As a young, single missionary seeking answers, Amy Carmichael entered a cave to meet with God.
"I had feelings of fear about the future," she recalled. "The devil kept on whispering, 'It's all right now, but what about afterward? You are going to be very lonely.' He painted pictures of loneliness. I turned to my God in desperation and said, 'Lord, what can I do? How can I go on to the end?' and He said, 'None of them that trust in Me shall be desolate.' That word has been with me ever since. It has been fulfilled to me. It will be fulfilled to you."
Born in 1867 in a village on the coast of North Ireland, Carmichael was raised in a devout Christian home. She came to personal faith in Christ through the ministry of a visiting evangelist. Two years later, she had an experience that forever marked her values. Carmichael and her brothers were walking home from church. Suddenly, the three young people came upon a frail, elderly woman, bent over with a heavy bundle. They lifted the load from her arms, and Amy reached out to support her while she walked. Looking up, they noticed that several people from their church had stopped to stare. The scene was much like that in the story of the Good Samaritan, where the religious people passed by arrogantly while the Samaritan helped the robbed and beaten victim. Remembering the church people's self-righteous looks, she recalled, "I knew something had happened that changed life's values. Nothing could ever matter again but the things that were eternal."
At a Keswick Convention, Carmichael heard Hudson Taylor, the famous missionary to China, issue a Great Commission challenge. Hearing deep within the call, "Go ye," she committed her life to advancing the gospel. Sailing first to Japan, Carmichael went to visit an elderly woman who was ill. At first, the woman seemed eager to open her heart to Jesus. Suddenly the old woman noticed the missionary's fur gloves and became disinterested in the message.
"I went home," Carmichael reflected, "took off my English clothes, put on my Japanese kimono, and never again, I trust, risked so very much for the sake of so little."
Carmichael also learned to battle the powers of darkness. A Buddhist neighbor was possessed by the "fox spirit." She assured the wife of the demon-possessed man she would pray until he was delivered. Within an hour, a messenger came to say that all the "foxes," six of them, were gone. The next day, the man, perfectly well, presented Carmichael a bouquet of flowers in appreciation. Some time later, he died peacefully, the New Testament in his hands.
Settling in India in 1901, Carmichael established a safe house for her first temple runaway. Soon, she formed the Dohnavur Fellowship with the purpose of rescuing children from the hideous abuse of temple prostitution cloaked in religious ritual of "marrying the gods." She courageously exposed what the Sunday School Chronicle called "a wickedness and degradation so colossal and deep seated" that few attempted to intervene. Carmichael was often accused of kidnapping. Her practice of "hearing the Lord's voice" also drew criticism. Many Hindus hated her, and some missionaries envied her. But she remained a tenacious advocate for at-risk children. By 1913, Dohnavur Fellowship had housed and educated 130 children.
Carmichael's faith challenged many to deeper commitment. She helped establish a Protestant order of single missionaries committed to costly "Calvary love." "When I consider the cross of Christ," she wrote, "how can anything I do be considered sacrifice?"
Carmichael suffered a fall that immobilized her for the last two decades of her life. She could seldom leave her room, although the children always had access to "Amma" ("mother"). From that small room, her impact only increased. Carmichael's 35 books and poems form a lasting legacy that still fosters missions involvement.
Carmichael never took a furlough, dying in South India in 1951. She gave herself unreservedly to fulfilling "the great unrepealed commission." She influenced many into missionary service, including Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. The work of Dohnavur Fellowship continues today.
We stand on the shoulders of courageous pioneers like Amy Carmichael, who prayed:
"Give me the love that leads the way,
The faith that nothing can dismay,
The hope no disappointments tire,
The passion that will burn like fire.
Let me not stoop to be a clod;
Make me Thy fuel, flame of God."
David Shibley is founder and international representative for Global Advance. Each year, Global Advance (globaladvance.org) equips thousands of leaders to fulfill the Great Commission. The author of more than 20 books, he is a graduate of John Brown University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also received an honorary doctorate from Oral Roberts University. This column is based on profiles from Great for God: Missionaries Who Changed the World (New Leaf Publishing Group).
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