Amy Carmichael was a 19th-century Northern Irish missionary in India. While there, she established an orphanage and founded “The Dohnavur Fellowship” - a refuge for orphaned or abandoned children who were sold to the Hindu temples. Almost single-handedly, the brave young missionary fought a battle against the wicked practice of child temple prostitution in India. Mainly through her valiant and persistent efforts, temple prostitution was officially abolished in 1948. While not completely eradicated, it is considerably less common today.
Amy lived in India for the rest of her life, without ever returning to Northern Ireland. Also a prolific writer, Amy wrote hymns, poems, and some thirty-five books, the best known of which is an early historical account, “Things as they are: Mission work in South India”.
Born in County Down, Northern Ireland on 16th December 1867, Amy Carmichael was the eldest of seven siblings in a fairly well-to-do family. Her father and uncle were joint owners of several flour mills. Brought up by her devout Presbyterian parents, she enjoyed a happy childhood. Early in life, she was taught the discipline of sitting quietly and the importance of a whole-hearted commitment to Christ. While still a student at a Wesleyan Methodist boarding school in 1883, she was converted.
One well-known story of her early life concerns the colour of her eyes. Little Amy was not happy with her brown eyes. Her mother had taught her that if she asked God for anything, He would surely grant her request. So every night before bed, Amy prayed that God would change the colour of her eyes to blue. “Like many brown-eyed Irish girls in the 19th century, she adored the typical image of feminine Irish beauty that included blue eyes and white skin. So, she prayed fervently … for God to change the part of her that seemed to be designed wrong. She desperately hoped for God’s intervention - but it never came. Amy had brown eyes from the day she was born to the day she died”
It was only much later when she went to India as a missionary that she understood the wisdom of God’s denial of her request. The people of India had brown eyes! With her brown eyes, she was able to fit in perfectly and find acceptance among the people she served.
In 1885, when Amy was 18, her father died, leaving the family in difficult financial circumstances as he had a large personal debt. This brought about a change in the milling business and the family was forced to move to Belfast.
Greatly influenced by beggars and homeless children when she was still a young child, Amy felt the burden to care for the poor and needy. She visited the slums, and began a ministry to the women and girls who worked in the mills. In particular, she was drawn to minister to the “Shawlies” - a group of poor mill girls who wore shawls instead of hats.
Meeting in the church hall of Rosemary Street Presbyterian Church, the Bible class grew and soon became a congregation known as the Welcome Evangelical Church in Belfast. Amy believed that if God wanted her to start a special ministry, He alone could provide the funds and the labourers. And so she prayed for the Lord’s direction. At this time, Amy saw an advertisement in “The Christian” - a hall could be built for £500 that could seat 500. God provided the funds and a church building was erected. Through this ministry, many of the mill girls came to know the Lord.
This burden to reach out to the downtrodden of society, to love them and to win them to Christ, would be Amy Carmichael’s motto and constant pursuit for the rest of her life.
One Sunday morning on their way home from church, Mrs Carmichael and her children met “a poor pathetic old woman” who was carrying a heavy bundle. “Instantly, Amy and her two brothers relieved the woman of her bundle, took her arms, and helped her along. At first, the icy stares of the ‘proper Presbyterians’ embarrassed them, but then the Lord moved in and the whole scene changed. Into Amy’s mind flashed Paul’s words from I Corinthians 3 about ‘gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; … the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is’ (vv. 12-13). In later years, Amy wrote, ‘We went on. I said nothing to anyone, but I knew that something had happened that had changed life’s values. Nothing could ever matter again but the things that were eternal.’” (“Victorious Christians you should know” by Warren Wiersbe).
For some time, Amy had been struggling with the problem of how to live a God-honouring life. She found the answer at a Keswick Convention meeting in Glasgow in September 1886. When the chairman ended the meeting with this prayer - “O Lord, we know Thou art able to keep us from falling” – his words deeply convicted her. Enlightened and revived, she re-consecrated her life to the Lord. (…to be continued)
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