Amy Carmichael: Born in Ireland on Dec. 16th, 1867; died on Jan.18th, 1951
in Tamil Nadu, India after 55 years of service there with no furlough.
Amy was from an Irish Protestant (Presbyterian) family, the oldest of 7 children, and was always interested in a challenge. She led her brothers into challenges….like playing on roofs and sliding down rainspouts. One day her parents were standing at the bottom of the rainspout.
She learned very young that God hears our prayers, and believed wholeheartedly that he answered prayers. She did not like her brown eyes, so one night she went to bed, prayed for blue eyes, and believed that when she woke up in the morning she would be blue-eyed. She ran to the mirror the next morning….and they were still brown. Years later in India, she went into the Hindu temples to rescue little girls from prostitution, and her blue eyes would have given her away as a foreigner. She came to thank and praise His sovereignty and goodness in giving her brown eyes.
Seventeen-year-old Amy Carmichael was on her way home from church in Belfast, when she came to a poor old woman carrying a heavy bundle-something she was not accustomed to seeing in Presbyterian Belfast. Amy, along with her two brothers, took the bundle from the woman and helped her along by the arms.
Surrounded by the “respectable people” of the community, Amy could not help but notice her actions were being questioned. She was embarrassed. In her own words Amy described it as “a horrid moment. We were only two boys and a girl, and not at all exalted Christians. We hated doing it.” They plodded on in spite of the blushing and sense of shame for associating publicly with such a woman. The wind and rain blew in their faces. The rags of the old woman pressed against them.
Just as they passed by an ornate Victorian fountain in the street, “this mighty phrase flashed as it were through the gray drizzle: ‘Gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay stubble — every man’s work will be made manifest; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide…”
The words were so real, Amy turned to see who had spoken them. She saw nothing but a muddy street, people with surprised looks on their faces, and the fountain. But Amy knew this was the voice of God.
That afternoon, Amy shut the door to her room and closed herself in with God. What happened that day would change the course of her life and profoundly impact her priorities. Amy Carmichael began to understand what it means to die to self.
How did this affect her? She purposed in her heart to follow Him who had no home, no earthly possessions beyond the bare minimum. She would be “dead to the world and its applause, to all its customs, fashions, laws.” Amy had an eye for beauty and it was no small sacrifice to embrace this journey of true discipleship.
Betty Stam: (China Inland Mission, Martyred 1935 at the age of 26; graduate of Moody Bible Institute) “When we consecrate ourselves to God, we think we are making a great sacrifice, and doing lots for Him, when really we are only letting go some little, bitsie trinkets we have been grabbing, and when our hands are empty, He fills them full of His treasures. –Betty Stam
In 1886, Amy’s father died. Amy helped with the teaching of younger children, took painting classes, and started various good works, like helping with the YMCA, and inner city missions. She poured herself into this, but it seemed empty to her. It surely must have seemed impressive to others, but she thouthe of it as wood, hay and stubble. What was missing? Her sisters described her with one word during this time…enthusiastic. By 1889, age 22, Amy longed to live a holy life…how could she live the life she longed for? The revivals were strong during this time in England and Ireland. Amy wanted to live “dead to the world…she would follow Him who had no home, no earthly possessions beyond the bare minimum….dead to the world and its applause, to all its customs, fashions, laws,…and relinquish all …for a true life of discipleship.”
Amy began to reach out to the “shawlies” girls who worked in the mills and were too poor to by hats. They used their shawls to cover their heads, which was offensive to the proper church members. Which was worse, Amy bringing these crude “commoners” to the church or Mrs. Carmichael allowing her to go into the slums to fetch them? They couldn’t decide. Amy didn’t care about her reputation. She was dead. Christ was alive in her, loving the shawlies through her. It was a relief to the church folk when the shawlies were coming in such large numbers that Amy needed a separate building for them. This was no small challenge for a now 22 year-old girl. But Amy believed God for both the Land and the building. The invitations were sent out and the grand opening set for January 2, 1889. She invited her minister to dedicate “The Mill and Factory Girls’ Branch of the YMCA.” A banner was hung in the front with words, “That in all things HE might have the preeminence.”
Two students of D.L. Moody led the service. Amy wasn’t on the platform that night. She wasn’t on the program. Yes, it was her vision that initiated the ministry and her dream that brought about the building. But she sat inconspicuously in the middle of the audience. Amy Carmichael had died to self.
Amy became aware of Hudson Taylor’s words… “a million a month are dying in China.”
Amy met a man named Mr Wilson during this time of her life…the Carmichael family called him the “Dear Old Man” (DOM). He owned coal mines in Ireland, but was a widower whose only daughter died when she was just Amy’s age. He lived alone in his estate with two bachelor sons in their late thirties. The Carmichaels visited him often and it happened that he “adopted” Amy. He was one of the founders of the Keswick Conventions….with the revivals. She moved to his estate and she began her new “schooling” (1890). This gave her Quaker, Baptist, and Anglican teachings. Mr. Robert Wilson eventually became the man who supported her almost fully on the mission field for her personal needs. She later went on the mission field under the Keswicks.
This is their “Thoughts on Sanctity”: To be like Christ. To displace self from the inner throne, and to enthrone Him; to make not the slightest compromise with the smallest sin. We aim at nothing less than to walk with God all day long, to abide every hour in Christ and He and His words in us, to love God with all the heart and our neighbor as ourselves…It is possible to cast every care on Him daily, and to be at peace amidst pressure, to see the will of God in everything, to put away all bitterness, and clamor and evil speaking, daily and hourly. It is possible by unreserved resort to divine power under divine conditions to become strongest through and through at our weakest point.”
One of the cathedrals had these inscriptions on it: (by a carving of roses)…”All that pleases is but for a moment.” ;(by a carving of a cross)…”All that grieves is but for a moment.”; and over the central door…”Nothing is important but that which is eternal.”
On January 13th, 1892, it was clear that she must go to the mission field. (“Faith does not eliminate questions; but faith knows where to take them.”) (She actually sailed March 3rd,1893.) Amy did not question, though it saddened her to leave her loved ones. On the mission field, God again used Amy’s “mother’s heart” to minister to children. She spent fifty-five years in India setting up orphanages to rescue children from prostitution in Hindu temples and ministering to the people she met. Amy affected the lives of countless Indians, giving them a hope for a future on earth and in heaven. While serving in India, Amy received a letter from a young lady who was considering life as a missionary, She asked Amy, “What is missionary life like?” Amy wrote back saying simply, “Missionary life is a chance to die.”
Amy used expressions like “the Ark of His Presence”. She went to Japan first and then to Ceylon for a short time. When the DOM had a stroke, she came home for a while, and sailed for India in November 1895.
One incident in Japan affected her the rest of her life. A seasoned missionary, speaking of how missionaries “get along” on the mission field said…”You think all missionaries love one another?” Well that is what Amy thought precisely!! Years later when she was running the mission Dohnavur, she made sure the verse 1 Peter 1:22 was implemented…”See that ye love one another fervently”. One day Amy gave a New Testament to a student, and said it would be a seed. The seed needed to be watered. On the other side of the world another student heard of this Japanese student and prayed for him. The English student was Paget Wilkes, an undergraduate then, who went to Japan, worked in Matsuye, and led to Christ that student for whom he had prayed. She prayed for the Japanese converts to burn their idols….she called this “the Calvary side of the work, a thing to be lived through alone with Calvary’s Christ.” Amy had many converts in Japan, and 14 years later when missionaries came, “the converts from Amy’s ministry were still firmly rooted in the faith.
Loneliness was with her always…. She felt that no part of the cost of being a foreign missionary is greater than the loneliness. Her answer from the Lord – Psalm 34:22…”None of them that trust in me shall be desolate.” Countless occasions in the field she had to reexamine her motives. But when she besought her girlfriends at home to consider the call, she said welcome all tests of whatever sort before they crossed the seas, and learn to die to self in any shape or form. Experience had taught her that she could not survive the storms without the anchor of the constraining love of Christ, and what she called the “rock of consciousness” of the promise given her, “He goeth before” (Matt.28:7; Mark 16:7; John 10:4). On the field in India, she testified that “to the Glory of His name let me witness that in far away lands, in loneliness, in times of downheartedness and tiredness and sadness, always always HE IS NEAR. He does comfort, if we let Him. Perhaps someone so weak and good-for-nothing as even I am may read this. Don’t be afraid! Through all circumstances, outside, inside, He can keep me close. “In His quiver hath He kept me close” (Isa. 49:2).
Her ministry in India……it met up with child marriages, demon worship, widow burning and extreme adherence to the caste system. She and a small band of converts went out into small villages to speak to people for 7 years. As they went they heardn of the selling of babies and small girls to the temple priests …and could not even believe the stories. She began praying over that period of time for the burden the Lord had laid on her heart…but how would she stop it? One day a baby was handed to them that was to be sold to the priests. A temple prostitute was “married to the gods”, whose life was spent in service to the priests and the worshipers. Never was one converted. No one had ever been allowed to work among them. This was like a sword in Amy’s missionary soul. The overwhelming desire to save the children became a fire I her bones.
Preena escaped the temple priests in 1901, and Amy became “Amma” the word for Mother. The little thing walked straight into their hearts, and they felt they would risk anything to keep her. Amy said she remembered “waking up to the knowledge that there had been a very empty corner somewhere in me that the work had never filled…” which saving the children filled.
A prayer of Jeremy Taylor was always hers too… “Lord, do Thou turn me all into love, and all my love into obedience, and let my obedience be without interruption”. (His grandfather was married to William Tyndale’s niece and saw Tyndale burned at the stake….which was about the time Martin Luther was printing the Bible in the language of the people.)
A previous missionary to India, Henry Martyn ( 1781-1812), wrote…”I have rightfully no other business each day but to God’s work as a servant, constantly regarding His pleasure. May I have grace to live above every human motive, simply with God and to God.” (Martyn translated the NT into three languages in his short life…Persian, Hindustani, & Arabic.) Mr. Martyn wrote in his journal after he met Wm Carey: “I have hitherto lived to little purpose; more like a clod than a servant of God. Now let me burn out for God.” He accomplished more in the six years of translating that many who live a full lifetime.
There was a psychological grid for missionaries to pass through in those days. There were 25 questions, among them:
- Do you truly desire to live the crucified life? (This may mean doing very humble things joyfully for His Name’s sake.)
- Does the thought of hardness draw you or repel you?
- Do you realize that we are a family, not an institution? Are you willing to do whatever helps most?
- Apart from the Bible can you name 3 or 4 books which have been of vital help to you?
- Apart from books, what refreshes you most when you are tired?
- Have you ever learned any classical or continental language?
- Have you ever had the opportunity to prove the Lord’s promise to supply temporal as well as spiritual needs?
- Can you mention any experience you have passed through in your Christian life which brought you into new discovery of your union with the crucified, risen, and enthroned Lord?
Amy wrote: Do not come unless you can say to your Lord, and to us….”The Cross is the attraction”
Questions and Application:
At one point in her early years Amy said, “Nothing could ever matter again but the things that were eternal.” Nothing? What is your response to that?
As a youngster, Amy rejected the dark brown eyes God had given her, and longed instead for blue eyes. But with her brown eyes, she was later able to go inside the Hindu temples to rescue children.
Is there any unchangeable feature of your own body (God’s design) that you reject? Thank God for it, instead.
Amy demonstrated death to self by praying for money with out telling anyone.
Is there a sum of money for a specific ministry you could ask only God to provide?
One night, Amy led her oxcart driver to Christ. Later, she found out that a prayer group back home had been praying specifically on that date for a convert to be won. Maybe you should pause right now and pray for a missionary. When the Lord brings a missionary to mind, take it as an opportunity to pray for them, and enter into their ministry from afar. This is walking in the Spirit.
May we all die to self in this way.
“He must become greater, I must become less”
The things that mattered most to Amy and the Dohnavur Fellowship was:
- The verbal inspiration of Scripture
- The power of God to deal with His enemy
- Loyalty to one another
A book by Amy Carmichael : “Things As They Are” – Amy brings out the truth and reality of the mission work in India.