Gladys Aylward (1902-1970), a plucky British missionary to China, was once led of the Lord to minister for several months in China’s second largest prison. At the same time, she was ministering at a nearby leper colony, and the Christians there earnestly prayed for her prison ministry.
Of her daily evangelistic ministry in the prison courtyard, Gladys related: “Rows and rows of horrible, dirty, cruel-faced, degraded men were lined up, with jailers at the end of each row. They were shouting, laughing and jeering. I was so small that a kind of little mound had to be built up for me to stand on. I talked to them, I told them stories, then they trotted off. Day after day I stood on that little mound, my heart hammering wildly, but with the knowledge of the terrible, desperate need of these men driving me on.”
Other Christians joined Gladys in the prison ministry, and after a few months forty prisoners had been converted and were in a class preparing for baptism. But thousands of prisoners still mocked at God’s Word, and the widespread spiritual blessing that the Christians had been diligently asking the Lord to bring to the prison had not come.
One of the prisoners Gladys sought to minister to was a murderer, of whom she reported: “Mr. Shan was young, handsome and arrogant, but there was something about him I felt to be utterly evil. He looked at me in a horribly offensive fashion and said unrepeatable things. I disliked him intensely, but I prayed for him, and I got my friends to pray for him. One day I tried to speak to him, but with an oath he turned and spat in my face, and I felt I almost hated him.”
Chinese prisoners like those to whom Gladys Aylward ministered
Once after Gladys finished speaking in the courtyard, the prisoners formed into their lines to return to their cells. They always had to move at a trot, and were not to speak or be spoken to as they moved along. But that day, as Gladys saw Mr. Shan approaching, she sensed the Lord’s definite leading to speak to him. She was so agitated that she leaned forward, placed her hand on his shoulder and burst out, “Oh, Mr. Shan, aren’t you miserable?”
He threw off her hand with a horrible curse then angrily asked, “What is it to do with you if I am miserable?” “Because I am so happy,” she replied. “Of course you are,” he shot back. “Doesn’t the door open for you whenever you want to go out?” “Ah, that isn’t the reason,” she responded. “It is because Jesus Christ died for me.”
Shan moved on, and Gladys suddenly realized, to her dismay, that she had just violated one of China’s strictest unwritten laws – that no woman touches a man in public. She left the prison that day depressed and ashamed.
Meanwhile, Shan followed the line of prisoners to an inner courtyard where he sat down on a stone, his head bowed in his hands. Moments later, Dhu Cor, the first man who had been converted in the prison, saw Shan sitting there and asked, “Are you going to be ill?”
“Did you see what she did?” Shan queried. “What?” Dhu Cor responded. “She touched me.” “No. That is a lie!” “It is no lie. She put her hand on my shoulder.” “I cannot believe it.” Another prisoner who had been listening stated, “What he says is true. She did touch him.”
But then Shan gasped, “She touched me as if she loved me!” “Perhaps she does love you,” Dhu Cor replied. “What, a clean woman like her, love me, a murderer, who has cursed her and spat at her?!” Shan asked incredulously. “Yes,” responded Dhu Cor, “I believe she could because she believes that God loves you no matter what you have done.”
Mr. Shan’s heart was opened to the message of God’s love, and he trusted in Christ Jesus as his Savior from sin. His conversion was the beginning of a marked spiritual awakening that took place at the prison. Prisoners spent hours listening to the reading and teaching of God’s Word and hours more on their knees in prayer. So many prisoners were saved that afterward it took three full days of continuous baptisms for all of them to publicly profess their faith in Christ through that means.
The prison warden, convinced by the obvious alteration he had seen in even the most hardened criminals, was converted. He readily proclaimed that what he had been unable to do in five years, the power of the glorious Gospel of Christ had accomplished in one.
This true incident from Gladys Aylward’s ministry is recorded in her autobiography (co-authored with Christine Hunter), Gladys Aylward, The Little Woman. Other worthwhile books on Glady’s remarkable life and ministry include: A London Sparrow, The Story of Gladys Aylward, by Phyllis Thompson; Gladys Aylward, The Courageous English Missionary, by Catherine Swift.
Copyright 2016 by Vance E. Christie