One of the best-known and respected missionaries of the
first half of the 20th century was Amy Carmichael. Her 35 books have blessed countless
thousands. One who knew her well gives
this testimony: "Miss Carmichael was a
blessing to all who came into intimate and understanding contact with her
radiant life. She was the most
Christ-like character I ever met, and her life was the most fragrant, the most
joyfully sacrificial that I have ever known."
Amy Carmichael was born in 1867
into a well-to-do North Ireland Christian family. In her teen years, she was educated at a
Wesleyan Methodist boarding school; and at age 13, while still in boarding
school, she accepted Christ as Savior. When
she was age 18, her father died, leaving the family in difficult financial
circumstances as he had given a large personal loan that was not repaid. The family moved to Belfast. There she became involved in visiting in the
slums, and seeing the terrible conditions under which many women and girls
worked in the factories, she began a ministry with these women. It was a work based on faith alone in God,
and He met the needs in most remarkable ways.
She became acquainted with the
Keswick Movement, and it was there that she learned of a close, deeper walk
with the Lord. One of the leaders of the
Keswick Movement, Mr. Wilson, a widower, asked her to come and live in his home
and be his secretary. She learned much
from that employment. She remembered on
one occasion at Keswick where Mr. Moody had preached and afterwards was talking
with Mr. Wilson when he stopped in mid sentence. He had just preached on the prodigal son
where the father had said to the older son "Son, thou art ever with me and all
that I have is thine." Mr. Moody said,
"I never saw it before. Oh, the love of
God's love. Oh, the love. God's love."
Tears rained down his cheeks. Amy
never forgot that spiritual truth-"All that I have is thine." It reinforced her faith that God knew her
needs before she asked and wanted to supply them by faith.
She developed a good work among the
women in Belfast and was
then asked to have a similar ministry in Manchester. There, with her mother at her side, she
developed a similar ministry among slum people and particularly the women and
girls who were working under very terrible conditions in the factories.
Amy received her Macedonian call in
1892 at the age of 24; and the following year, as the first appointee of the
Keswick's missions committee, she went to Japan. But there she met with disappointments. The Japanese language seemed impossible to
her, and the missionary community was not the picture of harmony she had
envisioned. Likewise, her health was
also a problem. After 15 months as a
missionary, Amy became convinced that Japan was not
where God wanted her, so without notifying the Keswick Convention, she sailed
for Ceylon. She was there only a few months when she was
urgently called back to England to care
for Mr. Wilson, who was in critical condition.
After about one year in England, she
returned to the field, this time to India. She arrived in Madras in
November of 1895, a discouraged, confused, and ill young Irish woman. She was 28 years old. Soon after her arrival, she contracted Dengue
Fever, which laid her low for a period of time.
She was sent to a more healthful place to recuperate. One friend who met her said, "You look fresh
as a daisy." But Amy's temperature was
105, and in her own words she felt "wormy."
She saw in the community where she
was that the church was very active but there were no changed lives. She detested the meetings with the other
missionary ladies-drinking tea and gossiping, again showing very little concern
for the eternal souls of those about them.
She felt so alone. One day as she
fell to her knees in dispair, a verse that she had learned long before floated
into her memory: "He that trusteth in me
shall never be desolate," and she found that to be true throughout her long
life of ministry in India. The following lines are so appropriate
concerning the missionary community in Bangalore:
on the mats;
and warm and cozy
how brave are we,
we do our fighting
Amy just did not fit into the
stiff, staid missionary community of Bangalore and
subsequently went to the very south end of India to live
with another missionary family. The
Walkers were a godly family that really understood the Hindu religion and the
tremendous need of reaching out to these debased people. For several years Amy, along with a daughter
of the Walkers and several Christian Indian ladies, began an itinerant ministry
through the villages in the south tip of India in the state
of Tamil Nadu. They were dubbed the
"starry cluster," for the Indians recognized the sincerity and light that shown
forth from them. The members of the band
had no salary but looked to God to supply needs. Their attitude was "How much can I do without
that I may have more to give?" It was
during this period of time that she took on the habit of wearing Indian dress,
which she continued throughout her lifetime.
A life-changing experience took
place in 1901. A little five-year-old
girl, named Pearl Eyes by Amy, was brought to her by an Indian woman. The child had been sold by the mother to the
temple, and there she was being prepared and taught all the degradation of
temple prostitution. Twice she had run
away only to be caught, carried back, beaten, and subjected to the terrible
perversion of that Hindu temple.
Finally, as she was running away again at night, she met with this
understanding woman who brought her to Amy, who gathered the child up into her
lap and picked up the rag doll and gave it to the child to play with. It was then that she really truly understood
the evil of the temple practice. Little
Pearl Eyes talked freely as she played with the doll. She told Amy things that they did to her in
the temple, demonstrating them using the doll.
The date was March 7,
1901. Amy never forgot
that day nor the child's story. It was
terrible beyond imagination. This was
the beginning of her rescue of these children who had been dedicated to the
This incident led to the founding
of the Dohnavur Fellowship. Over the
years literally thousands of temple children have been rescued and other
ministries established there at the Dohnavur Fellowship in South
In 1918, they began to rescue baby
boys, for they likewise were dedicated to the temple gods and goddesses. Other areas of the work over the years were
added such as hospital, schools, printing, etc.
Amy was not understood by many of the missionaries in India. She was also greatly resented by the Hindu
priests and was frequently taken to court on charges of being a kidnapper.
Amy was greatly influenced by the
life of George Mueller and ordered her work on the same basis, never asking for
financial help except as she winged her petitions to the God of all grace.
In 1931 Amy had a fall that left
her an invalid for the remainder of her life, and she seldom left her bed. It was during this period of her life that
she was most prolific in writing.
Occasionally someone would wheel her in a type of wheelchair out onto a
veranda where her children would gather outside and greet her and sing to
My wife had always been a great
admirer of Amy Carmichael and collected most of the books that she wrote. It was a real thrill for us, while in India, to visit
the Dohnavur Fellowship.
Dohnavur Fellowship is located on a
large tract of land on the very southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. It is
a lovely site with many tropical plants and flowering shrubs and trees. The
buildings are well-built in Indian style. The central building is the chapel,
which is a large, lovely facility. Daily devotions are held there. There are no
pews per se, but the Indians who are a part of the fellowship sit on mats,
Indian style in the main part of the auditorium. Around the periphery, there
are chairs for guests that are visiting the campus. The children are housed in
"family" units. Each house takes care of 8 to 10 children with a house mother
living with them and supervising them. The boys' and the girls' sections are
separate by some distance. There are very few boys anymore. That part of the
ministry is virtually closed. They do have a hospital, schools, agricultural
pursuits, and other facilities. The house Amy Carmichael lived in is still in
good repair. It is again typical of the colonial-day housing. It has large,
open doors and windows and is very comfortable. The main central room is a
dining room. It was there where Amy had her meals until she was rendered
bed-bound by her injury. As guests we were invited to have our meals there, served
in the same room and with the same tableware that Amy used some fifty years
earlier. Off the dining room was her private bedroom, which is very spacious as
well. The walls are lined with shelves, and she had a fabulous missionary
library. There are several smaller rooms off this bedroom, so it would be
possible for her to privately counsel and deal with inquirers who came to her
for help. Another door from her bedroom leads out onto a veranda that overlooks
a lovely garden. We were told that every evening the children would come and
greet Amy and sing to her. Her bed could be rolled out onto the veranda, and
she would greet and speak with the children on those occasions. If I understood
correctly, the only European who is involved in any ongoing way is a woman who
is the treasurer. She cannot get a resident visa to stay fulltime, but she
comes on a tourist visa for three months, leaves India for a
short period, and then returns again for another three-month stint. The rest of
the operation is in the hands of the Indians, and they seem to be doing an
It's interesting that most of the
children who are there do not know their birthdates, so they reckon on the day
they arrived at the Dohnavur home and call it the "coming day." That becomes their
birthday. On the coming day there is a special occasion with special treats and
new clothing; and they honor the individual in some way.
prostitution played a major part of Hinduism. This practice was known by the
British who governed India and had
been spoken against, but nothing ever happened. However, through the
"campaigning" of Amy and some other concerned people, temple prostitution was
banned toward the end of Amy's life. Yet it is still practiced today, for it
was never really enforced-a very horrific sexual perversion of these children,
both girls and boys (more so the girls), and it is still a blight upon that
great land of India.
Surrounding Amy's house are lovely
gardens. She also was quite an admirer of birds, and a number of bird baths and
feeders are found in the garden around her cottage. Somewhere in the garden, in
an unmarked tomb, Amy was buried. She didn't want a marker placed over her
grave. She wanted just to remain a part of the Dohnavur Fellowship.
The present superintendent of the
Dohnavur Fellowship is a woman whose "coming day" was when she was five-days
old. All of the house mothers, likewise, grew up at the fellowship and seem
like very lovely, caring people. The present superintendent was five-years old
when Amy passed to her reward in 1951.
From the time Amy set foot on Indian soil, she never returned to her
homeland-55 years without a furlough.
Amy was very self-effacing-would
never allow her photograph to be taken and never referred to herself by name or
personal pronoun in her writings.
a life I did not live,
a death I did not die,
life, another's death,
stake my whole eternity.