Since the first time I saw it on TV as a teenager, one of my favorite movies has been “Inn of the Sixth-Happiness”, with Ingrid Bergman, Curt Jürgens and Robert Donat. I bought a VHS tape of it when as soon as I could and I have owned a DVD for some time now. Yes, it is that good; the writing, the acting the cinematography, and the story.
I knew that it was based on the life and experiences of a real woman, who, without training, without backing, and armed with almost nothing but faith that God called her to do so, went to China as a missionary. She went through danger and hardship only to find more of the same in China, yet she and God prevailed.
I was also aware that movies often embellish or outright change many things about people’s lives in movies, so I have always been curious about the real story of Gladys Aylward, but I could never find the book, “The Little Woman” in any bookstore or library. Interlibrary loans and online booksellers could not come up with a copy for many years, (when I had the time and remembered to look), but finally, a couple of months ago, I found many copies available and, always with a frugal book budget, I treated myself to a Kindle version.
With this year an unusual one, (which will be an upcoming topic as suggested by The Hound), I have had trouble staying with stories, to write or to read. I made myself sit down while the house was quiet, family was away, and I was surprised by “The Small Woman” in many ways.First of all, I felt disappointed in the casual way Miss Aylward breezed by her decision and (as little as it was), preparation, to go to China. I thought the movie had simplified it, but in reality, it had been enhanced. The dangers and privation she was put through on her way, (and worse that she saw), was much downplayed in the movie, yet, the way Miss Aylward tells it in the book, it is almost as though it was being related by an outside, dispassionate observer.
However, the more I read, the more I came to see that this little woman was nothing less than one of God’s prophets.
Like the Old Testament stories of which she was so fond and with which she consoled and converted so many, the little woman simply answered the call of God and God answered her every time, if in ways other than she ever would have imagined. Her faith was a true bond with God; her faith wavered but once, (which is one of the better answers she received), and God reciprocated by putting her in to situations which few would have endured , and that she certainly would not have endured without His constant Hand in everything that she was given to task. God actually spoke to her, as the few times she gives details bore out.
Would that there were more detailed accounts.
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness is a movie of faith and conversion of heart and soul, but is pale in comparison to the recountings in the book. Many situations shown in the movie have been condensed and put into closer proximity to others, or not given a full account, however, the movies is nearer to her stories than many other biographical translations to film.
As much as my heart swoons over the sweet and chaste romance of Ingrid and Curt’s characters in the movie, Gladys gave up her early dreams of being a wife with children of her own to become a mother to hundreds of children, and a spiritual mother to many adults.
The movie ends with Gladys leaving over one-hundred children with a missionary who was evacuating and with her heading back ‘home’ to a few children who were closest to her and to her soldier/love. That is not an accurate account and the real Gladys had much, much more to endure, and much of that was from what she suffered for years afterward in body and mind as a result of her ordeal delivering the children over mountains and across the Yellow River to an orphanage, (the second batch of over one-hundred that she had fostered and sent ahead with a Chinese missionary). Her life continued with trials and work in China, her necessary escape to England, speaking tours of America and back to ‘Free” China, mostly Formosa and Taiwan.
I am of two minds about Gladys Aylward. I believe that she was, indeed, a prophet of God. Her work and love showed almost no bounds; her willingness to do so much beyond most people’s capabilities, and she doing it with love. She did what most people would find unthinkable, even when it had been unthinkable to her, as well. God gave her the strength to face and come through incredible hardships for the sake of others, but she was human. I suppose if some of her skirting-over happenings and when, after all of her sacrifices, she seemed to walk away at times, perhaps she was simply being modest, I don’t know. (If this sounds much like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, many comparisons can be made.)
I do know that The Little Woman is an ‘easy’ read in that it is far too-short, but not for the faint of heart, no matter how delicately and without gore she tells her tale. Those who have never faced real evil, real trials of soul, hardships and those with closed minds to God’s work within people’s lives may find the book boring, or unbelievable. I found it to be inspiring. I think that many of you would, as well.