*Affiliate links included.
One of the reasons I love the story of Amy Carmichael is she was a writer who authored at least 35 books and a number of poems. I loved her writing before I knew her story. The classic book on her life is A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliot. She credited Amy’s life story as inspiring her and her husband Jim Elliot (who was killed by Auca Indians on the mission field) to go into missionary service. While serving in India, Amy had received a letter from a young lady who was considering life as a missionary. She asked, “What is missionary life like?” Amy wrote back saying, “Missionary life is simply a chance to die.” (Of course, she meant die to self.)
Amy Carmichael was born in 1867 in northern Ireland. She was a pioneer missionary who spent 55 years in India, never went home on furlough (she said India was home), and saved over 1,000 children from sex slavery.
Amy’s parents were devout Presbyterians and she was the oldest of seven children in a loving but ordered home where children learned that love and obedience are inseparable. This kind of home training may have made it easier for her to obey the commandments of Jesus who said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” She learned discipline early. Lapses could bring the ebony ruler called a pandy down on small posteriors. Worse was a dose of “Gregory powder.” The offending child had to say “Thank you, Mother” and would have time to think about his sins while sitting in an outhouse from the powder’s effect.
As a child Amy wished that she had blue eyes rather than brown. Knowing that Jesus could do anything, she prayed that Jesus would change her eye color—and was disappointed when it didn’t happen. (As an adult, she came to realize that her brown eyes probably helped her gain acceptance in India.)
At the age of 15, Amy realized that she had not “opened the door” to Jesus. She did and that door stayed wide open as she gave herself to whatever Christ called her to do. The family moved to Belfast and her father died when she was 18. Amy began to follow the teaching of Keswick Bible Conventions that were world famous. She adopted their teaching of being “dead to the world.” At her age that meant not caring for new clothes or parties or boys.
Amy met Mr. Wilson, the cofounder of Keswick, and he took a fatherly interest in her. His only daughter had died at Amy’s age and she became so indispensable in helping him that he eventually asked her mother if she could become “his daughter.” Her mother allowed it. He became her second father and at his insistence she became known as Amy Wilson Carmichael. He personally and financially supported her for the rest of his life. She called him Dear Old Man (D.O.M.)
Mr. Wilson had great influence on her, especially in making her more ecumenical. He was a Quaker but for years supervised a Baptist Sunday School and later attended the Anglican church Sunday nights. Elisabeth Elliot wrote that Amy “learned to value the silence of the Quaker meeting and the beauty of the Anglican service. The varied ways in which Christian worship found expression illuminated for her the Keswick motto, chosen by Wilson, ‘All one in Christ Jesus.’”
Through her training, Amy began teaching Bible studies to poor young factory girls called “shawlies.” The group soon numbered 500, so she had a thriving ministry. But at the Keswick Convention of 1887 in Belfast she heard Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, speak on missionary life. She felt God say to her: “Go ye.” In 1892 she became the first person to be funded by the new Keswick missionary fund. Convinced of her calling to missionary work, she applied to the China Inland Mission. She was ready to sail for Asia when they decided her health (a lifelong battle with neuralgia) made her unfit for the work.
Not believing a mission board was more omniscient than the One who called her, she took an opportunity with the Anglican Missionary Society to go to Japan. While there, trying to learn the difficult language, she became so ill with “Japan head” that doctors said she could not survive the climate. She did a short-term trip to Ceylon, but finally settled in India in November 1895. There she was: “rooted for life.”
[Amy’s story is continued in Part 2 tomorrow.]