Becoming a Bravehearted Woman

The World-Changing Power of Christ-Centered Femininity

The stillness of the African night was shattered by a piercing scream. Fair-skinned, red-haired Mary Slessor hurried out of her hut, a concerned look on her face. As she stood listening, she heard the sound of yelling and drumming growing steadily louder in the distance. Mary began walking briskly toward the village center, a feeling of dread overtaking her as she drew closer to the commotion. Nearly the entire tribe had gathered together.

They were standing in a circle, whipped into a chaotic frenzy — laughing, jeering, and chanting. Mary’s heart beat faster as she quickly pushed her way to the front of the crowd. She saw a young woman lying on the ground, screaming in terror, her hands and feet bound to a stake. A huge pot of boiling oil sat next to her and a wildly dressed warrior was dancing around it. Suddenly Mary knew what was about to happen. The young woman was going to have scalding oil poured over her body — most likely for violating one of the tribe’s rules or customs.

In an instant, Mary ran into the middle of the circle and stood resolutely between the warrior and the young woman. The drumming stopped abruptly and a hush fell over the crowd. Every eye was fixed on the fiery redhead who was daring to interfere in their tribal justice. Mary glared at the warrior, who was poised and ready with a ladle of hot oil in his hand. For a moment, he looked confused. Then, as he realized that Mary was defying him, he let out a loud war cry and began dancing menacingly around her. Praying for courage, Mary stood her ground even as the warrior came closer and closer to her, the hot oil swishing in his ladle.

There was no sound except for the shuffling of the warrior’s feet as he danced his way toward Mary. Eventually he came so close to Mary that the two were standing face to face, only inches apart. The villagers watched the scene with intense curiosity. Would the warrior attack Mary with the boiling oil, or would he back away? No one had ever seen a fierce tribal warrior back down. But then, no one had ever dared to stand up to a strong warrior as Mary was doing now.

The warrior glared at Mary, and Mary stared right back at him, unflinching. Several seconds passed as a tense silence hung over the crowd. Suddenly, with a cry of disgust, the warrior threw the ladle aside and walked away in a huff.

The crowd was bewildered and confused. Mary had boldly challenged one of their toughest warriors — and won. Never had they seen such audacious courage. She had not backed away from danger. Rather, she had run toward danger, fearlessly faced a horrific threat, and emerged as the victor. What kind of power, they wondered, could enable this woman to demonstrate such valor and hold such sway over the strongest among them?

It was a warm afternoon in the village of Yangcheng, China. Petite, dark-haired Gladys Aylward listened with dismay as the men’s prison warden told her that there was a violent riot taking place at the prison. “The men are killing each other!” he said in a desperate voice. “You must go in and stop them!”

Gladys gasped. “Why me?” she sputtered in disbelief.

“You are always telling us how powerful your God is,” the warden replied. “Is He or is He not?”

Gladys took a deep breath. “He is,” she said with renewed confidence, “I will go in.” As she stepped into the courtyard of the prison, she declared, “Only through the help of Jesus will I prevail, for the Bible says that ‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.’”

As Gladys entered the prison, she saw dozens of men savagely clubbing and beating each other. Many prisoners had already collapsed to the ground, injured or dying. In the center of the chaos stood a man with a large knife poised above his head. Boldly, Gladys walked straight towards him. “Stop!” she commanded in a loud voice. “Put that down!”

The man looked at her in surprise. Just who was this tiny woman with the audacity to march straight into the midst of a violent, bloody riot? Even the armed guards were afraid to come near the fighting prisoners. Yet Gladys showed no fear or hesitation as she stood in the midst of the mayhem, looking the hate-crazed man straight in the eye. The man held the knife threateningly for a few seconds, then suddenly dropped it to the ground with a thud. The other men froze in surprise at the scene. The fighting stopped as all eyes turned toward Gladys and a hushed silence fell over the room.

“Put down your weapons!” Gladys ordered the men. “Form into ranks! Then, you can tell me what this is all about.”

When Gladys exited the courtyard a short time later, the warden and guards were astonished to learn that the prisoners were all sitting quietly in rows. Gladys told the warden that the riot had been caused by the men’s miserable conditions. She insisted that the half-starved prisoners needed better food, warmer clothes, and something productive to occupy their time.

Singlehandedly, Gladys transformed the men’s prison from a place of misery and despair into a place of hope and dignity. The authorities at the prison, and even the governor of Yangcheng, were mystified. What kind of power could enable a lone woman to walk fearlessly into a den of terror and transform it into a place of peace?

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Set Apart Girl, Leslie Ludy

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