A Strange Occupation {Book Club}

A Strange Occupation {Book Club}

As I read this week’s chapters of Gladys Aylward: The Little Woman, what I wanted was a map of her journey over the mountains with the children, and over other mountains to the lamasery.

I don’t know much about Chinese geography, and I wanted a good picture in my mind. How far was it? Do the villages still exist today? Have the names changed? Searching the maps app on my phone for the places she named was inconclusive. But googling “Gladys Aylward map” was more successful! So, before we get into this week’s reading, a bit of show and tell.

Alan Burgess included this map in his book The Small Woman. I found it on this page, which includes lots of other pictures of Gladys. Here I learned that there is actually a movie made during Gladys’s lifetime, which she hated because of the liberties they took in changing reality. (For that reason I decided against trying to find it and watch it.)

If I’m reading the map and the book correctly, Gladys started in Yangcheng, in the lower middle of the map. When she and the 100 children ran from the war, they went south and crossed the Yellow River (Hwang ho). Then the train they took part of the way ran alongside the river, heading west. Their destination was Sian. Is that right? If you know more about this geography than me, please chime in!

Another find was this page, which takes us to present-day Yangcheng and the next page on the same site which takes us to The Inn of Eight Happinesses. The name didn’t mean anything to me at first because I don’t think Gladys ever mentioned the name of the inn in her narrative. But apparently, this is what the inn was called where she worked with Mrs Lawson and later took care of all of those children and wounded soldiers. And today it is called “the old Jesus hall courtyard.” I haven’t read all of the text on either sites, but I loved scrolling through the pictures and getting some real images to go with what I’d imagined while reading.

One more show and tell which gave me so much joy was a letter that Gladys sent to her parents. I mentioned in the comments last week that I was wondering about her communication with her family. Now I know: they were able to send letters. I love the part about Ninepence as well as the confident assurance Gladys had that she was exactly where she ought to be. Here’s the image of the letter, and I’ll transcribe it below.

It says:

Ai. Ai.’ Ninepence says, ‘not call her that, she nice old lady,’ so now you know what I am in the eyes of a child of 8.

Life is pitiful, death so familiar, suffering & pain so common, yet I would not be anywhere else.

Do not wish me out of this or in any way seek to get me out, for I will not be got out while this trial is on. These are my people, God have given them to me, & I will live or die with them for Him and His glory.

We read chapters 10-13 this week. It begins with Gladys deciding whether to stay in Yangcheng or run from the Japanese forces who were getting nearer and nearer. God clearly prompted her to leave.

One of the most amazing parts happened on the banks of the Yellow River. The Japanese troops were heading that way. The town was deserted. There were no boats to cross the river because the Chinese wanted to keep the Japanese troops from crossing.

And so Gladys and 100 children were stuck there, with no way forward. The faith of a child was all that was needed for them to cross. Sualan reminded Gladys of God parting the Red Sea for the children of Israel. Gladys reacted exactly the way I would have: “But I am not Moses.” Sualan responded, “Of course you are not, but Jehovah is still God!”

When we read Moses’ story in Exodus, we see that he reacted the same way. He had so many excuses for why he wasn’t enough to do what God was sending him to do. Sualan was right, though. It is not on us to be great enough. We serve a great God, and he is still the same one who parted the Red Sea.

After praying, a man showed up who signaled for a boat to come get them – what?! So incredible! His conversation with Gladys included one of my favorite lines in the book. He told her, “You have chosen a strange occupation.”

Join me in the comments! What are your thoughts from these chapters? What amazed you? What did you relate to?

This week, we’ll finish the book.

Join us in March as we go through the book Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Brokenhearted World by Osheta Moore! Here’s a summary of the book from Amazon:

Shalom, the Hebrew word often translated as “peace,” was a far cry from blogger and podcaster Osheta Moore’s crazy life. Like a lot of women, she loved God’s dream for a world that is whole, vibrant, and flourishing. But honestly: who’s got the time? So one night she whispered a dangerous prayer: God, show me the things that make for peace. In Shalom Sistas, Moore shares what she learned when she challenged herself to study peace in the Bible for forty days.

Here’s the schedule for the book:

March 2: Part 1 (Chapters 1-3)

March 9: Part 2 (Chapters 4-6)

March 16: Part 3 (Chapters 7-9)

March 23: Part 4 (Chapters 10-12)

March 30: Part 5 (Chapters 13-15)

Photo by June Liu on Unsplash


  1. Sarah Hilkemann February 16, 2021

    Thanks for the show and tell, Rachel! 🙂 I love that Gladys was able to keep in touch with her family- although I’m sure it was limited and perhaps unreliable because of all the chaos happening through the years. But I imagined her completely cut off from her family so I’m glad they were able to keep in touch.
    I appreciated that Gladys wasn’t so “saintly” that she always believed God would work. She trusted him, yes, but then there were times when she thought, “This is impossible!” Why would I do this or go here, or how could God possibly answer? I just really related to that, how faithfully she walked with God and trusted Him, but her honesty and questions too.

    1. Rachel Kahindi February 17, 2021

      I love that about reading a person’s own words – even our heroes struggled to obey God, dealt with self-doubt, sometimes had bad attitudes. It helps me to believe that it’s possible for me to follow God, faithfully, too.

  2. Phyllis February 18, 2021

    I am not reading the book this time, but I have great childhood memories of a book about her, and I’ve read others since. Thank you so much for the links! I loved the modern visit to where the inn was.

    1. Rachel Kahindi February 19, 2021

      I thought the visit to the inn was so cool, too!

  3. Lena February 18, 2021

    Just an extra story of how God used the life of Gladys Aylward– although Gladys had concerns and reservations about the movie made of her life, it was the means of bringing Ingrid Bergman (who played Gladys) to Christ. You can read the full story
    here or in the book More to be Desired than Gold.

    1. Rachel Kahindi February 19, 2021

      That is awesome! Thanks so for sharing!

    2. Sarah Hilkemann February 19, 2021

      Lena, I knew that Gladys was hesitant about the movie but not the part it played in Ingrid Bergman’s life! That’s so cool! Thanks for sharing that. 🙂

  4. Amanda Hutton February 18, 2021

    In the book “Sneezing Jesus: How God Redeems our Humanity” by Brian Hardin, the author makes the point that God’s design is for us to be FULLY dependent on him. So often my pride keeps me from truly leaning into the Lord because I try to figure things out on my own. So many of Gladys’ decisions seemed risky or even stupid from a worldly perspective. I loved the quote from the Chinese officer: “You have chosen a strange occupation.” In so many ways, Gladys’ radical dependence on the Lord drew so much attention to Him because who else would take 100 children on a journey like that? A love so deep can only come form our God, and only with his protection could they make the journey!

    1. Rachel Kahindi February 19, 2021

      That’s such a good point about full dependence. I’m reading something similar in A Praying Life by Paul E Miller. He talks about the way we don’t pray over things we believe we can handle on our own. We don’t even think about depending on God until things start to go wrong, and we have to admit that we can’t control it. It’s hard to get into the discipline of dependence even for things I think I can handle.

      1. Lena February 23, 2021

        I love that book <3

      2. Spring February 25, 2021

        That book was very impactful for me. The man who wrote it lives near where I am from in my passport country. He has a really special ministry to people with developmental disabilities. Anyway I echo that I love that book

      3. Amanda Hutton March 9, 2021

        Rachel— thanks for the insight. I will have to check out that book!

  5. Spring February 25, 2021

    This is an amazing story, and I think it is the one that is most shared about Gladys. It was interesting to get her perspective on what happened, and difficult to imagine what it was like in real life.

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.