The Amazing and Selfless Life of Gladys Aylward (A Missionary to China) As Told in a 1970s Children’s Magazine (See What Kids Are Missing Out These Days!!!)

Children’s magazines are no longer what they used to be!

If you flip open most children’s magazine these days, they are filled with tales of witchcraft and carnal fantasy, pandering to the young minds of this age.

However, back in the 70s, there used to be a British children’s magazine called “Look and Learn” (which was sold in Singapore), that featured informative articles and even Christians-themed ones like the one featured below:

ON THE RUN: MARCH OF THE LITTLE CHILDREN

The strange and wonderful story of a London parlourmaid, who went to China as a missionary and became a ‘mother’ to over a hundred children during a long and arduous march to escape an enemy army

SHORTLY after sunrise, the band of orphan and refugee children started out on their long march to safety. Singing hymns at the top of their young voices, they left the only real home most of them had known, heading towards the mountains and the walled city of Sian, in North China.

They knew they might not reach Sian alive, but despite this they showed few signs of fear. To many of them the journey was a wonderful adventure. And they all had faith in Ai-weh-deh, the small Englishwoman who was their friend and leader.

Ai-weh-deh would guide them and protect them from the Japanese soldiers who were devastating the nearby towns and villages. In Chinese, her name meant “The Virtuous One,” and the mission children knew her only as this. They watched her lovingly as she marched along with them, making sure that the stragglers and younger ones weren’t left behind, and keeping the more daring boys in check with strong blasts on her whistle.

Soon they had left Yangcheng behind them. The mission there — the beautifully named Inn of the Sixth Happiness – was a bomb-shattered ruin. The children would never sleep in it again, and Ai-weh-deh had somehow to provide for a hundred boisterous youngsters, aged between four and fifteen, who had no money, and nothing to eat but a basketful of millet.

On the first of the twelve nights of their march, they sheltered in a Buddhist temple which was presided over by a single priest. The millet was quickly eaten and, as the children fell contentedly asleep, Ai-weh-deh wondered who would befriend them next. She couldn’t help wondering, too whether she would ever see England and her home in London again.

‘FOREIGN DEVIL’

Eleven years previously, in 1930,

Ai-weh-deh had been Gladys Aylward, a young London parlourmaid who dreamed of becoming a missionary in China, and who had saved every penny of her meagre wages to pay her fare out there.

It took her months of hard work to raise enough money, and when she eventually arrived in the Chinese town of Yangcheng, she was practically penniless. Not only that. She spoke no Chinese, and she was greeted by the people she hoped to help with great hostility. The children called her a “foreign devil~, laughing when their mothers jeered at her, and throwing dried mud after her in the street.

But neither mud nor insults could dissuade Gladys Aylward from her purpose. She cared little for ordinary life, and felt she owed it to God to live selflessly. She became friendly with another missionary in Yangcheng, a frail Scottish woman called Jannie Lawson, who had spent more than fifty years teaching the Gospel in the rough, mountainous country north of the Yellow River. Together they decided to turn Mrs. Lawson’s house into an inn. The town was a recognized stopping place for mule caravans, and they could cater for the hardy muleteers, who led their teams all over north China. If the men were well looked after, fed tasty meals and given comfortable beds, they would tell everyone they met that the “foreign devils” were not so fearsome after all. And if they could be induced to listen to sermons while they ate, then the Inn of the Sixth Happiness would really be a place of God.

At first the “guests” were so unwilling that they had literally to be pulled into the inn. Gladys would wait with arms folded in the doorway until a mule team came past. Then she would grab the reins, and haul the anima ls and the muleteers into the courtyard.

In due course the mules were unpacked, and the men were listening with full stomachs and open mouths to wonderful stories about a man called Jesus Christ who lived many years ago in a country called Palestine, and who cared more for others than for himself.

Gradually, the two “foreign devils” became an accepted part of Yangcheng life. Gladys started to learn Chinese, and after some weeks of dragging in clients, the muleteers and coolies began to visit the inn of their own accord.

Shortly after this success, Gladys was asked by the prison governor to help quell a riot in the local jail. A convict had run amok with an axe, and no one could take it from him. Perhaps the small woman “with the living God inside her” could calm the frenzied man and stop the prisoners fighting?

Gladys did this with a plucky determination which won her the respect of prison officers and convicts alike. She demanded the axe from the man, and told the prisoners, “You should all be ashamed of yourselves.”

It was then that she first became known as Ai-weh-deh, The Virtuous One. She gained permission for the imprisoned criminals to come to Sunday service at the inn, and cared for as many urchins and orphans as she had food and space for.

PERILOUS MARCH

So the years passed until, in 1936, Gladys Aylward became a naturalized Chinese citizen. She felt more at home in China than she ever had been in London; and when, two years later, the Japanese dropped their first bombs on Yangcheng, she felt as indignant and distressed as only a native could.

The war between the heavily armed Japanese and the far worse equipped Chinese was a bitter one. Thousands of innocent civilians were bombed, tortured, and killed.

On one occasion Ai-weh-deh herself was brutally beaten into unconsciousness by a group of Japanese soldiers.

Always she feared for the safety of the children in her charge, and at times evacuated them from their beloved Inn of the Sixth Happiness. They once lived for six weeks m a remote mountain cave, sleeping on beds made from dried rushes, drinking twig tea, and eating the inevitable boiled millet.

The bravery and devotion of the little missionary soon came to the attention of the Japanese authorities. They regarded her as a threat to their military success, and posted a notice about her on the gates of towns and villages.

The notice was headed, “One hundred dollars reward!” and read: “One hundred dollars reward will be paid by the Japanese army for information leading to the capture, alive, of any one of the three people listed below.” The third name on the list – after those of a mandarin and a loyal Nationalist businessman – was “the small Woman, known as Ai-weh-deh.”

It was obvious now that Gladys Aylward and her band of war orphans would have to flee the district. They thought they could find sanctuary in Sian, across the mountains and over the Yellow River, and so the little pilgrimage set out on its march of hope.

After the first night in the temple, the going got steadily worse. They slept in the open for the next few nights, shivering with cold and trying to shelter from the biting wind behind rocks. At the end of a week they were tired, dirty, footsore, bleeding, and suffering cruelly from hunger and thirst.

Still they continued onwards, begging what nourishment they could from villages along the way. A platoon of Nationalist troops befriended them one evening, allowed them to sleep at their camp, and gave them the sort of food they had been starved of for years.

Travelling on foot, by boat across a river, and then by train, the refugees eventually reached Sian. They had been marching for twelve punishing days, and the final pain came when they were denied entry to Sian and had to take yet another train to the ancient city of Fufeng, where they were housed in a temple orphanage.

All this happened in 1941. Nine years later, Gladys Aylward said goodbye to China and sailed home to England.

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Improving Cross-Cultural Communication — A Basic Overview for Christian Missionaries

In this essay, I attempt to give a basic overview on the subject of cross-cultural communication. This essay is aimed at would-be Christian missionaries, who may have read of its importance in the mission field.

According to Wikipedia, cross-cultural communication is the “field of study that looks at how people from differing cultural backgrounds communicate”.

There are 3 concepts that are closely associated with cross-cultural communication, and they are defined below:

Cultural sensitivity:  Knowing that cultural differences as well as similarities exist, without assigning values (i.e. better or worse, right or wrong) to those cultural differences.

Cultural awareness:  Developing sensitivity and understanding of another ethnic group. This usually involves internal changes in terms of attitudes and values.

Cultural knowledge:  Familiarisation with selected cultural characteristics, history, values, belief systems, and behaviours of the members of another ethic group.

The way I see it, the key to improving cross-cultural communication is, firstly, to be culturally sensitive (that is, to be aware that differences exists between cultures, as opposed to being ignorant of differences, or worse, to gloss over them), and next, to increase cultural awareness and knowledge of a culture of interest.

This begs the question of how can one increase knowledge of a target culture.

One can, of course, perform a search over the Internet, but, I think the best information out there is available in book form. Specifically, I would recommend the book Kiss, Bow, Or Shake Hands: The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More Than 60 Countries and the CULTURESHOCK! series of books by the publisher, Marshall Cavendish.

Besides reading up on a culture of interest, I think that awareness of a target culture (vis a vis one’s own culture) can be increased through the use Geert Hofstede’s dimensions of culture model.

According to Hofstede, every national culture can be characterised based on 6 dimensions, and are as follows:

  • Power Distance Index
  • Individualism versus Collectivism
  • Masculinity versus Femininity
  • Uncertainty Avoidance Index
  • Long Term Orientation versus Short Term Normative Orientation
  • Indulgence versus Restraint

Full details of Hofstede’s model are available in his textbook, Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, Third Edition, however, I think the book would be more suitable for academics studying cross-cultural communications, than for people in the missions field. (Nonetheless, I bring it up because, for readers living in Singapore, the book is actully available for loan at the National Library).

One major plus point about using Hofstede’s model is that Hofstede’s website (http://geert-hofstede.com/countries.html) allows one to do country versus country comparisons.

So, for example, if one is a Singaporean who is interested in becoming a missionary in the United States, the ‘country versus country’ comparison tool in Hofstede’s website would give one an indication of the differences between the two cultures:

Singapore versus America_Cultural Comparison

Source:  The Hofstede Centre (http://geert-hofstede.com/)

The greater the difference between one’s culture and the culture of the one’s mission field should not dissuade one from entering the field (after all, one should obey the Lord’s call), but it should perhaps serve as a warning of greater preparatory work needed (e.g. in studying the culture and in prayer). The greater the cultural differences, the higher would be the risk of misunderstandings and grievances — thus, the greater need for prayer.

Finally, numerous textbooks on cross-cultural communications have been written, and most are secular, but there are a couple that are faith-based, and these include the following: