministry in China, or so she thought.

Mrs. Lawson

Soon Gladys found out that the missionary she was going to live with was settled a two days’ journey away. She had to travel by mule, because the road was too steep for any motor vehicle to travel on. Once Gladys made it to YangCheng, she met Mrs. Lawson. Mrs. Lawson and Gladys decided to repair the house and make it into an inn. They called it The Inn of the Eighth Happiness. At first, Gladys had to kidnap mule trains in order to get the people in. Eventually it became known for its excellent service and clean facility. While the guests were eating, the chef would tell them Bible stories. The chef did not know the Bible stories well, so he would mix up some of the details. One time, he talked about Jesus and the ark. Despite the fact the chef did not know what he was talking about, many people came to Christ through the stories and others simply spread the stories to other llama caravans as they were traveling.

One night, Mrs. Lawson wanted to go on her nightly walk. Gladys refused to, wanting to spend extra time learning Mandarin. Mrs. Lawson got angry and the chef encouraged Gladys to go back to Tsechow. While at Tsechow, Gladys got a letter explaining Mrs. Lawson had been badly injured and there were rumors among the muleteers that Mrs. Lawson was dying. Gladys took the two-day journey to YangCheng only to find out Mrs. Lawson was not there. She took another two-day journey to another village, where she found Mrs. Lawson. She had fallen off the edge of a two story building. Gladys could not understand why no one had helped her and when they got to the hospital, it was too late; Mrs. Lawson was dying.

Foot Inspector

After Mrs. Lawson died, Gladys did not know what to do. There was no way she could pay the taxes for The Inn of The Eighth Happiness. The Mandarin gave Gladys a visit. He wanted her to be the foot inspector for him. It was custom in China for parents to wrap the feet of their daughters, so that they would have small feet, which was seem as attractive. Gladys accepted the job, with one condition. She would be able share Bible stories with the people she worked among. The Mandarin accepted her request. As Gladys traveled around, she gained respect from the people as they saw her care for the children.

Prison Reform

A riot broke out in the local prison and Gladys was summoned to the local penitentiary, but even the guards were afraid to go in. Gladys wondered why she was summoned. The guards reasoned she served the living God and so she could not die. Although Gladys wanted to argue with their reasoning, she knew it was time to represent God. When she went in, one of the prisoners was about to chop off the head of another prisoner with a machete. Gladys told everyone to stop. The prisoner with the machete looked over and surprised by a small woman, dropped his weapon. Gladys asked what was going on. One of the prisoners, who used to be a Buddhist monk told her they had no food and no work. Gladys was appalled and requested the prison guard reform the prison. Since they had no money to reform the prison, some friends of the governor donated two looms and a milling rock. She continued visiting the prison and telling the convicts Bible stories.


One day while going to see the Mandarin, Gladys noticed a sickly young girl and a woman trying to sell her. She was appalled by this. She brought the subject up to the Mandarin. He told Gladys not to rescue the children off the street who were being sold. Gladys disagreed with this and told the Mandarin that since she was a Christian, it was her duty to go against the Mandarin’s commands when it conflicted with what the Bible says. Since Gladys did not have the money to buy the girl off the street, she offered nine pence for the child. The women selling the child accepted the deal. This is how the first orphan got her name, Ninepence. Over time, she eventually adopted 94 children.

War with Japan

In 1938, Yangcheng was bombed by the Japanese which took everyone by surprise.[5] Two years earlier, Gladys had become a Chinese citizen, so unlike many of the other missionaries, she did not have to leave the country. Gladys became a spy for the Chinese and was wanted by the Japanese. She knew she had to flee, so Gladys and her 94 children started walking to safety. It took many days for them to get to safety. By the time they got to safety, Gladys was in ill health, but the doctors were amazed she was only 38 by the way Gladys looked. She made a full recovery, so Gladys was able to go back to the work of being a missionary.

Continuing Ministry

Gladys went back to England to fully recover from the illnesses she had after the war. Everyone wanted to hear about her time in China and she did not expect to be so famous. Gladys decided to go back to China to continue her work as a missionary. She took a couple trips to Taiwan and she started an orphanage in Taiwan.


She died on January 3, 1970 in Taiwan.

Various media such as books and movies have kept Gladys’ memory alive. Gladys did not like the movie, Inn of the Sixth Happiness. She thought the movie spoiled her reputation by including love scenes that did not really happen. Gladys’ mission work continues to inspire other people to be missionaries.

[1] The History of Mission: Gladys Alyward.

[2] Benge, Geoff and Janet. Christian Heroes: Then & Now: Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime. Copyright: 1998.

[3] The History of Mission: Gladys Alyward.

[4] Benge, Geoff and Janet. Christian Heroes: Then & Now: Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime. Copyright: 1998.

[5] Benge, Geoff and Janet. Christian Heroes: Then & Now: Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime. Copyright: 1998.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.