“Amy Wilson Carmichael was the most Christ-like character I ever met. . . her life was the most fragrant, the most joyfully sacrificial, that I ever knew.” ~ Sherwood Eddy, missionary and statesman.
Amy Wilson Carmichael (1867-1951) was raised in Northern Ireland. Her life story is illuminated by Elizabeth Elliot in her inspiring biography, A Chance to Die: The Life and Legend of Amy Carmichael.
Living for the good of others was a notion Amy picked up from her Presbyterian parents and practiced as the eldest of seven children. She learned about poetry and heard stories of the great martyrs of Scotland and England from her governess. Those stories gave her big ideas about facing death with courageous cheer.
After Amy’s father died, her family moved to Belfast and she threw herself into serving others. The director of the Belfast City Mission took her through city streets to see the “other half.” She began teaching children in night school, initiated weekly prayer meetings and worked with the YWCA.
The call of God to missionary service fell on her ears of faith at a Bible conference when she was 24. In 1893, she went to Japan, supported by the Keswick Missions Committee. She found the language difficult and was disappointed to see disharmony among her fellow missionaries She wrote to her mother, “The devil is awfully busy.”
She set out for Ceylon but ended up in India (1895) where she lived without furlough for 55 years. In Dohnavur, she learned about a “hidden secret” in Indian life. The practice of “dedicating” children to Hindu temples had a dark underside. In some cases, children were sold as “temple prostitutes;” married to the gods, so to speak, and made available to Hindu men who visited the temples. A by-product of this clandestine practice was a number of babies in desperate need of being rescued from this cycle of sin.
Amy devoted herself to saving “temple children” from lives of degradation. With the help of some local (converted) women, she made slow and careful steps toward creating a haven for helpless babies. It was difficult to find women who would nurse out-of-caste babies. One woman who consented to breast-feed such a baby was killed by her husband for her sin against caste. By 1901, the Dohnavur Fellowship, a society for rescuing ill-treated children, was underway.
Amy’s reports for supporters back home contained the straight unromantic truth. Her radiant life did not shine so bright on paper. Her missionary society preferred rosy reports from the field, but she told it as it was. One time, the society rejected one of her reports as too discouraging and asked for a rewrite. She refused. For her, mission work offered little in the way of glamour. It offered a chance to die. Thus the title of Elizabeth Elliot’s biography.
Speaking of dying, “Calvary Love” was what inspired Amy to the core. She was willing to face any risk for these children. She was charged with criminal kidnapping and often threatened with violence. Nevertheless, twelve years after beginning this controversial ministry, there were 130 children (her little “Lotus Buds”) under her care. She was mother, doctor, and nurse; day and night. Amy became known as “Amma” (‘mother’ in the Tamil tongue).
Her children were physically cared for, fed and educated, with a special focus on their “Christian character.” One of the girls described her childhood this way: “When we were very small, we were on the wings of her love.” But Amy was strict too. Love, for Amy, meant, self-sacrifice, self-discipline and courage. When punishments were needed, Amy did it herself but it came with assurances of love, a Bible-reading and a piece of candy afterwards.
Amy craved for more time to focus on spiritual concerns but the physical needs were pressing. When criticized for not being “evangelistic enough” and for paying too much attention to physical needs, her response was; “Souls are more or less securely attached to bodies . . . and as you cannot get the souls out and deal with them separately, you have to take them both together.” “Calvary Love” calls for concrete service in practical matters.
Amy’s struggle as a single woman found some resolution in the promise she claimed from God that. “None of them that trust in Me shall be desolate.” She carried that promise in her heart all her life. She formed the Sisters of the Common Life, an order for single Christian women committed wholly to the children. This gave them a sense of family and kept them focused. Amy only hired workers who shared her “single eye” for God’s glory.
After a fall left her partially invalid, she spent the last twenty years of her life writing and pleading the cause of her children. She prayed that her “thorn in the flesh” be removed and met with the same answer that Paul received; “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is perfected in your weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). She died in 1951 at the age of 83.
Amy’s story cannot be told without an example of her poetry:
A PRAYER FOR DELIVERANCE :
From subtle love of softening things,
From easy choices, weakenings . . .
From all that dims Thy Calvary,
O Lamb of God, deliver me.
Give me the love that leads the way,
The faith that nothing can dismay . . .
Let me not sink to be a clod:
Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.”
All photos were taken from Amy Carmichael
Dohnavur Fellowship‘s Facebook page
The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.