A life-long missionary in Southern India in the early 20th century, Amy Carmichael's legacy has inspired many young missionaries. During her 55 years in Southern India, she founded a refuge for children sold into temple prostitution and wrote many books about her experiences on the mission field and about faith in Christ.
Born in Ireland in 1867, Carmichael was born in a Christian home and first felt the call to international ministry when working for a missions organization in Ireland. Though she was serving in her local church, leading a group called the “Shawlies” which made shawls and provided discipleship for the women working in the local factories, Carmichael began to think of those with less access to the gospel. Amy felt the Spirit urge her to serve as a missionary to the unreached people of the world, and she was obedient to follow the Spirit’s beckoning.
After a 15 month stay in Japan, Carmichael was forced to return home, because of a chronic pain condition that would keep her bedridden for weeks at a time. Though she wasn’t the likeliest of candidates for mission work due to her condition, Carmichael’s desire to share the Gospel prompted her to venture back, this time located in Southern India which would remain her “battlefield” for the last 55 years of her life.
In her book Things as They Are: Mission Work in Southern India, Carmichael candidly dispels the Western depiction of the sanguine missionary experience. Having witnessed young children sold into temple prostitution, young converts being poisoned by family members after baptism, and the systemic oppression of the Caste system, Carmichael lays out a grim picture of darkness and of need. She speaks to her generation, challenging them to look at things as they really are and ask if they, in the knowledge of truth, can casually stand back and allow injustice and hopelessness without stirring Christians to action.
In 1901, she founded Donahavur Fellowship to provide a sanctuary for children and women who were forced into temple prostitution. Though she never married, she became mother to many through her ministry. Her fellowship served over 1000 children, whom she fondly served as “Ammal” or “mother,” very literally following Christ’s example by “letting the children come” to her, many of whom who would otherwise have been forced back to temples to face severe abuse both sexually and physically. In striking humility, she found comfort in God’s call to faithfulness, rather than success, in this world, as the majority of the nation served other gods. For those who did believe, they suffered unfathomable persecution from their families and the larger society.
“But we will never try to allure anyone to think of coming by painting colored pictures, when the facts are in black and white… We care not for it; our business is to tell the truth. The work is not a pretty thing, to be looked at and admired. It is a fight. And battlefields are not beautiful” (Things as they Are). Carmichael in no way used her mission as a way to glorify herself or their work, but to expose the reality of mission work, a reality filled with joy and suffering with the assurance of ultimate victory in Christ.
It’s easy to read about Amy Carmichael and feel that she is on a different playing field than us because of her works, but in truth she is not. The same Holy Spirit that dwelt in her dwells in us. Amy Carmichael felt the same weight and sadness when others rejected the gospel but remained steadfast, living 55 years in her mission field, patiently waiting on the Lord to work in the hearts of many. Waiting is hard, and to a 23-year-old growing up in a microwave age, we expect to see immediate results from our labor. Let Amy Carmichael’s faith encourage us to pray for God to work in our mission field, to endure in hardship, letting steadfastness have its full effect in the specific time and place that God has placed us.
“Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we also live with him;
If we endure, we will also reign with him;
If we deny him, he will also deny us;
If we are faithless, he remains faithful-
For he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:10-13)
Suggested Reading list:
“Things as They Are” Amy Carmichael
“A Chance to Die” Elisabeth Elliot
“Edges of His Way” Amy Carmichael
“Whispers of His Power” Amy Carmichael
Carmichael, Amy. Candles in the Wind. Fort Washington, PA: CLC Publications, 2007. Print.
Carmichael, Amy. Things as They Are: Mission Work in Southern India. London: Morgan and Scott, 1905. Print.
Dick, Lois Hoadley. Let the Children Come. Chicago, IL: The Moody Bible Institute, 1984. Print.
“The Fellowship of His Sufferings: The Testimony of Amy Carmichael.” Christian Voice. May 2010. Web. 14 Mar 2016.