God’s Outliers: Gladys Aylward

November 8, 2010 — 1 Comment

When Malcolm Gladwell wrote his book, Outliers**, he focused on people who were exceptionally successful, outside the statistical norm. The examples demonstrated how talent plus opportunity plus hours of practice equals success.

But that equation doesn’t apply when you look at God’s outliers. His chosen success stories are often unassuming people, because to follow Jesus doesn’t take special human talent. You don’t have to be not wise or influential or come from a prominent family. In fact, it may be easier if you are poor rather than rich. Think of David, the shepherd, and Peter the unschooled fisherman. God doesn’t seem to mind taking people who are nothing in the world’s eyes and turning them into His faithful servants.

Over the centuries, there have been thousands of unsung saints like this whom we’ll never know about while we are here on earth. Although spiritually ‘successful’, they lived their humble lives without seeking the limelight and their sacrifices went unnoticed. If it hadn’t been for World War II and then a reporter trying to uncover spectacular stories, Gladys Aylward would have been one of these quiet saints. She would have lived an extraordinary but obscure life for God in China. But thanks to Alan Burguess, her amazing acts of faith and love became known, first in a book, The Small Woman, and then in a movie, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness [played by Ingrid Bergman no less].**

So now we’ve learned the thrilling story of how she quelled a prison riot, gained the confidence of the local magistrate, and took in abandoned children.**

Then after eight years, the Japanese invaded China, and bombed the area where she lived. She led 100 orphans in her care on 12-day trek to escape the Japanese through the mountains since it wasn’t safe to take the roads or public transportation. Some nights they found shelter with friendly hosts [with 100 children!]. Some nights they spent unprotected in the mountains, always afraid of being captured or killed by the Japanese. After walking 100 miles they finally reached safety.

It may sound exotic and glamorous but there was little in her life that suggested she would be one of God’s heroines.

*She was short, [under 5 feet]
*Not particularly religious growing up
*Uneducated without any exceptional talent, leaving school at age 14 to work as a maid]
*When she did feel called to share the gospel in China, she was rejected by a missions agency, in part because they didn’t think she had the ability to learn a difficult language like Chinese.
*She had no money, and no husband.

But she worked extra hours and saved her money, and at the age of 28 she set off for China to help an elderly Christian worker in a remote mountain city south of Beijing. There she settled down and started her 10,000 hours in the school of sainthood, living without heat or running water, eating strange food, having no friends or church, with little money, and no chance to go on home leave or visit Beijing. She became one of God’s outliers by living faithful day after day, coping with boredom and frustration and hardship and suffering. Eventually, she became known in the area as A-Weh-Deh, “the virtuous one”.

After the war she moved back to England to recover her health. Along the way, thanks to the book and the movie, she became famous. But that didn’t stop her. Having acquired influence and money, she started another orphanage in Taiwan where she died at the age of 68.**


Son of one of the children who made the mountain trek with Gladys, now a pastor in France

For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”
made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

II Corinthians 4:5-7

Links
Bedtime Snacks: The Outliers
Gladys Aylward’s life before the war
The story of her life during and after the war

Pass the Popcorn
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness

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