The Inn of the Sixth Happiness

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.

inn of the sixth happiness

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.

Chestry Oak, Symbol of Hope

Chestry OakThe Chestry Oak is, in my opinion, the best piece of children’s literature – ever. Written and illustrated by Kate Seredy in 1948, this book has stood and will continue to stand the test of time. They say a picture is worth a thousand words – not so. This book uses words to create a masterpiece of ageless truths and ideals. Honor, courage, pride, the strength and resilience of the human spirit, boundless love, and, above all, unbreakable hope. Very few books are either beautiful or powerful enough to leap off the page, grab a reader by the collar, and hold him spellbound to the last line. The Chestry Oak is such a book. At once soul-stirringly powerful and heart-wrenchingly beautiful, this is fiction at its finest. Great literature changes us on the inside, changes us for the better. We need more boys, girls, men, and women like the little Hungarian prince.

The place: Chestry Valley, Hungary. The time: World War II. The principal players: little Prince Michael, his Nana, and his father, who is also a prince. The Chestry princes go back hundreds of years to a knight who fought with Saint Stephen against the infidels. Sir Michael was tasked with guarding King Stephen as he slept beneath a great oak (the Chestry Oak, as it would come to be known). For his courage and honor in carrying out his task, the King crowned Sir Michael a prince and gave him the little kingdom of Chestry Valley. Some several hundred years later and the princes of Chestry are facing another horde of infidels: the Nazis. Six year old Michael, or Miska as he is affectionately called, does not understand the ins and outs of war, or why the Nazis are living in his father’s castle, or who the man with the funny mustache is. And yet, he understands more than most of the grownups, for he is wise beyond his years.

Raised under the loving care of a nurse, Mari Vitez or “Nana,” Miska has been taught to distinguish right from wrong, courage from cowardice, honor from disgrace, and to always choose the higher path. Young as he is, the seeds of manhood have already been planted deep in his soul and his tender character is already firmly established on the side of good. To him, the only possible explanation for the wicked things the bad men are doing is that they are sick with a dreadful fever and cannot see the world right. That’s actually a pretty accurate way of looking at it. Michael, with the simplicity of a child, shows us all that we make things more complicated than they need to be. He also shows us what it means to stand in the courage of one’s convictions.

This book is a masterpiece for three reasons: 1. Kate Seredy’s impeccable mastery of the English language; 2. a gripping plot; and 3. the coupling of untarnished innocence and profound wisdom in our hero. It is truly a great book; I strongly urge you to read it for yourself.