Missionary Life – Amy Beatrice Carmichael
Amy Beatrice Carmichael was the first daughter born to David and Catherine Carmichael, on December 16, 1867, in Millisle, County Down, Ireland. Her parents were devout Presbyterian Christians and raised their children in equal devotion to the Lord. Her father ran a flour mill, owned by the Carmichaels for the last hundred years and the family was never in need.
When she was 16, Amy’s father moved the family to Belfast, where the Carmichaels founded the Welcome Evangelical church. At one point, her father’s business began to lose money and closed. Worried about his failed business, he fell sick and eventually passed away when Amy was 18. This created financial pressure in the family and Amy had to quit school. The next ten years, Amy helped her mother to take care of her younger siblings.
Ministry to the Shawlies
At this time, Amy started getting excited about doing what God wanted her to do. On Saturday evenings, she would go with her pastor to the poor neighborhood to hand out food, tracts and to share the love of Christ with them. These people were very poor to the point where they could not afford to buy hats to protect their heads from the cold. Instead, they used their shawls to cover them and hence were called by the name, “Shawlies.” Seeing their hunger for God, in the mid-1880s, she started Sunday-morning class for the Shawlies in the church hall of Rosemary Street Presbyterian. The mission grew until they needed a hall to seat 500 people. Amy and the girls (Shawlies) prayed fervently, asking God to provide it. God answered their prayers and in 1887, the first “Welcome Hall” was established on the corner of Cambrai Street and Heather Street.
The Call to Missionary Work
Amy continued at the Welcome Hall until she moved to England to work in the slums. There she lived in an apartment with bugs and rats and shared the love of Christ with the downtrodden. Soon, because of her health issues, she had to move to the estate of a family friend, Robert Wilson. In 1887, Amy attended the Keswick Convention in which she heard Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, speak about missionary life. From then on, she felt God calling her as a missionary and sensed that God wanted her to spread the Word to other countries.
Stepping into missionary work was no small feat for Amy. Her health was the major barrier because she suffered with neuralgia, a disease of the nerves, which made her body weak and achy; she was often bedridden for weeks. Hence, she was the most unlikely candidate for missionary work but despite her health conditions, she wanted to obey God’s call on her life.
Her initial application for the China Inland Mission was rejected due to her health. Later, in 1893, she travelled to Japan but due to her illness, she was forced to return to England after fifteen months. Her recovery took very long and was agonizing but she never gave up. She served for a brief period in Ceylon (Sri lanka) and then moved to Bangalore (India). Later, she was commissioned by the Church of England Zenana Mission as a missionary to India.
Missionary to India
In India, Amy learnt the difficult Tamil language. She travelled the countryside, telling anyone who would listen to her about Christ and that they are loved by God and are equal in His sight. She also started writing many books about missionary work. One of her popular, early works was, Things as They Are: Mission Work in Southern India (1903).
Indian girls were often unwanted and were given to the temple to serve as prostitutes. Amy’s most notable work was with such girls and young women, some of whom were saved from customs that amounted to forced prostitution. This mission started when Amy met a girl named Preena. Having become a temple servant against her wishes, Preena managed to escape. Amy provided her shelter and withstood the threats that followed. The number of such incidents soon grew, thus beginning Amy Carmichael’s new Ministry.
Amy and the other women she worked with rescued hundreds of young girls, and eventually boys, and cared for them. Many of these children were never loved but Amy shared with them the love of Christ. Through her, they learnt what love is and started seeking the God who loved them. When the children were asked what drew them to Amy, they most often replied, “It was love. Amma (the Tamil word for ‘mother’) loved us.”
The Dohnavur Fellowship
In 1901, she founded the Dohnavur Fellowship to continue her work. Dohnavur is situated in Tamil Nadu, thirty miles from India’s southern tip. Amy’s fellowship transformed Dohnavur into a sanctuary for over one thousand children and later, Rev. Thomas Walker established a school there.
Respecting Indian culture, members of the organization wore Indian dress and gave the rescued children Indian names. Amy herself dressed in Indian clothes, dyed her skin with dark coffee and often travelled long distances on India’s hot, dusty roads to save just one child from suffering.
In 1912, Queen Mary recognized the missionary’s work and helped fund a hospital at Dohnavur. By 1913, the Dohnavur Fellowship was serving 130 girls. In 1918, Dohnavur added a home for young boys, many born to the former temple prostitutes. Meanwhile, in 1916, Amy formed a Protestant religious order called Sisters of the Common Life.
Reliance on God
Amy had a personal relationship with her Heavenly Father, and she taught the girls to pursue fellowship with the living God. A common method for parents putting their children to bed is saying their prayers. Amy, however, wouldn’t stop at prayers. She would also smooth out a space on her sheets, then invite the Lord to come sit down beside her. This was an early sign of Amy’s willingness to talk and listen to what her Heavenly Father had to say.
Amy’s lengthy ministry at Dohnavur was sustained through her strong reliance upon scripture and prayer. She trusted and relied completely on her Heavenly Father alone. The famous quote from her works, “It is a safe thing to trust Him to fulfill the desire that He creates” emphasizes her reliance on God.
Final days and lasting impact
In 1931, Amy’s race was slowed down by a fall that severely injured her. Her hip and back were badly damaged and she was bedridden for much of her final two decades. During this time, her mission at Dohnavur fellowship was directed from her bedroom.
Amy’s movements were limited but she continued her inspirational writing. In those twenty years, she published sixteen additional books of the missionary work in India.
Amy died in India in 1951 at the age of 83. She asked that no stone be put over her grave at Dohnavur. Instead, the children she had cared for put a bird bath over it with the single inscription, “Amma”, which means mother in the Tamil language.
Over the 50 years she spent in India, Amy Carmichael took in hundreds of unwanted children and cared for them. Her example as a missionary inspired many others like Jim Elliot and his wife Elisabeth Elliot to pursue a similar vocation. India outlawed temple prostitution in 1948. However, the Dohnavur Fellowship she founded still continues, supporting many people and has 16 nurseries and a hospital. The foundation is now run by Indians under the jurisdiction of the C.S.I Tirunelveli Diocese, India.