Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Of the films examined in this series, this is the second which is centered on the life of a real person. In both cases we are looking at persons of extreme character who met and grappled with the issues of their day. Though Thomas More was beheaded in “A Man For All Seasons” we never sense that he is vanquished or overcome. So it is with Gladys Aylward. Her story is one of the most inspiring and moving you will ever see, a rare Hollywood depiction of Christian strength.

Everyone discouraged Gladys from going to China as a missionary. She had no credentials, either theological or sociological, but she would not be stopped. Her commitment to the ministry Jesus had called her to overcame the objections of others. She was right in following the call. She began with the inn in the title of the film and ended up leading dozens of orphans through the Japanese lines to safety to the tune of “This Old Man” at the beginning of World War II.

Beside the story of her endeavors we see many other wonderful characters. The woman who portrayed the missionary Gladys had gone to help was the kind of woman we wish we had running the women’s and benevolence ministries at our church. I laugh out loud every time I hear her Chinese servant tell the “story of Jesus” when he takes over one night in teaching the gospel lesson. There is a romance in the film which seems to divert the flow of the story, but it is also a mechanism for explaining the times and showing how opposition to her in China itself is overcome by her commitment.

Robert Donat’s last film portrayal was of the mandarin in charge of the village. At first seemingly unfeeling in his tradition, he shows his true colors at the end of his part in the film when he officially declares that he wishes to share the faith of Gladys. I can never see that scene unmoved.

Probably the greatest testimony to her faith was given by a prison guard on
the occasion of a prison riot. He was unwilling to go in and settle things down. He turned to Gladys and said pointedly that he did not have a God who would protect him as she did. It was a challenge to her. While the riot depicted was much less violent than would have been portrayed today she demonstrated her trust in God and was kept through the trial.

At the end of the film, for once, we see a vindication of her character. The man who received her and the children at the place of safety was overwhelmed when he saw that the one who brought them through was “Gladys Aylward, who had been unqualified to go to China.”

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