We live in what could be considered the height of history, information speaking. Never has information and knowledge been so readily available – at the click of a button, the push of a mouse, or by picking up a phone. This is certainly true in the realm of Scripture – we have more Bibles, more software, more ancient discoveries, more archeological evidence, more commentaries, more sermons, more more more more more . . . And yet, with all this “more” it could be argued that the devotion, intimacy, and dependency which use to mark even “basic” Christians yesteryear has dissipated. We have grown lax and cold, apathetic and hardened, careless and uninterested – all the while filling our churches, singing our songs, and assuming we are “comfortable” in our measly version of Christianity.
During the last several evenings, I have been relishing a biography on Gladys Aylward entitled The Little Woman. Aylward, a missionary who spent and gave her life to China in the early 1900s, wrote of a man whose life was forever changed by the power and love of Jesus. What struck me was his utter devotion, his utmost affection of Jesus, yet all without the “more” which we so ludicrously bask in. Let me quickly retell the story:
During WWII, Japan invaded China and caused a ruckus within the area where Gladys ministered. Her town was captured, rescued, and recaptured several times. While both Chinese and Japanese let her continue to minister, look after for orphans, and help both sides with first aid care, at one point during the war, a crowd of Chinese women came into her courtyard (she ran an inn) for help. She began to tell them of God’s love and, unknowingly pointing to a crowd standing in the doorway, how they were all sinners.
Several days later, several officers came in and stood guard around the inn. The general of the troop came and began to interrogate Gladys about who told her information about his life. She said no one had told her anything, only what everyone in town had heard about him. He didn’t believe her and kept her under guard for several more days. Eventually he returned and questioned her again, “Woman, you have been here three days, are you ready to tell me the name of the person who told me about me?”
Aylward continues the story:
“I cannot, for I do not know what you are talking about.”
“Then how did you know that I was a sinner?”
“I only know that the Bible says so.” I picked up my Bible, opened it and handed it to him.
He pulled off his hat, threw it down and began to read. When I saw him without his hat, a picture flashed into my mind of the courtyard crowded with Chinese women. Then I remembered that among those in the doorway I had caught a fleeting glimpse of a man!
For an hour he held my Bible while I turned to verse after verse, pointing them out, and let him read them for himself. What was this Bible? he demanded. What was this gospel I talked about? Who was Jesus Christ? I explained as patiently as I could while he argued and questioned. Hour after hour he went on, but gradually he quieted down. He quit swearing, and a note of great longing came into his voice.
“It is impossible for me to be saved,” he said at length.
“With God nothing is impossible.”
“I am too wicked!”
“No one is too wicked. Will you kneel down with me and confess to God that you have sinned, but you want to take Jesus Christ as your Saviour?”
After two more hours, the general knelt on his own accord and fully dedicated his life to Jesus. Afterwards he got up and asked, “If I have taken this God, then I have to tell my men about it, don’t I?” The next day, with the support of Gladys on the stage, the general told the men:
“Up to this time we have been a bandit troop. I have led you into affrays largely for the sake of killing and looting, and we have always been successful. Now we will cease to be bandits and become honorable soldiers because last night I took Jesus Christ as my God. I find that this book [waving Gladys’ Bible aloft] is against dishonesty and wickedness. Now will every man who is willing to join me come out and promise that we will cease to kill or loot for gain, but will serve this true God?”
The next morning Gladys found out that the entire group of soldiers had left her city, and she heard nothing more from the general. The war continued for several more years, and most of the city found itself in ruins and desolation.
While helping a group of wounded soldiers several years later, a “dirty ragged beggar” stumbled into the courtyard of the inn. I’ll let Gladys tell the rest of the story, may it bring encouragement and conviction to your soul.
“Do you want to come in and sit down?” I asked.
He sad down on a stone – we had no furniture. He looked desperately ill, and almost starving. “Bring some warm food,” I said to Timothy. The boy hurried off to the place we called home, and a few moments latter returned with a bowl of porridge. I went on cleaning up the yard.
“Don’t you know me?” the beggar asked as I came near him.
“No I don’t.”
“I belong to Jesus.”
“When you have had some food you can tell me about Jesus.”
“But I still belong to Jesus.” This seemed to be the only sensible remark he could make.
After he had eaten his food, I said, “Where are you going?”
“Where is home?”
“But surely you do not belong to Yangcheng!” [referring to the city she lived in]
“I belong to Jesus,” he repeated again.
Timothy pulled me aside. “Don’t you know who he is?”
“He says he belongs to Yangcheng, but I think he is ill in his head.”
“He is the general,” Timothy whispered.
I turned and stared at the poor, miserable specimen sitting on the cold stone. “What is your name?” I asked gently.
“No name. I belong to Jesus.”
That evening I took him home. Timothy and I cared for him and, very slowly, his health improved. Then I took him to the village where I had left my orphans and where I had often gone to hiding during the war. As my beggar grew stronger, I learned more of his story. On the day when he had bravely confessed his faith before the troops, he had waited in vain for the men to come and promise their allegiance to him. That evening, instead of coming to pray with me as he had promised, he was arrested by his own men. They took away his clothes, tied him on a mule, and went off during the night.
For many months they continued as bandits, burning, looting and rioting. They dragged their general with them everywhere, afraid that he would expose them to the government if they let him go. In every possible way they tried to break his faith. He was tortured, starved, kicked and beaten, but still he held out. Fixed in his mind was the knowledge that because he belonged to Jesus Christ he could no longer be a bandit.
After nine months of this terrible testing, when they were in the northernmost part of the province, a man came to where he was tied up one night and said, “We did far better when you were our leader. We want you back. Will you lead us again?”
“No, because I must still stand for Jesus Christ.”
“Then if you are really sure, I will help you to get away.”
Later the man managed to give him a suit of peasant clothes and set him on his way back. He begged in the villages, worked in the fields, always afraid thathis men would find him and wreak terrible vengeance on him. In every place, though he knew so little, he told people that he belonged to Jesus Christ and was His servant.
The life he had endured took its toll, however, and he became very ill. Some village women helped him, though by now his mind was very clouded. All that he could remember was that he belonged to Jesus and Yangcheng. After fifteen months of wandering, he made his way to Yangcheng, and, instead of a bullying, cursing general, came into the same courtyard as a poor, battered, penniless beggar. This faith implanted that one night of struggle had been as a grain of mustard seed and had remained unmovable, though all else had gone from him.
As his health improved, his mind cleared once more; but the blustering bandit had gone. In the village the children adored him and hung around him. No noe except Timothy and myself knew his true identity. To the Christians he was Lao Dah (Big Brother) and they truly loved him….
But Lao Dah never really grew strong again. His chest had been weakened by suffering and exposure, and a year after his return, he died. The Christians in the village mourned him with great sorrow – to them he had indeed become Lao Dah … we never knew his real name.
Taken from: Gladys Aylward: The Little Woman, by Gladys Alyward, from the chapter At War.