Monday, August 11, 2008

Faithful Women and their Extraordinary God - Pt 2

Judith Nicholls writes ...

Two astonishing “old maids”- Lilias Trotter and Gladys Aylward

When Gladys Aylward challenged her brother about missionary service to China he replied:

Not me. That’s an old maid’s job. Why don’t you go yourself?
And she did. That patronising epithet becomes a badge of honour in the lives of Lilias Trotter and Gladys Aylward.

Lilias Trotter, born to privilege, was a protégée of the Victorian painter John Ruskin. She gave up a career in art first to work in the slums of London and later in Algiers. With her female colleagues she witnessed to Christ in the face of great discouragement in the Arab quarter making excursions into the desert to evangelise the Bedouin.

Gladys Aylward was an uneducated Cockney parlour maid. Convinced she was called to China, she set out in the 1930s on a hair raising journey across Europe and Russia to China where she worked as a servant of the Chinese church, rescued one hundred orphans during World War II, spied for the Chinese nationalists, put down a prison riot, befriended a mandarin and finally ended her days in Taiwan.

Neither of these women would have made it through the selection criteria of a modern missionary society. Lilias suffered a debilitating heart condition while Gladys was regarded as insufficiently educated. (She went on to master both written and spoken Chinese.) Mission societies often look for “team-players” Gladys and Lilias show that there is a place for the eccentric loner.

Clearly God is not limited by the decisions of missionary selection committees. But does merely having a strong conviction qualify one as a missionary? Lilias and Gladys were women of fervent prayer, profound compassion for the lost, and gifted evangelists whose life experiences equipped them for their work. Although their understanding of guidance and use of Scripture are not always what I am comfortable with I give thanks for the witness of Christ’s power in their lives.

Picture of Lilias Trotter from:
Picture of Gladys Aylward from:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The differences in the pre-mission lives of these women stood out to me too.

Judith, it's an interesting point about the use of scripture and guidance (for me it was an even bigger issue in the Esther Ahn Kim story, but that's next week) but it also makes me wonder if we are *too* comfortable in the our own understanding of how it should happen. It raises the question (for me) of what it means to be led by the Spirit. I guess we have the benefit of observation from a distance (by time) and can see the fruit of their work. Lk6:44.

Regarding your question it seems that missionary organisations do a good job, but we hear stories from time to time (like the ones we're reading now) of others who don't fit the box but bear much fruit regardless. See eg: An amazing story!