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In Part I yesterday we saw that Amy Carmichael had arrived in India. She settled in at a missionary school in Dohnavur, near the southern tip of India, working with a missionary couple. She felt that her mission was to preach to anyone she could get to listen. She soon found that the layers of clothes and pith-like helmets the English wore were both uncomfortable and alienating. Amy adopted the Indian wrapped-dress, the sari, and wore it the rest of her life. She studied the Tamil language (again with difficulty) and organized a band of dedicated Christian Indian women she called “The Starry Cluster” to travel with her, taking the gospel to any women who would listen.
Often she ran headlong into problems the caste system caused. The upper-class women would not listen to her at all and the lower caste might listen only out of a sense of homage bred in them by their British overlords. What pained Amy greatly was that she found in most areas of India a nominal Christianity. They might call themselves Christians because their ancestors had been influenced by a missionary. But they kept their Hindu ways and persecuted any Indians who converted.
One day Amy learned about the terrible underground traffic of little children who were given or sold to Hindu temples. Sometimes they were taken as babies and raised solely for the purpose of prostitution. In 1901 a seven-year-old girl named Preena escaped from the temple. She had heard the temple women call Amy a “child-stealing animal.” Preena knew that was just the kind of animal she needed to find. No one had ever escaped before. Amy believed Preena was led to her by an angel. As she was questioned, Preena verified what Amy had been told. So began Amy’s ministry of trying to rescue from sex slavery as many girls as she could.
Amy was a beautiful young woman who never married. In fact, in her Victorian culture, it’s doubtful that she had been told her the facts of life. So she saved little girls from sex slavery without knowing exactly what it entailed. She might have told you that she didn’t need to know—except that it was part of the dark pagan culture of India—a culture that practiced child marriage, demon worship, and “suttee” which required a widow to throw herself on the funeral pyre burning her husband’s body.
The ministry of the Dohnavur Fellowship, as it was renamed, grew and buildings were added for more children plus a hospital. Amy was not just the administrator who trained her Indian women workers. She became mother to the children, providing for all their needs including their spiritual teaching. There is an Indian saying: “Children tie the mother’s feet.” Amy found this to be true. Rarely did she leave the compound except to find and negotiate for more children to save them. In 1918 she was handed a baby by a tired woman. The baby was taken into the nursery. Surprise, it’s a boy! She wouldn’t send him away. That was the beginning of a new expansion—the Dohnavur Fellowship would also rescue boys.
Amy’s life was steeped in Scripture and the reading of great classics. The books she wrote introduced many around the world to mission work, but she never used them to solicit money. She didn’t allow her workers to talk about the Fellowship’s material needs—she just asked God to supply them and He did. There was never a picture of Amy published in her books while she was alive. She forbade it.
She was known as a dynamo totally involved in every aspect of the ministry, but a fall in 1931 severely injured her leg and hip. With a lack of sophisticated medical help, she found herself unable to take more than a few steps and in constant pain. She remained an invalid for most of her last two decades. However, ill health did not stop her from writing about 14 more books before her death.
India outlawed temple prostitution in 1948—a law Amy lived to see. But as she said, “the Indians find a way around laws.” The Dohnavur Fellowship continues today, run totally by Indians. It supports approximately 500 people on 400 acres with 16 nurseries and a hospital that gives medical care and evangelizes. Children rescued from all types of dangers can leave when old enough or choose to join the community. Since 1982, baby boys are adopted out.
After 56 years on the mission field, Amy Carmichael died in India on January 18, 1951 at the age of 83. She was buried in “God’s Garden” at Dohnavur. She wanted no headstone, so the children she had cared for put a bird table over the grave with the single inscription “Amma,” which was what Amy was called. It means “Mother” in the Tamil language. When children were asked what drew them to Amy, they most often replied, “It was love. Amma loved us.”
As I finished reading A Chance to Die, Elisabeth Elliot’s book on Amy, her death, her legacy, and how her work goes on, I thought about the fact Elisabeth Elliot herself died last year. I’m sure in heaven she has gotten to know Amy, the woman she’d never met but who influenced her life so much. Both women were missionary giants of the Christian faith to us because they had one important thing in common: it wasn’t about them. They put Christ first. Each took her chance to die by letting Christ live through her.