Gladys Aylward: A Heart for China

Last week I had the chance to speak to a group of local women — and my mother, who had never heard me speak in public until then — about a group of women I’ve come to regard as my spiritual mothers: Women whose example led me, as surely as Moses led the Chosen People to the Promised Land, to where I am today. They (clockwise from upper left): My confirmation namesake, Amy Carmichael; Gertrude “Biddy” Chambers, widow of Oswald Chambers; Gladys Aylward; Mother Teresa; Elisabeth Elliot; and Corrie. ten Boom. (I’ve linked each of their names to my favorite books by or about them, in case you’d like to learn more.)

Like Moses, most of them did not “cross over,” as I did, into the Catholic Church (Mother Teresa is the only professed Catholic among them). And yet, each of them left an indelible stamp upon my spirit through their lives and writings.

Tonight mom and I finished reading the book about Gladys Aylward, the British missionary to China (1902-1970), whose story was retold (with great liberties) in the movie The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, starring Ingrid Bergman. After twenty years preaching the Gospel to teems of people suffering under Communist oppression, she felt the Lord call her back home. At first she was incredulous — she had by that time become a Chinese citizen, dressing like them, eating like them, even thinking like them. And yet, she said,

“England, seemingly so prosperous while other countries passed through terrible suffering at the hands of Communist domination, had forgotten what was all-important — the realization that God mattered in the life of a nation no less than in that of an individual…. I knew that I must go back to the land of my birth. I must return to do what I could to dispel the spiritual lethargy that had overtaken so many. I must testify to the great faith of the Chinese church. I must let people know what great things God has done for me” (The Little Woman, 136).

This was nearly fifty years ago, and yet not much has changed. The “underground” Church of faithful Christians continues to suffer and to struggle, and even to die.

Pray with me for the Holy Father, for the Christians in China … and for all those on the front lines, who seek to ease the suffering of the “least of these” who continue to suffer simply for naming the Blessed Name. Mother Gladys, pray for us, that we might not be afraid to stand with your beloved people.

Another much admired figure, from the Civil War era at Notre Dame, I’d like to write about one day: Sister Angela Gillespie.

Advertisements

Thomas and Meg More: Father/Daughter Love from Archbishop Chaput (The Love Project, Day 17)

thomas moreIn a recent address to young adults, Archbishop Chaput recounted the story of British martyr (and patron of adopted children) St. Thomas More, whose daughter Meg was largely responsible for keeping her father’s story alive after his martyrdom. Observed Archbishop Chaput:

More was a real saint, and so — like us — he was made of human clay. In his prison cell, More often struggled with fear and doubt. The person who sustained him in his distress, more than anyone else, was his daughter Meg. As with all his children, More had played a personal role in Meg’s education. They were very close, a natural complement of minds. In their last meeting before his execution, More embraced her and said, “You alone have long known the secrets of my heart.” As a father and tutor, More had raised Meg to be an articulate, confident, supremely gifted Christian woman; a published female author at a time when that distinction was extremely rare. In one sense, her life was More’s greatest achievement.

Meg’s story reminded me a bit of the wife of Oswald Chambers, early 19th century Scottish Presbyterian chaplain whose untimely death due to a ruptured appendix while serving the British military in Egypt. If it were not for “Biddy’s” tireless efforts at recording his sermons in shorthand, the classic My Utmost for His Highest might never have been written. In the lives of both these women, we see the hand of God at work in unlikely yet highly effective ways.

One daughter, one wife — two women responsible for extending the “reach” of the men they loved far beyond their earthly lives. An uncommon kind of love expressed by Oswald himself: “If you are going to be used by God, he will take you through a myriad of experiences that are not meant for you at all. They are meant to make you useful in his hands.”

Recently I’ve had opportunities to talk with more than one woman in her twenties or thirties who wonder why they have not yet met “Mr. Right,” why God is waiting so long to bring them their life’s partner. In reality, marriage is not a destination, but a mode of travel. The question is: where is God leading you — and for what purpose? Could there be a Thomas More or Oswald Chambers whose work you are meant to extend . . . or might God have something uniquely your own to accomplish, first?

Today’s Love in Action: When was the last time you told your father you love him — and admire him? Even if he has failed you in some respects, try to find something for which you are genuinely thankful . . . and write or tell him about it this week. If he is no longer living, light a candle for him, and thank God instead.