The Influence of One Small Woman

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Walter Albritton

By WALTER ALBRITTON

While visiting Methodist mission stations in Southeast Asia, my wife and I worshipped one Sunday at an English-speaking church in Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan. Arriving early, we were greeted warmly by our host and invited to take a seat in the fellowship hall with those who were listening to the pastor’s devotional message. We sat down beside a nondescript woman and a little boy whom I assumed was her grandson. 

As the meeting concluded, our host walked over and asked, “Have you met Mrs. Aylward?” Somewhat embarrassed, I said we had not, for I had paid no attention to the little woman. Our host introduced us to Mrs. Gladys Aylward, whose name meant nothing to me. He went on to explain that Gladys was the remarkable woman whose life was portrayed by Ingrid Bergman in the movie, “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.” Suddenly our interest in this little woman went from zero to ten because we had seen the movie and loved it.

The movie is based on a book about Gladys written by Alan Burgess and titled The Small Woman. It is the true story of a chambermaid in Great Britain who believed God wanted her to go to China as a missionary. Incredibly, with no formal education, no support from anyone and no money of her own, Gladys works as a maid and earns enough money for a train ticket to China. She served there during the years leading up to World War II.

Aylward’s courage in the face of invading Japanese soldiers is the focus of the movie. Tenacious and courageous only begin to describe this remarkable woman who led dozens of children to safety over a treacherous mountain range. There, in that fellowship hall in Taipei, I was recalling scenes from that movie as I looked down at the frail little lady who was smiling as she shook my hand.

Gladys shared with us that, still caring for children, she was now  operating two homes for orphans who were mainly abandoned children. Putting her arm around the boy beside her, she said, “This little fellow was left at my door when he was an infant. I have raised him as my own child.” I assumed she had adopted him when she told me his name was David Aylward.

Thinking again about the movie about her life, I asked Gladys if the movie had portrayed her life accurately. I was stunned when she replied, “I have never seen the movie.” Tears filled my eyes. I felt like taking off my shoes in the presence of a woman who was too busy caring for abandoned children to bother looking at a Hollywood movie describing her life.

Our conversation with Gladys Aylward lasted no more than 15 minutes but meeting her made a profound difference in our lives. Dean and I were never the same. We had met an authentic servant of Jesus whose devotion to our Lord inspired us to seek a new level of surrender to his purpose for our lives.

There, for a few minutes, looking into the face of that small woman, I know now I was seeing the face of the Christ. And He was reminding me that there is no limit to his power to transform and use a person who is totally sold out to Him.

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