Gladys Aylward felt God’s call upon her life to preach the Gospel in China, but no Christian organization would support her. She was told that she was neither smart enough nor fit enough to be a missionary to China, but she could always support missionaries monetarily… Those words would break down those of weaker faith, but no matter what people said, Gladys was convinced of God’s call upon her life. She worked to buy her own way to China, and personally made arrangements for where she would go and what she would do once she got there.
After many long days and short nights, Gladys made it to China, but that was only the beginning of her toil for Christ. She showed herself willing to give up health, time, and comfort, everything she had, for the glory of the One Who called her.
Eventually, she earned the name, Ai-weh-deh, virtuous one; she was respected and revered by all her knew her; and she was honored to call herself a Chinese citizen.
When Japan invaded China, Gladys stayed and helped to bring over 200 children to a city of refuge. The journey was long and took its toll on her; when they arrived at their destination, she lapsed into a coma. She suffered from typhus, pneumonia, a relapsing fever, malnutrition, and supreme exhaustion; it was a miracle that she survived at all. And when God revived her and she gained enough strength, she dove straight back into ministry; preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherever she went. But after the war with Japan was over, the internal war for China continued; the Communists destroyed more of their own people than the Japanese ever did. And this is where I want to share with you a part of a book on Gladys’s life; the part that struck the deepest chord in my heart. (I underlined sections for emphasis; they were not underlined in the book.)
Within months, the Communist party took control of the university. It made each of its five hundred students fill out a long questionnaire. Some of the questions were very strange, some even funny, like How many children does your uncle have? How much money did your grandfather have when he died? But the last question had dangerous implications for Christians. What political party do you support? If you are for the government (Communists), put a circle. If you are against it, put an “X.”
For each student, answering this question was a serious matter. To draw a circle was to say you were for the new government, which meant you and your family would be favored with good jobs and good money. To put an “X” meant that you were against the government and you would be marked for life and not be allowed good jobs or opportunities in your own country. Each student carefully considered his or her answer. When the circles and X’s were counted, the officials were furious. Two hundred questionnaires had X’s on them. The government had to find out what was happening. It was not difficult to discover. Student after student told about their conversion to Christianity through Gladys’s preaching and explained that they now supported Jesus Christ and no one else.
Of course, this made the leaders of the Communist party very angry. They needed every student’s loyalty, and so the three hundred students who had drawn circles on the questionnaire were called to a secret meeting. They were told to harass the Christian students any way they could until the Christian students agreed to support the Communists. A month later, the questionnaire was given again. This time when the papers were collected, there were even more X’s than before. Instead of the Communists changing the Christian students’ minds, it had worked the other way around!
Again, the circle drawers were called together. They were told by the Communists they must do more to stop the Christians. So prayer meetings were broken up, and Christian students were beaten in darkened alleys. But at the end of a month, not one of the Christian students was ready to support the Communists. In fact, they were more determined than ever not to support them. This angered the Communists very much. They assigned ten communist supporters to each Christian student to break them down. The Christian students were not allowed to talk to each other, and they were constantly mocked by their companions. Every movement they made and every word they said was recorded. After three months of this, the Communist party called an open meeting in the town square. Gladys was there, praying for the students.
Over two hundred students were marched into the square, heavily guarded by Communist troops. A man clutching a sheath of papers climbed onto a box. He picked up the first sheet of paper and read a name loudly. A seventeen-year-old girl stepped forward from the group of prisoners. Gladys recognized her as a member of a family from Peking that, before the war, had been very wealthy. The girl was one of the newest converts. Gladys shivered as she thought about the pressure the girl had been living under for the previous three months.
The Communist official cleared his throat. He looked directly at the girl. “Who do you support now?” he asked.
The crowd was hushed. The girl spoke loudly and clearly. “Sir, three months ago, I thought Jesus Christ was real, and I thought the Bible was true. Now after three months of your hatred, I know Jesus Christ is real, and I know the Bible is true.”
The official, his face turned white with rage, yelled to one of the soldiers on his left. The teenage girl was pulled roughly into the center of the square and shoved to her knees. With one swift movement, the Communist soldier drew his sword and sliced the girl’s head off. Gladys buried her own head in her hands. All she could do was pray the same prayer Mrs. Lawson had taught her, the one she had prayed after seeing her name on the wanted poster at Yangcheng. “If they must die, let them not be afraid of death, but let there be a meaning, O God, in their dying.”
As much as she wanted to flee from the terrible sight, Gladys stayed while each of the more than two hundred students was asked whether he or she would support the Communist government. Even though they knew for certain they were only moments from death, not one of them said they supported the Communists. Every one of them was beheaded. (Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime, pages 195-198)
Which of you, in your struggle against sin, have resisted to the point of shedding your own blood? (Hebrews 12:4)
Growing up in the United States has been pretty easy. Never has my life been threatened for any reason, much less for the reason that I hold Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I am allowed to worship my God as I wish, and I was even allowed to quote the Bible in my papers in college.
I have never been tested like those young Chinese students; I have been tempted, I have gone through trials, but I cannot say that I have gone through outright persecution. I have never been asked to choose between breath and Jesus, between being whole and being scarred. But even if I were asked such questions, my reply would stem from this truth; life and breath are synonymous with Jesus. I am a daughter of God, and my heart is forever made alive by His wondrous and impossible love, no matter what anyone does or says to me. To deny Christ is death, to confess His name is life. No matter what threats are thrown my way, no one has the power to take my soul, so I will proclaim the name of Jesus Christ, no matter what.
However, many Christian who have been persecuted and killed for their faith, both today and in the past, did not die quick deaths at the hand of their captors; they have been tortured beyond what anyone should ever suffer. Yet, praise be to God that many of those who suffered, patiently endured hardship and kept their faith until the end; they knew that their Father was waiting and that He had prepared a place for them that no pain or sorrow could ever touch. God the Father rejoiced to see their faith, and those who have died in the name of Jesus Christ are now healed, comforted, and beyond the reach of any oppressor. I can only imagine the rejoicing in Heaven when a son or daughter comes before the throne of God and says, “I loved not my life to the death.” (Revelation 12:11)
I don’t know if I will ever suffer for my faith as many Christians around the world now suffer, but I want to be able to say that I did not love my life more than I loved Jesus. Some days, it is hard to love and serve God, to give up what my flesh longs after and live for my Savior, but every day, it is worth it to deny myself and serve the One Who loves me best.
Those young students in China, and Gladys as well, knew that Jesus was real and that the Bible was true. It was for that reason that they lived and that they laid down their lives. But what would you say when put to the test? Would you deny Christ, thereby forfeiting your soul and gaining a perishable life? Or would you profess the name of Jesus Christ all the more boldly, receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your soul? (1 Peter 1:9)
One day, perhaps not far from today, you will be tested. You may be asked if you would rather die and live for Christ or live and die to true life. You will be asked to choose between sin and God. I hope that you will consider now whom you will serve and love; either you will serve and love those who hate you and desire to separate you from God or you will serve and love the God Who made you, loves you, and has called you to be holy as He is holy. My prayers go with you. May you be able to stand on the day of your test and boldly proclaim, “I support Jesus Christ and no one else. For, to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
1. Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime. Written by Janet and Geoff Benge.
– If you want to buy the book, or read stories of other inspiring missionaries, then check out YWAM’s Christian Heroes: Then and Now series.