Jen-ai. The one who loves. What a name to earn – especially from a people not originally your own. This is the name given to Gladys Aylward by the Chinese in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (a slightly fictionalized account of Aylward’s missionary work in China). A beautiful story of a beautiful life, it has long been one of my favorites. In fact, if my memory serves, it was the first adult movie that I actually enjoyed.
Gladys is an English servant who longs to be a missionary to China, but the mission society won’t send her because she’s not “qualified.” So she works and saves her wages and pays her own way. She goes to Yang Cheng to work with Jeannie Lawson, a long-time missionary. When Jeannie dies, Gladys continues running the inn they’d opened together. She is also appointed by the local Mandarin to the position of foot inspector – a job which requires her to visit all the villages of the province and enforce the laws against foot-binding. Her great love and kindness earn her a place in the hearts of every citizen in the province – even the prison convicts and mountain bandits – and her courage and firm resolve earn her their respect as well. Her total immersion into their world opens doors that other missionaries who spent a portion of each year back “home” could never touch.
Along the way, she adopts 5 orphan children as her own and finds a true friend and eventually true love in Lin Nan, a Chinese military officer who is half Dutch. Two outsiders with the odds stacked against them – my kind of love story. When war breaks out, the number of orphans she cares for swells to 100; and when they are in imminent danger of being overrun by the enemy, she leads the children on a perilous 3-week trek through the mountains to safety. This is where we see the sterling character that has been forged through years of hardship and toil. This is what she was put on this earth to do; this is her calling. Jen-ai’s strength, courage, compassion, and love made a deep impression on 11-year-old me and are traits that I am trying to learn to emulate.