Pondering “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness”: A Tribute to a Brave Missionary to China, Gladys Aylward

This week my wife and I watched a marvelous old movie from 1958, “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness” starring Ingrid Bergman. The movie about a female missionary’s amazing adventures and heroism in China in the 1930s was trashed by one major media source for not having a believable plot–the critic being unaware that it depicted the true story of a feisty English woman, Gladys Aylward.

The movie has its corny elements, too much poorly spoken Chinese, and a love story that is greatly exaggerated. In fact, it horrified the very virtuous Gladys to learn that the movie about her life included some “love scenes” (consisting primarily of violin music and some shy romantic glances gradually leading to a profession of love). But the movie depicts numerous events from her life and, in spite of errors that bothered its subject, seems to be much more realistic than most movies based on true stories. It was also a very strange and foreign movie, in terms of modern standards, for the lead role was a zealous, faithful Christian who was not a con artist, child abuser, or oppressive villain. She was sincere, devout, honest, faithful, and loving. Yes, this film actually came from Hollywood–obviously from a completely different and long-lost generation of movie makers.

Like Latter-day Saint pioneers, Gladys was part of a dangerous trek across hostile territory to lead a people to safety. It was in 1938 as her region was being invaded by Japan that she led 94 children to safety over the mountains to Xian, traveling a distance of about 100 miles. These were orphans that she cared for in her inn, the Inn of the Eighth Happiness (inexplicably demoted to the “Sixth Happiness” by Hollywood for the movie). She was driven by her faith and the desire to bless others and give hope to the next generation.

She had become a citizen of China in 1936 and her activities in support of the local populace, including a bit of spying on the Japanese made it unsafe to remain in Yangchen. Being warned of a bounty for her capture, dead or alive, by Colonel Linnan a member of the local Chinese resistance, she gathered up the children and narrowly escaped the city.

Unable to use roads or transportation, she was forced to lead her children, on foot, over the mountains to the safer province of Sian some 100 miles distant. The trek took twenty seven days in which they had to endure the elements and many hardships. She herself had become ill en route and when they finally arrived safely, she collapsed. The doctors were amazed by the feat as she was suffering from typhus, pneumonia, a relapsing fever, malnutrition, and supreme exhaustion.

She regained some strength but never recovered totally from her illness yet this didn’t stop her from continuing her ministry, now located in Sian. She started a church and once more she was sharing the Gospel in the villages, prisons and among the sick and helpless. (Source: TLogical.net.)

After Mao took over China, she fled to England, seeking to bring the Gospel to the nation where she sensed great spiritual needs. She wanted to return to China later but was denied entry, so she settled in Taiwan in 1953.

She died in 1970 is buried in Taipei County, Taiwan. She refused honor and recognition and simply did all she could to serve God.

You can listen to some of her sermons late in life at SermonIndex.net. I like the way she teaches!


Author: Jeff Lindsay

4 thoughts on “Pondering “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness”: A Tribute to a Brave Missionary to China, Gladys Aylward

  1. I had decided that this was an ethnocentric film, proving that someone from a superior Western culture could, in a backward heathen nation, be such a giant that everyone would rely on her to change a country that holds 25% of the world's population. She is like the one-eyed person in a nation of blind people because she is white.
    But I've seen it once or twice since the first viewing 25 years ago. And now I say "what's wrong with that?" It is the story of someone overcoming incredible suffering to do God's work. I think we should promote these sorts of stories (but maybe with more realistic language.)

  2. We owe Christian missionaries from other churches a HUGE debt of gratitude for preparing people for the LDS message of the fullness of the restored gospel.

    Most of the converts to the LDS church already have had an introduction to the message of Christ, His atonement and His resurrection.

    People such as she did a huge effort of laying laying the groundwork.

    And as much as they "preach Christ, and Him crucified", we have to give them their props.

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