Actress Ingrid Bergman played missionary, found Jesus


By Chad Dou —

Ingrid Bergman as Gladys
Ingrid Bergman as Gladys

Ingrid Bergman, the Academy Award-winning actress famous for her role in the film Casablanca, got saved after playing the role of a missionary to China, and the irony is the missionary didn’t want Bergman in the part because of the star’s well-publicized adulterous relationship with an Italian director.

When Bergman was named to play the part of missionary Gladys Aylward in the 1958 movie The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Aylward expressed her disapproval, and she prayed with Madam Chiang Kai-Shek who, after praying, told her God would “take care of it.”

Aylward assumed “take care of it” meant the infamous actress would be replaced. Instead, it apparently meant that Bergman’s own heart would be transformed by finding peace and joy in Christ.

Bergman movie posterThe Inn of the Sixth Happiness was based on the life of sacrifice and fruitful ministry of Aylward, an English girl who was originally rejected from the Chinese Inland Mission at age 26 because her lack of schooling made it unlikely she would be able to learn Chinese.

With no official sponsorship, Aylward made her way to China on her own. She worked as a maid so she could buy a ticket for the Tran-Siberian Railway. She got her ticket in 1930 and traveled to Yangchen to work with 73-year-old missionary Jeannie Lawson doing household chores.

Soon after her arrival, her patron died, and she took over the Inn of the Eight Happinesses (Hollywood changed its name for the movie). She lived in China at a time the nation was facing great upheaval, and many people suffered dire poverty.

When she happened upon a mother who offered to sell her own sickly, infant daughter for only nine pence, Aylward was moved to tears, paid the money and adopted her. She named her adopted daughter “Beautiful Grace” and nursed her back to health.

This adoption was the beginning of her orphanage ministry that swelled to 100 children.

Aylward was contracted by local authorities as an inspector to enforce the new national law banning foot-

Gladys in China
Gladys in China

binding, an age-old custom of deliberating thwarting normal growth because tiny feet on females were thought to be attractive.

Because of her relationship with authorities, Aylward was called upon to quell an uprising in a local prison. The warden, calling her to account for her boast that God was capable of doing anything, sent her in as prisoners were rioting and even killing prisoners in protest of the squalid conditions. She walked straight up to the ringleader, who brandished a butcher’s knife, and commanded he hand over the knife.

Then she told the prisoners to form into ranks and explain why they were rioting. Her report and subsequent negotiation with the warden on behalf of the prisoners led to reforms and more adequate living conditions.

Though the Chinese were distrustful of foreigners, Aylward won them over with her continuous good works, and they called her “Ai-weh-deh,” a Chinese approximation of her name that also means “Virtuous One” in the native dialect.

In 1938, her city was attacked by the Japanese. Rather than face certain massacre, she embarked on a march with her 100 orphans to Chinese nationalist territory. In 12 days they marched 300 miles, sometimes sleeping on the mountainside under the open air.

The column of children had to run to escape Japanese bullets and avoid checkpoints. They were only able to cross the Yellow River by the miraculous appearance of a boat (all vessels had been seized by the Japanese) that offered to ferry them.

Gladys later in life

When the group arrived at Xian, Aylward collapsed with typhoid fever, which kept her bedridden with delirium for several days.

In 1947, she returned to England for a sabbatical and recovery. Her amazing life was chronicled in a book called The Small Woman, which Hollywood picked up for the movie. Aylward went to Taiwan to continue her labors with Chinese children.

She didn’t like the liberties Hollywood took with her life story. Moviemakers had introduced a highly romantic subplot into her story and also used Bergman in the title role, which disturbed Aylward because of the star’s affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini during the filming of Stromboli in 1950.

Aylward felt the love scenes in the film damaged her reputation. Not only had she never kissed a man, but the film’s ending portrayed her character leaving the orphans to re-join the colonel elsewhere, even though she did

Madame Chiang Kai-shek
Madame Chiang Kai-shek

not retire from working with orphans until she was 60 years old.

Aylward prayed with Madam Chiang Kai-Sheck about this troubling turn of events, and the former first lady told her to trust Jesus about it.

The prayer was answered – but in a way she did not expect. According to J. Christy Wilson, author of More to be Desired Than Gold: A Collection of True Stories, Bergman became so deeply moved playing the part of Aylward, she made a special trip to Taiwan in 1970 to meet her.

Days before she arrived, however, Aylward passed into the presence of the Lord in her sleep. Bergman visited the empty room where Gladys had lived, and fell down beside Aylward’s bed weeping, saying she was unworthy to have played the life of such a woman of God.

Aylward’s coworker then led Bergman through the steps to peace with God, showing her that Christ had died for her sins. Bergman prayed the prayer of repentance and received Jesus Christ as her Savior and Lord.

Twelve years later, Bergman died of cancer in 1982. Before she died, she took part in the Easter sunrise service of the Presbyterian Church in Palm Springs, California, reading from the Scriptures the account of the resurrection.


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  1. This testimony really touched me… glad that you posted it. Bergman was one of my very favorite movie stars and I am thrilled to know that she received Jesus Christ as her savior.

  2. Thanks for posting this touching testimony. Gods’ ways are not ours..He chose Ingrid for the role, knowing He could use it as a way to draw her to Himself, I believe.
    Jesus reigns.

  3. A favorite actress, happy to hear she embraced the Savior, though one should not perhaps rejoice over favorites any more than the salvation of any repentant soul.

  4. What a fantastic and moving story! Thank you! God is still a God of miracles and there is no bigger miracle than a changed life.


  6. A very moving story. Gladys Aylward was a wonderful women of God. The movie is very good also.
    However, i am sorry they changed the story to supposedly make it better.

  7. My compliments on the article. I am presently reading the book, “Inn of the Sixth Happiness” by Alan Burgess. I have read in this and other articles that Gladys Aylward was not happy with the romance bit in the movie. Perhaps Hollywood made it a little more romanticized than in her true life. But I did happen across a section in the book where Gladys was felt that she was in love. That she and Col Linnan discussed marriage that he wanted to make her his wife. It even said that she wrote home to her parents informing them that she was intending to marry a Chinese man. They responded that if she found happiness with this man then they supported her. The marriage never happened due to circumstances. I guess Hollywood took that bit of sentiment and wove a fairy tale for the movie goers who crave a happy ending. So love was a part of her life but her love for God was greater.

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