Gladys Aylward (1902-1970)


Gladys Aylward, missionary to Yangcheng, China, stood in her kitchen preparing a pot of stew with her friend and helper, Lu Yung-cheng. As the two cut vegetables and discussed the inn they managed, they heard a commotion coming from the courtyard. As they ran out to see what the trouble was they were greeted by a young Chinese messenger. He shouted excitedly that the Mandarin wanted Gladys to stop a prison riot that had broken out at the local prison.

Gladys was stunned. What in the world could she do to stop a prison riot? Gladys was barely five feet tall inn keeper who spent her days serving weary travelers and visiting villages tucked in the holes on mountains. She shared the Living God with the Chinese people. It wasn’t easy. Many of the Chinese mountain people had never seen a foreigner and still called her “foreign devil”. How in the world would she stop a bunch of murderers and thieves rioting in a prison? She told Lu that the Mandarin must have meant him, but he refused to go. If the Mandarin had summoned Gladys he meant for only Gladys and the refusal of the summons would result in severe punishment.

So our very small in stature sister-in-Christ ran with the messenger to the local prison to see the Mandarin.

She was escorted into the jailer’s officer where the Mandarin and several prison soldiers were waiting for her. Within the prison walls shouts and screams and swords clanking together could be heard.

“Thank goodness you have come,” the Mandarin said, wringing his hands, “You must go in and stop the riot!”

Gladys was shocked. “Me?” Why don’t you send in your soldiers?”

The Mandarin scoffed at her suggestion. “Send in my soldiers? Impossible! Those prisoners are murders and thieves! They  would undoubtedly kill my soldiers. No. You must go in. You are always telling our people how the living God lives inside of you. Surely your God will protect you.”

Gladys almost argued with his assessment on her teachings of the Holy Spirit, but she stopped. How could she taut God’s greatness to the Chinese people and yet cower under pressure and danger? She must go in and trust that God would indeed protect her.

The soldiers escorted her to the prison gates, which were opened for her. As she walked slowly through the dark hallway which lead to the prison courtyard, she wondered if she could do this. She could barely walk her knees were shaking so. Slowly she approached the screaming and fighting. Dead and injured men lay scattered on the floor. Men were running after each other. There were fist fights going on. There were men who were destroying the prison property. In the middle of the maylay a very large man yielding a bloody ax was chasing men out of his path. He caught Gladysin the corner of his eye. He turned towards her, paused, and then broke out in a full run, ax held over his head!

As he approached Gladys’s perspective of the prison riot suddenly changed. How could they do this? How could they continue the bloodshed and destruction? She became incensed at their violence. Just as the man with the ax approached her, still screaming murderous threats, our very short lover of God spoke up sharply, “Give me that ax!” She held out her hand with confidence.

In the reproof of such a small white woman, the murderer stopped in his tracks. His ax dropped as he stared at her, stunned. He handed over his bloody ax in surrender.

When other prisoners noticed that their leader of had surrendered, the fighting began to stop as they one-by-one noticed Gladys holding the ax.

The riot was over.

After the outrage of their behavior had passed, Gladys began to talk to these men about why they had started the riot in the first place. The men admitted to being hungry and bored. Over the next couple of months Gladys worked as intermediary between the prisoners and the prison officials. She set up a work program within the prison, which would give the men a purpose for living and a way to buy food for themselves. She would visit them often sharing Bible stories and the love of God with the men who had been given up by all others.

The riot had stopped. But it was not our small missionary who had brought the men to their knees. It had, as the Mandarin challenged, indeed been the great God living inside of her that had brought about change and revival. It was our God.

The God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, is still bringing about peace in the place of destruction. He is the God of life in the midst of death and destruction. He is the God who lives inside of you and who is urging you to walk into that rioting prison so He can show Himself big!

I pray that we women of Kings Harbor Church can, with the encouragement and prayer of fellow sisters in Christ, can walk through those prison gates and face difficult relationships, terrifying situations, or destructive habits! Go through even though your knees are shaking! The God who lives inside of you will guide you and protect you and be glorified through you!

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7

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