Gladys Aylward was known in China as the small woman. While that name was apropos for her stature of barely five feet, it belied the height of her courage in the Lord. On Saturday, 18 October 1930, she departed Liverpool Street Station with ninepence pocket change and two pounds in a Cook’s traveler’s check, today’s equivalent of $2.72 in coin and $145.28 in paper. The traveler’s check was sewn into her corset along with her Bible, fountain pen, tickets, and passport.
Her biography here is retelling of Alan Burgess’ excellent account The Small Woman
The China Inland Mission
“You’ve been with us now for three months, I wee, Miss Aylward?” said the Principal seated across from young Gladys. She was twenty-six and had been born in Edmonton relatively close to the China Inland Mission located in London.
“Yes, sir.” Gladys replied sitting with tight-clenched fingers
“Theology, now—?” he said as he reviewed her progress reports with pursed lips.
“I wasn’t very good at theology, was I?” she quietly responded. How could she make him understand or even argue with this educated man reviewingt her examinations.
“No, you weren’t. Not good at all.” he replied. She had no pretense to her lack of educational background.
“You see, Miss Aylward,” he continued sympathetically, “all these scholastic shortcomings are very important, but the most important of all is your age. If you stayed at the China Inland Mission Centre for another three years and then e sent you out, you would be about thirty by the time you arrived.”
“Our experience tells us that after the age of thirty, unless pupils are quite exceptional, they find it extremely difficult to learn the Chinese language. In view of all this, you will understand, I’m sure, that there seems to be little point in your continuing with your studies here. We accepted you to be trained in good faith, on trial. If you went on, it would be a waste of everyone’s time and money…” his doubtful response trailing off unfinished.
He paused and then told her about an elderly married couple in Bristol who, having just returned from the mission field in China, need someone to help take care of them. “Would you be prepared to consider the job?” he siad.
“I don’t want to go back to being a parlourmaid unless I have to,” she interjected, but knew the ecomonic necessities she faced.
And so to Bristol Gladys went.
Use Me God!
Not long after she entered service for the old missionary couple inBristol, she came into the employ of Sir Francis Youngblood, a prominent soldier, explorer, and author once again a parlourmaid. Having been shown to her quarters and placing on top of her Bible the two and a half pence that was all the money she had, she became dispirit.
“Oh, God, here’s my Bible! Here’s my money! Here’s me! Use me, God!” she cried as the door opened, and a fellow maid looked at her puzzled.
“You, Gladys?” she said. “Missus wants to see you.” Gladys made her way down to the drawing room where her mistress was waiting.
“Miss Aylward…I hope you’ll be happy here. How much was your fare?” Gladys not understanding, she continued, “I always pay the fares of the maids I employ when they come to me.”
“Two and ninepence,” Gladys replied.
“Here’s three shillings…” she trailed off in further detail as she handed Gladys the money.
Propelled with new energy as she entered her quarters, three shillings joined the others laying on her Bible. Elated with this sudden answer to prayer, she felt as if she was already halfway to China!
“We Do Not Deliver Our Customers—Dead!”
The Mullers travel agent was astonished. He had just patiently explained that while the cheapest and fastest route to anywhere in China was over land acrosse Europe and then Russia by the Trans-Siberian railway was only forty-seven pounds it was quite impossible. “There is a conflict between Russia and China at the end of the line.”
“I couldn’t really care about a silly old war. It’s the cheapest way, isn’t it? That’s what I want. Now, if you’ll book me a passage, you can have this three pounds on account, and I’ll pay you as much as I can every week.” she said.
“We do not like to deliver our customers—dead!” he said pedantically.
She stared at him with a feminely logical look and torted, “Oh, they won’t hurt me. I’m a woman. They won’t bother about me.”
He continued to explain with care how a Chinese war lord was trying to force Russia to give up all claims to the Trans-Siberian railway across Manchuria. Undelcared war was in progress and there was no guarantee of her safety, even though she was a woman.
Undaunted, she pushed her three pound notes in his hand and said, “It’ll all be over by the time I get the rest, I’m sure.If you’ll order me a ticket, I’ll bring in my money every week until I’ve paid the balance. Is that all right?”
With capitulation he replied, “Very well, madam, I don’t know what the management would think about this, but I expect it will be all right.”