What about those who have never heard the Gospel? Part 1 – Gladys Aylward

This is one of several questions we hear over and over in our ministry work. We have a ready answer for them. The bottom line is that God will provide the information they seek. The first example that comes to mind is when the Holy Spirit sends Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch who wants to have the Scripture explained to him (Acts 8). Somehow, the Ethiopian had gone to Jerusalem, spent time there, and left without any believers in the city finding him and confronting him with the Gospel. But God wouldn’t let him escape, and so took Philip out of a revival meeting to go preach to one fellow on a desert road.

Another example: When Cornelius and his household responded to what they had heard about the God of the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit sent a message to Peter, who hit the road to deliver the Good News (Acts 10). It’s our job to preach the Gospel. God won’t do that and He won’t send angels to do that until the tribulation (Revelation 14). The Biblical principle is that when someone responds to the “light” he has been given, then God will assuredly send him more light. “Light” comes from creation (Romans 1:20), from our God-given conscience (Romans 2:11-15), and from the ever-working global efforts of the Holy Spirit to bring conviction to hearts and minds (John 12:32-33 and John 16:7-8).

So the issue is NEVER . . . Is it fair that people who haven’t heard the Gospel will be judged? But rather . . . How hard-hearted can people be to refuse the opportunities that God gives to EVERYONE?!? Including and especially the determined skeptic who uses a phony excuse to avoid his own guilt and responsibility.

We have heard a personal testimony of an American missionary to China that is a remarkable story as well. Perhaps we will put it up on the web site, too. But the marvelous experience that Gladys Aylward had, recorded below, is one of the best we have ever read.

Gladys Aylward was a parlor maid who had a tremendous desire to go to China as a missionary. Many people and even missionary societies discouraged her, but she was so determined to go that she saved up her passage money (on a train through Russia!) and eventually made it to China in the early 1930’s. Her life is an amazing testimony to God’s care and guidance. You really should read this book. It will bless you and strengthen your own faith.

We chose this chapter because it is such a powerful testimony of how God will send the Gospel to someone who is seriously looking for the truth. Enjoy it!

From Gladys Aylward The Little Woman by Gladys Aylward as told to Christine Hunter, 1970, paperback edition, 1974, The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago
ISBN 0-8024-2986-6
This book is available for sale by Moody Press: Moody Publishers, 820 N. LaSalle Blvd., Chicago, IL 60610 or www.moodypublishers.com or 1-800-678-6928

Used by Permission of Moody Press

Chapter 13 — The God Who Loves

Refugees from the east came pouring into Sian speaking completely different dialects. Among them were three godly Christians from Shansi, Mr. and Mrs. Wong and Mr. Cheng.

These three and myself decided that something must be done, so we obtained permission to use the disused factory belonging to Chang Tsi Ni as a church in which we could preach in an understandable dialect for these refugees from Hopeh, Honan, Shantung etc.

We called it the Independent Christian Church, but we were certainly not isolated. Near us was the Baptist Church with George Young as its pastor, and the Church of England with Bishop Sheng as its vicar, and our three churches were in perfect unison. We were one in spirit, in purpose and in desire — nothing but true service to God and blessing for the needy souls around us. We might have had different names, but we were surely “all one in Christ Jesus.”

If a refugee went to the Baptist Church or the Church of England and it was felt that maybe we would be able to help them more easily, then he was escorted to us and introduced. If one church had a convention then the members of the other two attended and were blessed.

After a time I left most of the children in the care of Pastor Ma, as I was unable to care for them and be out preaching continually at the same time. I was still far from fully recovered, and again I have much for which to thank kind friends. Mr. and Mrs. Young, Miss Major, the hospital matron, and Bishop Sheng, together with the children, especially Ninepence, cared for me and prayed for me continually.

Often I was forgetful and careless about many things, only in the matter of the Gospel was my mind utterly clear. Maybe it is to Bishop Sheng more than anyone that I owe my restoration to a more normal state. Though little older than myself, he talked to me like a father and gradually made me take a firmer grip upon the normal circumstances of everyday life.

Eventually the Japanese, who had overrun Shansi, were reported to be on their way to Shensi, so we fled from Sian to Boa Chi. A short while before this had been a small village, then with the influx of refugees it had grown like a mushroom into a huge city. From here I went to Fenghsien to Mr. and Mrs. Fisher again, and with them worked among the refugees and in the surrounding villages.

While there I was invited to take part in a conference of young people and speak to them about pioneer work. When I arrived at their headquarters I discovered that this group was actually from Kai Feng. They had been students in the school there but had been driven out by the enemy. Many of the students had scattered, but about sixty of them had determined to keep together and study when they could. They had carried along with them benches and books and various other things from the college, and had studied while they trekked. Now they had reached Fenghsien.

I did not give the lectures because I became ill again. I lay in bed, weak and full of doubts. Why had God allowed me to come here among strangers, all for nothing? One day I heard murmurs coming from the next room. It sounded as if people were praying.

I crept out of bed, threw on my outer garment and slippers, and slipped out to investigate. Peeping in the open doorway I saw about fifteen students squatting around what was obviously a map.

Then one went forward, shut his eyes and poked with his finger at the map, much as I had often done as a child when we had played the game of putting on the donkey’s tail. When he opened his eyes, he read aloud the name of the place where his finger had landed, and said, “Does anyone know anything about this place?”

I stood entranced while one after another prayed about this unknown town or village. Then another went forward, again jabbed blindly with his finger, and read another name. At the end of the meeting, I questioned the students and learned that they had this part of the northwest laid on their hearts and were praying for different places every day.

For three weeks I stayed there, in bed most of the time. Then at another of these strange prayer meetings I said, “Is anyone going to these places you are praying for?”

“Nobody is free. We have not finished our studies. We have no money and no one knows the country, but now our special prayer is for someone to go and spy out the land.”

Two days later I was convinced that God was asking me to go to this unknown territory. I offered myself to this group of earnest, loving young Christians and, with their prayers and blessings ringing in my ears, I set off a few days later. The countryside was beautiful and for the first few days my leisurely journey was very pleasant. I could converse with those I met, but I knew before long the language would prove a difficulty.

As I went farther into the northwest I managed each morning to get someone to escort me as my guide from his village to the next until I came to Tsin Tsui. I stayed a night or two with friendly Christian people; but when I asked about the road ahead, with one accord everyone advised me to turn back. “You cannot go further,” they declared, “this is the end. Further on there is nothing.”

“But the world doesn’t just end like that,” I argued. “I must go on. It is what I have come for.”

The villagers shook their heads dolefully. They were sure by now that I must be a little strange. Then, seeing I was fully determined to go forward, a Chinese doctor offered to accompany me for five days. His name was Dr. Huang, and he had always been curious as to what lay outside his immediate district.

Dr. Huang was a Christian, though maybe up to that time not very deeply taught. But he could read and, as we traveled, we talked and sometimes argued. When I could not convince him, I handed him my Bible and he could read the passage in question for himself.

The five days lengthened to nine. We went on and on, speaking to all whom we met, but not one of them had heard of Jesus Christ, the Son of the God in heaven. On the tenth day we came out onto a mountainside and that night had to stay in a filthy hut. The next day we plodded on all day but did not meet a living soul or see the slightest sign of human habitation anywhere.

By mid afternoon I was becoming perturbed. Where were we going to sleep? Where would we get any food? I was here alone with a man I knew very little about, and I needed company. I stared around and then burst out, “Dr. Huang, we are going to put down our bundles and pray.”

We threw our bundles on the ground and knelt down. “Dear God,” I began, “have mercy on us. You can see what a plight we are in. Give us food and shelter for the night.” My whole prayer was taken up by my own wants, my own immediate requirements.

Then very calmly Dr. Huang began to pray. “O God, send us the one You want us to tell about Jesus. We have witnessed to no one today, but You have sent us here for some special purpose. Show us where to find the man You intend to bless.”

I felt humbled and ashamed. While I had been so concerned with my own comfort, this man was concerned only with His Father’s business. After a few moments I said, “Shall we sing a chorus?”

So we sat and sang, and our voices must have carried far in the clear mountain air. Suddenly Dr. Huang jumped to his feet. “There is our man,” he cried. And before I could stop him, he had dashed off.

I sat alone, feeling very small and frail in this lonely barren country. Finally I saw two little specks on the mountainside. As he drew nearer, Dr. Huang kept shouting, “Come on up; I have found our man.” But I sat stolidly on. To me there seemed no sense in scrambling up that steep, rock-strewn hillside.

Eventually Dr. Huang reached me and said, “God obviously means us to go up, so come along.”

“But what about our bundles?”

“Leave them. There is no one here to steal them.”

Half carried and half pushed, I scrambled up and found, leaning against a rock, a Tibetan lama priest. I stared from him to Dr. Huang. I knew that lamas were supposed to have nothing to do with women, also that outwardly they appeared to be holy men, but inwardly many of them were bad, immoral, ignorant, and superstitious.

“Did you tell him I was a woman?” I demanded of Dr. Huang.

“Yes, but he invited you to come to spend the night in the lamasery.”

I hesitated. What were we letting ourselves in for? Why should Tibetan priests invite me into their sacred buildings?

“There is nowhere else for us to go,” Dr. Huang pointed out.

Suddenly the man spoke and, although his accent was strange, I could understand what he said. “We have waited long for you to tell us about the God who loves.”

My heart jumped and, without another word, we followed our guide up the path. Then we reached the lamasery and I caught my breath at the beauty of the scene. The side of the mountain which we had climbed was barren, yellow and rocky; but on this side, because there was water, the mountain was covered in rich green grass and lovely flowering vines. And at the top stood the lamasery, imposing and stately.

As we approached, my fears returned. The huge gate closed as we went in, and I thought, we are in, but will we ever get out again?A party of lamas greeted us almost reverently and escorted me to a small room. Then men padded backward and forward, bringing everything they could think of for my comfort — tiger rugs, cushions, water for washing, and dish after dish of daintily prepared food. It seem like a dream!

After our strenuous climb, I felt very weary: I had just decided I would lie down to rest when two men knocked at the door and politely requested me to accompany them. I was joined by Dr. Huang and we were escorted through one courtyard after another until we came to a very large one. In this were five hundred hassocks made of coconut leaves ranged in a rough semicircle, and on each of these hassocks sat a lama with his hands piously crossed and his head bent.

We were taken to two empty hassocks in the center, and sat down. What on earth are we expected to do? I wondered nervously. Dr. Huang said, “Now we will begin. You sing.”

“But what shall I sing?”

“Anything.” So in a very trembling voice I sang in Chinese the American chorus “Glorious Freedom.”

A deathly silence followed. Then Dr. Huang began to talk. He told them about the Baby who was born in a stable in Bethlehem; then he told them of the Saviour who died on Calvary. “Now sing again,” he said. So I sang, then I talked; I sang again, then he talked; I sang again, then I talked.

Still the five hundred lamas sat immobile on their hassocks. We could not see their faces, but why did they not speak or make a move to end this meeting which looked as if it might go on all night? I was on the verge of collapse, so I said in a low voice, “I will fall off this hassock in a minute.”

“Then we will finish,” Dr. Huang replied. And rising, we sailed out of the great hall. Later we discovered that as guests we must be the first to move. Politeness demanded that our audience sat still as long as we sat!

Again I started to go to bed, but was disturbed by a knock on the door. Two priests stood outside. “Woman, are you too tired to tell us more?” they asked humbly.

“Are you allowed to come into my room?”

“Yes, if there are two of us.”

They came in, they listened intently and they went away. A few minutes later two more came, and so it went on all night. Always the same question, ” Will you explain how and why He died? Will you explain how it is He could love me?”

These men never questioned that God was the Creator of the world, they never doubted the fact of the virgin birth, they did not consider any of the miracles incredible. To them it was the wonder of God’s love which obsessed them. The story of Christ’s death on Calvary filled their minds with awe and reverence.

The next morning, when the priests were gathered in their temple, Dr. Huang and I had the opportunity of comparing notes, and I found that the same thing had happened in his room. Here, indeed, were men thirsting for the old, old story of God’s wonderful plan of salvation.

We decided we would stay a little longer. We stayed a week; and all that time, whenever the men were free from their duties, they came and asked for more. At last we decided that we must leave the following day, so we announced that for the last night we would gladly talk to those who wanted to visit us. That evening I received a summons to go before the head lama whom we had not seen so far. Dr. Huang was not invited; I was to go alone.

The ordinary lamas were a kind of Chinese border race, but I imagined the head of such a large lamasery would surely be a true Tibetan, and I wondered how we would overcome the language difficulty. I found a fine looking man, seated on a beautiful cushion, with servants attending him. To my amazement he addressed me in the pure Mandarin Chinese of Peking, which I understood perfectly.

We discussed various things, then greatly daring, I said, “Why did you let me — a foreign woman — come into you lamasery? Why did you allow me to speak to your priests?”

“It is a long story. Out on our mountainside grows a licorice herb which my lamas collect and sell in the cities. One year the men who had taken the herb harvest down on the mules were passing through a village when they saw a man waving a paper while he called out, “Who wants one? Salvation free and for nothing. He who believes gets salvation and lives forever. If you want to learn more of this come to the gospel hall.”

The lamas, utterly astounded at such a doctrine, took the tract and brought it back to the lamasery. I was then shown the tract, now worn and in pieces, stuck on the wall. It was a perfectly ordinary tract, simply quoting John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

That was all, but from it they had learned that somewhere there was a “God who loved.” Everybody read it and reread it or had it read to them. The head lama continued the story after I had read that important scrap of paper.

“The next year, when our men took the herb down to the cities they were told to find out where ‘The God who loved’ lived, but for five years they could learn nothing more.

“Then the man who had first received the tract vowed he would not come back until he learned more about this God. They went on and on until they came to Len Chow. There they saw an important-looking man on the street, and asked their usual question, ‘Can you tell us where the God who loves lives?’

“Oh, yes,’ he said. ‘Go down that street, and you will come to a large gateway with three signs over it — “Faith, Hope, Charity.” Go in there, they will tell you about God.’

“Jubilantly they approached the small China Inland Mission station and asked the same question of the Chinese evangelist. He told them all he could, then gave them each a copy of the Gospels.

“Eagerly they hurried back to the lamasery and we read the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We believed all that it contained, though there was much we could not understand. But one verse seemed of special importance. Christ had said, ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel,’ so obviously one day someone would come to tell us more about this wonderful God. All we had to do was to wait, and when God sent a messenger, to be ready to receive him. For another three years we have waited. Then two lamas, out on the hillside gathering sticks, heard someone singing. ‘Those are the messengers we are waiting for,’ they said. ‘Only people who know God will sing.’

“While one went back to tell the rest of us to prepare for the long-expected guests, the other came down to meet you on the hillside. “ That was why everything was done for our comfort, why they gladly clambered down and brought up our bundles, why they received us with hungry hearts.

We did not ask these men if they were saved; I do not know if they came out from the lamasery. I had preached His Gospel in this place that God had appointed; I left the rest to Him and the work of the Holy Spirit.

No lamasery stands on that beautiful hillside now, for the Communists destroyed it and drove away all its inmates. What happened to those five hundred lamas, I often wonder. That many of them believed, trusted and received salvation, I have no shadow of doubt. God had prepared the soil; Dr. Huang and I were proud to be used as His messengers; only in eternity will we ever learn the result of one of the strangest weeks I have ever spent.

– bonnie@truthreallymatters.com

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