Unsung Heroes No.3 – Amy Carmichael

Amy Carmichael (1867-1951)

“Missionary life is simply a chance to die.”

This was Amy Carmichael’s response to being asked what one might expect from life on the mission field, writes James Donaldson.

It reflects her total and utter devotion to Christ and her belief that faith gives new life to all believers.

Amy lived her life as a devoted servant, but also as a risk taker.

Technically she actually spent much of her missionary life kidnapping children in India! Amy would dress in a Sari and stain her skin with coffee in order to appear Indian before entering Hindu temples to observe and remove temple children. On at least one occasion Amy looked certain to be arrested and charged, but she was miraculously saved from imprisonment.

But what was it that inspired Amy to live her life so close to the edge and what justification could possibly be given for the kidnap of children?

Amy was born into a devout Presbyterian family in Millisle, Northern Ireland. From an early age she was taught by her mother to pray to God in order to receive blessings.

Later in life Amy recalled one instance when she prayed specifically for blue eyes because she was unhappy with her own brown eyes. She was then disappointed when a quick glance in the mirror confirmed that God had not granted her request. However, her mother informed the young Amy that God had a purpose for giving her brown eyes. She would later come to see these words as prophetic as God would use her brown eyes as a means for her to integrate with the Indian people.

Amy suffered from neuralgia in her youth and was often bedridden with crippling aches and pains. Her health was so poor that those who knew her best labelled her foolish when she announced her plans to become a missionary. Her first attempt to travel abroad was in fact cancelled due to her health but she later joined CMS and was commissioned to work in Asia.

On 3 March 1893, with the reluctant blessing of her mother, Amy set sail for Japan where she was to stay for 15 months. It was here that she first gained valuable experience of mission work and learnt more of the importance of prayer.

On one occasion she was asked to assist in sending a ‘fox spirit’ out of a particularly violent and disruptive man. Amy arrived at the house and prayed for the man only to find that the mention of the name Jesus drove him into an inconsolable rage. She persisted with her prayers from a distance and the man was first healed and then later, under the spiritual guidance of Amy, committed to Christ.

Eventually Amy’s neuralgia worsened and a doctor advised her that she must leave Japan for more suitable climates.

Amy travelled to India where her life’s work with marginalised children began.

She became increasingly aware of the unimaginable abuse inflicted upon young girls within Hindu temples. In India children were often dedicated to the gods and forced to live with the temple priests – most were forced into prostitution in order to earn money.

Having learned of the unspoken horrors that the children faced, Amy founded the Dohnavur fellowship which provided shelter for the young girls that she could save. She gradually began to take in hundreds of unwanted children having smuggled them out of the temples when no-one was looking.

On at least one occasion it seemed certain that she would be arrested, but she received a letter informing her that all charges had been dropped with no explanation!

Amy was keen to maintain Indian traditions – she gave the children Indian names and dressed like an Indian woman herself. Her disguise also enabled her to visit the temples, but this would not have been possible if God had not given her brown eyes! God’s purpose for her life was becoming apparent and Amy devoted her time to caring for rescued temple children.

By the mid 1930s Amy had become crippled and permanently bedridden following a nasty fall. However, God continued to use her through the written word and her substantial writings on missionary life were published around the world.

Amy Carmichael’s life was a striking witness to all who encountered her. Her love and devotion to the children of India was such that they referred to her as ‘Amma’ or ‘mother.’ Through her writings she also became an inspiration to future generations of missionaries. One of her best known sayings sums up her life:

“One can give without loving, but one cannot love without giving.”

Published 12 July 2009

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