Successful In Whose Eyes?

During my Sabbatical, I watched the movie “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness” starring the classical actress Ingrid Bergman. It was based on the true story of the missionary Gladys Aylwards.

She was born in 1905 in England. She committed to becoming a missionary to China at a meeting she attended while working as a housemaid. Missionary societies required a certain level of education from their missionary candidates and she wasn’t qualified. So she went to China at her own expense via trains, ships, coaches and mules. Most missionaries in China were unwilling to work with her because she was not a formal missionary sent by a missionary society, and she ended up traveling to Yenching to work with a 73 year old missionary, Jeannie Lawson. They opened an inn called “Sixth Happiness” and started to minister to coachmen who traveled the Silk Road.

When Jeannie died, Gladys took over the operation of the inn and the ministry. She also began to pick up and take care of orphans abandoned on the road. Eventually, the number of orphans in her care reached a hundred. By that time, she had become influential in local politics because people respected her and her work. When the Sino-Japanese war broke out, she took her 100 orphans and traveled for 10 days over high mountains at the peril of being discovered and shot by Japanese armies. When she and her children reached Xian, her adventure became sensational news and her story was broadcast all over the world. She became a celebrity. The movie ends with her returning to the battlefield to be with the lover she left behind, a man born to Caucasian and Chinese parents who was a guerrilla fighter against the Japanese invasion.

I was so moved by this movie that I decided to find out more about Gladys Aylwards. I found that in reality, she was quite different from how the movie depicted her. She was not statuesque beauty like Ingrid Bergman; she was only 5 feet tall. In fact, she was considered a little weird because she witnessed to anyone at any opportunity. Jeannie Lawson was also different from her movie depiction. She suffered from slight dementia in her old age and gave Gladys a hard time. She often lost her way on the street and people laughed at her. Also, in real life, Gladys didn’t have a lover to go back to after she delivered the orphans to a safe place. She had a solder friend, but he was neither her lover nor racially mixed. Her health was weak because of various illnesses and she died due to complications from typhoid she had previously contracted.

In the movie, she lived a beautiful life. In reality, she lived almost a miserable life. But there is a third way to look at her life: through God’s eyes. What did her life look like to Him? I think He would consider her life a faithful one, because her life was marked with obedience and suffering, the marks of the Cross.

We all want to live successful lives. But in whose eyes do we want to be successful? This is a question worth pondering.

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