Victorian Missionary: Amy Carmichael


Originally published in Pulpit Helps, October 2005.

Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) did not find romantic adventure in missionary work: "You go to a hut and find nobody in; [at the next] nobody wants you; [in another, you] find an old woman who says yes, you may talk if you like, and she listens in an aimless sort of way and perhaps two more drift in; you go on, a prayer behind each sentence."

Her first major book, Things As They Are, languished for years without a publisher; "no one would believe the harsh truths it described." Nevertheless, she served in India for more than half a century with great distinction and deserves to be remembered as an outstanding heroine of faith.

Amy was born in Ireland and early came to know the Lord. She first became a missionary in Japan, though she had also felt called to serve with Hudson Taylor's China Inland Mission (now Overseas Missionary Fellowship).

When health failed she returned to England. She had been brought up in the Presbyterian Church and followed the deeper-life Keswick teachings. Under the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society, she sailed for India to begin her life work.

She faced a society so "rigidly divided by rules of caste and sex" that people resisted open air preaching or even casual contact between Christians and Hindus. But her close friendship with Ponnammal, a gifted Indian Christian, became her special entry into the perplexing ways of a foreign culture.

Soon Amy found her calling-the rescue of girls "devoted to the gods," which meant they would grow up in the temple and eventually become ritual prostitutes. Since she was fully occupied caring for infants and sickly children, itinerant evangelism was impossible.

Amy wore the traditional sari, though without the jewels and adornments that were indispensable feminine status symbols in Hindu society. Thus she adapted in every way possible to local customs.

Some have speculated why she never married. Her correspondence "is extremely reticent on this subject although there are hints of at least one romantic attraction." But she was private and her reasons will probably never be known. Perhaps no available men measured up to her dedication and drive. Of course the supreme passion of her life was the Lord Himself, who had called her to a demanding life of service. Her deep degree of death to self meant that sometimes she "seemed unable to enjoy a casual friendship for its own sake."

She founded the Dohnavur Fellowship, through which so many girls (and later boys) were delivered from slavery to a better life. She greatly admired the work of the China Inland Mission and in many ways patterned herself after Hudson Taylor. She did not solicit funds.

When people asked [to sponsor a child] she refused their help. All funds went into the mission account to be dispersed as the Lord directed. The many workers God brought to her side were not paid salaries, and the mission never borrowed or went into debt.

But alas, in 1931 she suffered a serious fall. Complications set in and her active ministry ended. After that she directed all affairs through her assistants, being limited to her room and an occasional veranda stroll. 

In 1948 she fell again and was confined to her bed for the rest of her life. Home-going came in 1951, but the Dohnavur Fellowship continues to minister effectively in southern India. Amy had planned and prepared well.

Carmichael wrote 35 books-devotionals, stories of redeemed children, messages for the suffering, and others-including Candles in the Dark, Edges of His Ways, Figures of the True, God's Missionary, Gold by Moonlight, Gold Cord, Learning of God,Rose From Brier, and Whispers of His Power.

Bernard R. DeRemer chronicled the lives of dozens of heroes of the faith in more than a decade of writing for Pulpit Helps Magazine. He continues to serve in this capacity as a volunteer contributor to Disciple. He lives in West Liberty, Ohio.

References: Things As They Are, quoted by Margaret Bendroth, in More Than Conquerors; © 1992 Moody Bible Institute; excerpts used by permission.Victorious Christians You Should Know, by Warren Wiersbe; used by permission.

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