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[Passionate Faith on Display 6] Amy Carmichael—A Portrait of Sacrifice

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This article is an edited transcript of Susie Hawkins’ audio message on Passionate Faith. Appreciation for the transcription work goes to Marilyn Fine.

We are in our sixth lesson in our series on Women in Church History, portraits of significant women in church history.

We have used the metaphor of an art gallery in this tour. Today, we are walking past the portrait of a woman of whom I hope many of you have heard. Perhaps you have read one of her many devotionals. Her name is Amy Carmichael, a well known devotional writer. A woman whose main work was rescuing children in India where she spent 56 years of her life. She is probably one of the most influential women that has ever lived in church history.

If you have been watching any of the news, we are having some political things going on in our country. I vacillate between being interested and disgusted. I am little bit of a political junkie but then I get so disgusted with all of it that I just say, “Jesus is my savior and that’s all I know and I don’t care about anything else.” Then I am drawn back into it. It is really interesting right now. As you well know, we have this presidential drama shaping up. We have what looks like Obama as the Democratic nominee. Obama who does not look a day over 17. Then, we have John McCain, Republican, who does not look a day over 100. Then, we have the Hillary factor, and do not ever rule her out, people. It is just getting more and more interesting.

As I was watching this the other night I was sitting in bed and I was surrounded by several of these devotional books of Amy Carmichael’s. I could not help but think of the contrast between her and what we hear and see every day about “ the important people that are going to change history.” These are the people who will determine the direction of a nation and be the leaders of the free world. I am not disparaging any of that. It is absolutely true and it is a huge, huge decision that our nation will make. But, you know what? As I sat there I thought, “these people get all the national and world attention and a woman like Amy Carmichael can come on the scene of the world and live a portrait of sacrifice.” What a contrast. So this is our portrait today: Amy Carmichael, a Portrait of Sacrifice.

Now she has faded off the scene and millions of people have never heard her name. However, what she did for the kingdom of God and the cause of Christ is so far reaching that a presidential candidate, a president, a world leader, cannot even begin to touch that kind of influence. Leaders come and go. Do they not? They are seen as the salvation, as the change agents that are all fixing. No, they will not fix everything. Nobody here can fix everything in this world. It is really true that many of those whose influence lasted throughout history are those who have lived quiet, sacrificial lives for the cause of Christ. Amy is one of those.

Amy Carmichael personifies the spirit of missions and of rescuing helpless people. She was a woman missionary with a social conscience. Amy was born in 1867. She died in 1951. Interestingly, she was the spiritual mentor of Elisabeth Elliot. Now, they did not know each other, but she is the woman whom Elisabeth Elliot looked to as her spiritual director. That is why she wrote a very, very thick biography on Amy Carmichael called, “A Chance to Die.” This is a very, very detailed story of Amy’s life. Amy had a call to ministry, but it was all encompassing in a way that few other women in the time she lived had experienced. She was part of a modern mission spirit which swept the world in the late 19th and 20th century.

Now, let’s get a context for a minute of Christian history at this particular time. Remember we had the Reformation with Katie Luther and all of that. We had Susanna Wesley in the 1700s. She was an eighteenth century England woman with a hard life. I am sure you remember her. Then, we have Amy who comes along around the middle of the 19th century, born in 1867. Amy was part of the second wave of the modern mission movement that really began in late 1700 with William Carey. He was a very famous missionary to India. There is a very famous incident where he was at a church meeting in England and they were talking about the need for missionaries to go take the gospel to the east, in particular to India and China. William Carey said that we need to do this. A man stood up and challenged him and said that if God wants to save the heathen He can do it without us. In a way, that statement produced such a backlash that many Christians began to say that is just not what the Great Commission says. It was kind of the statement of the philosophy of the day. “If God wants to save the heathen, well He will do it His own way.” But, there were many other people who did not really agree with that philosophy. So this was the beginning of the modern mission movement.

These early missionaries went to these foreign lands really believing that once they went they would never return. Once they left the shores of their home, England for example, they knew they would never again return. Amy was one of those. Once she left, she never returned.

Now, there are many other. It is hard to pick just one woman out of this group because there are so many. Adoniram and Ann Judson were the first American missionaries to a foreign country. They went to Burma. It took them four months to get there. I just could not even begin to tell you all the things they went through. Physical hardship was just the first thing, because, of course, this is before penicillin. This is before modern medicine. These women who were married had to endure childbirth, losing children, tropical fevers, just everything you can imagine. Yet the Judson’s took the gospel to Burma.

Hudson Taylor, I am sure you have heard of him, a missionary who took the gospel to China. Lottie Moon, our own little Lottie Moon, our little patron saint in the Baptist world, went to China. David Livingston went to Africa. There is a whole line of pioneer missionaries who literally gave their lives to take the gospel into these nations and to establish a presence. Now, it is interesting. Not all of them expected mass conversations when they got there. They were taking the gospel to a certain place and they would begin to pray and bring the work of God into that particular geographical area. Many of them went years and years. The Judson’s went something like nine years before they even saw one convert. At the end of his life, he had buried two wives and three children. I could read you these stories of what he says sitting under the tree where he buried his wife and children. I am telling you, you would all be sobbing. It is just heartbreaking these things, but they stood by their call. They endured unbelievable hardship.

Now, what is interesting is that the cause of missions captured the imaginations of single women. Outside of the Catholic church, where you could go into the convent and find service and education and all of that there, there were not a lot of opportunities for single women. If you were Protestant there really was not an official place where you could serve outside of wife and motherhood. There was really no role for you. Here is where a call to single women began to gather momentum.

Many of these married women missionaries needed help on the mission field. They had domestic duties. They were having babies every ten months. They were having sick children and they were trying to translate the word. Can you imagine having babies, trying to take care of children with tropical fevers, and trying to translate the gospel into a language that did not have the words for heaven, hell, spirit, angels, etc.? So, not only in these languages do you have to learn the language, define an alphabet, put it all together, you also have to come up with a whole new vocabulary. Now, these are just some of the challenges that they had. So, single women began to become interested in this call to missions. Lottie Moon was one of those. Her sister was also. At the same time as all this, an idea gained prevalence that if one could win women to Christ those women were the ones who would Christianize that culture. It is the idea that the hand that rocks the cradle […rules the world]. So they were the ones who could Christianize the culture. Thus their thrust was for women to be reached in missions.

So, that was when mission support groups began. Almost every denomination had some kind of circle, mission group, or missionary union where people would pray for these missionaries. They would support them, take up offerings, and get them money. Mission support was born.

Now, Amy Carmichael came out of this kind of tradition. Amy was born in a seaport town, Millisle, in northern Ireland to a very strong Christian family. They were Presbyterian, and she was raised in a large family. By all accounts she had a very happy childhood. She had a father who was very active in her life. He taught her to ride horses. He gave her education in the classics, in literature, and in language. In reminiscing about her childhood she talked about her father taking all of the children swimming. People, it is so cold up there I can hardly imagine going swimming! Yet he taught them how to swim in the freezing waters of the ocean just in case they ever needed to know how to swim. I picture her as typically British with a stiff upper lip—though she was a blend of Irish and English. If you read her story, yes, she could take it! She could take the hardship. She was not a sissy by any stretch of the imagination. She endured abuse on the mission field, sickness, all kinds of administrative problems, and harassment from local authorities. I am telling you she somehow was able to keep her perspective about all of the hassles and tribulations she had to deal with in order to fulfill her call.

She had spiritual interests from an early age. There is a famous story that at age three her mother had taught her a Bible story that anything you ask God to do, just take it in prayer in believing that it will be done. So, she decided in looking in the mirror that she had brown eyes and she did not want brown eyes. I never wanted brown eyes either. You like what you do not have, right? She wanted blue eyes so she prayed diligently one night and she was so sure the next morning when she woke up that when she went to the mirror she would have great big blue eyes. It did not happen. She was quite disappointed, but somehow she continued on. Later on, she would recount that story with some degree of amusement. Years later, when she was in India rescuing young girls from temple prostitution, she would disguise herself. She would put dirt on her skin to make her skin darker. She would wrap herself in a sari and go into these areas where these young children were brought into prostitution for the temple gods. She and her little team of rescuers would literally pull them out of these temples. She often said were it not for those brown eyes she would have immediately been given away as a foreigner. The brown eyes enabled her to pass through the crowds and to become at one in the Indian’s mind with them. This was another way she knew that God was directing her life from the very beginning.

She went to boarding school as a young person, as many English did, to a Wesleyan school. Remember we talked about the Wesley brothers, with the spirit of revival and holiness. That was their whole emphasis. So, she was taught about a spiritual call on her life in following Christ. One morning, coming home from church with her brothers and sisters, there was a little old woman who was struggling carrying her bags. She fell down on the street and Amy noticed the church people all walked around her. Nobody would stop and help her. So, Amy elicited the help of her brothers and sisters and they stopped and they helped this woman up and carried her bags home for her. She always recounts that story as the beginning of the time when God would put in her mind that her call, her ministry, was to reach out to the needy. She said that “from this pool flowed the stream that is my story.” She had very poetic words and she loved Victorian English. Some of her writings are little bit harder to read. You have to work a little bit to understand them, but she was so poetic.

She began a ministry in Ireland where she would go into these streets, into the ghetto areas, into the poor parts of town, and gather children to come to another area for Bible stories. After Bible stories, they would have tea. You know, you have to give it to the British, don’t you? They are so civilized. They may be in the ghetto, but they are having tea. She would serve them tea. Monday nights or a certain time she would just teach girls. Other times she would teach boys. She began to notice that the lowest of the low class in her town in northern Ireland was a group of women who worked in the factories. They were called the “shawlies.” The reason they were called shawlies is that they were so poor they could not afford hats, which were the fashion of the day. They would just wear shawls over their heads. This is where she found her most meaningful work. She began to meet with them, work with them, pray with them, teach them the Bible, teach them how to read, and how to write. Everyone kind of turned up their nose at her working with these people. She met two women through a “chance” meeting. They had some resources. She told them about her work. Then she challenged them to donate a hall for her Bible studies to meet in for her shawlies and other groups. Lo and behold they did, much to everyone’s amazement. She organized all this by herself. She did not have anybody helping her. She just went to these women and they got it done. She had an amazing ability to persuade people to do things for the gospel.

When I was reading this about her, knowing what I know about her in her later life, it was such an example that as you are faithful in small things, God will give you bigger opportunities. She pursued with all her heart her calling to the shawlies and to the poor children in northern Ireland. Then, God began to give her greater opportunities as He called her in the ministry. She met a man that she worked with for a while who was active in the Keswick movement. He was a big influence to her. She worked for him like a personal secretary for a while and learned a lot about administration.

She was struggling with her call to missions because she knew how difficult it was to go alone. That is what one would often hear from missionaries writing letters back on how difficult and how lonely it was— even for married couples. How lonely it is to be so isolated from family, friends, and from your culture. This is what she said, “One day, many years ago, I went alone to a cave in the mountains, called Arima.” (This is when she was for a short time in Japan.) “I have feelings of fear about the future. That is why I went there to be alone with God. The devil kept whispering ‘it’s was all right now, but what about afterward? You are going to be so very, very lonely.’ He painted pictures of loneliness. I can see them still. And, I turned to my God in a kind of desperation and said, Lord, what can I do? How can I go on to the end? And, the Lord said, Amy, none of them that trust in Me shall be desolate. That word has been with me ever since.” This is the word that she carried with her: I will see that none that trust in me will ever be desolate or alone.

She had a few false starts. First she went to Ceylon (Sri Lanka today). Then she went to Japan. Japan was a disappointment to her. She learned that there was a lot of discontent among missionaries. There was a lot of tension on the mission field. She resolved then and there that if God gave her a place of ministry that she would do everything within her power to promote good will and harmony among the missionaries at her mission station. She found that to be a difficult time in her life.

She was such a writer. She wrote something like 35 books. I could not even begin to share with you all the things that she would write. But, she would write her prayers. Here is one of the prayers she wrote while she was in Japan as she was praying for God to use her and to give her a passion for these people. She write, “Oh, for a passionate passion for souls. Oh, for a pity that yearns. Oh, for the love that loves them to death. Oh, for the fire that burns.” She was constantly seeking that passionate faith.

She became ill with neuralgia. I am not sure exactly what that is, but she had a lot of muscle pain. She had to return home for convalescence and it was during that time that she decided that her call was to India. So, she went to southern India, south of Bangalore, and joined up with a missionary couple there. They begin to tutor her in the language. She began to learn and serve as an itinerant missionary. She would go out into the country, into the villages, and bring the gospel. She would teach and share. This is where she saw first-hand everything that was happening in the Indian culture. She would write letters back home to these mission support societies and tell them what was happening. She was their eyes to see what was going on in the mission field. She began to disciple a group of young girls who were converts. She called them the Starry Cluster. They felt as they prayed that God wanted them to move to another area where there was a greater need and establish a community. They did this and they called it the Dohnavur Fellowship. This is what she is known for now, the Dohnavur Fellowship. This was the name of her ministry.

Interesting enough, all these missionaries that I have mentioned had some kind of social cause that they worked at within the country they were ministering. Do you remember what Lottie Moon worked on? She worked to banish foot binding. This ancient Chinese practice of binding women’s feet until they were literally crushed. It was the most painful thing. If you ever read about it, you know what I am talking about. The Chinese had in their mind that tiny feet were a sign of beauty. It was the upper class women who would bind their feet and it was so painful they could not even walk at the end of their lives. It would cripple them. The Judson’s worked to banish widow burning, which was the practice that if a man died his widow would be burned with him. They did this because when he went on to the after-life, who would be there serve him if she was not there?! We cannot have men serving themselves in the after-life! So the widow would be burned in order to go be with her husband in the after-life. They were diligently working to abolish the practice of widow burning. These are the kinds of social issues that these missionaries worked against.

Amy really found her true calling in this particular area. She had heard about these young girls who were sold by poor families. They were sold to the temples in order to get money for the temple priests through prostitution in Hindu worship. Sometimes they were kidnapped and indeed they were kept there for the rest of their lives. They could never leave. Some young boys were also dealt with this way.

So, they began to pray and ask God, “How can we help these girls?” One day, a woman literally came to her doorstep with a young seven-year-old-girl named Preena. It is a famous story of Amy Carmichael’s. This woman said, “This is Preena. This is her second attempt to escape from the temple. Her mother sold her into prostitution. She escaped from the temple and I found her on the streets. I took her home and her mother returned her again to the temple. As punishment, they branded and burned her palms to where they were just black. They punished her for leaving, for running away.” This little girl must have been a spunky little thing. She ran away again the second time and this woman said, “I found her again and I did not know what to do with her. I know that you want to help us. Maybe you could help this little girl?”

Amy was sitting down when this woman was talking to her, and this little girl walked right over to Amy. She climbed up on her lap, and called her “alma,” which was the word in that language for “mommy.” Well, you can imagine that dramatic event. What is interesting is that Amy instantly fell in love with this little girl and said “I will take her. We will care for her no matter what.” She began to think, “Is there something here? In that language, there is a little proverb that says “children tie the mother’s feet.” This means, as you probably well know, that children limit a woman’s opportunity as far as traveling and being involved in different activities. Amy had been this itinerant ministry person. So, she felt because of this that she had to limit herself to staying home in her area. She began to take in other young girls. Dozens of young girls were rescued from temple prostitution and hundreds of others from poverty and neglect.

She established an orphanage. She eventually established a medical clinic for them. She established a school for the girls, and she also ended up establishing a school for young boys. Her ministry call, was to rescue these girls, to redeem them, to win them to Christ, to give them a Christian upbringing, and to help them to fulfill their calling in the world.

Now, what she endured. It is just unbelievable the difficulties she endured. When she was doing this activities, do you think the temple priests just sat around and said, “darn we lost another one”? No, they harassed her. They burned down buildings. They called her demon woman. They started all kinds of rumors about her. They abused her. She constantly had the harassment of temple officials around her. They were always reporting her to the government or to authorities. She was having to explain herself to the government. Really, I do not know of any other person I have read about that had to endure so much mean treatment all of the time in her life! I think about that little girl learning to swim in the ocean. I think there was something so steely in her, so strong. Her backbone was so strong. Somehow she could deal with the infinite issues that were there every day and stay focused on her call to rescue these young girls. She stayed focused to take the light of the gospel to this foreign land. She was really gifted in that way.

She also learned first hand the results of the devastating caste system. She learned that a mother, even if her child was at the point of death, would not take the child to a doctor if that doctor was of a lower caste. She worked diligently to dispel this kind of viewpoint.

When she was 64, she experienced a fall and it was the downfall of her health. For 20 years, she was a semi-invalid there in India. She wrote 35 books, poems, songs. She was a prolific writer. Anybody hear the little devotional book, “If”? It is a very small little book. She wrote the book after feeling like she was dealt with by the Holy Spirit about Calvary’s sacrificial love. She is a portrait in sacrifice: sacrificial love. She wrote this little book called, “If,” and it is a lot of little sayings. Here are two of them:

“If I cannot in honest happiness take the second place or the twentieth, if I cannot take the first place without making a fuss about my own worthiness, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”

“If I can speak casually of the misdoings of a child, then I know nothing of Calvary love. If in dealing with one who does not respond, I weary of the strain and sweat from the burden, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”

It is the most convicting thing you will ever read. It is so convicting. With her challenges, and her clear sight, what she held on to was Calvary love. She focused on the sacrificial agape love of Christ and then living that out in her life.

She spent 56 years in India. She is buried there today. She never went home. She never returned to her family. At the end of her life, she had a lot of sorrows. A lot of her close workers had died, some had left the fellowship. Yet she died in her sleep in her beloved Dohnavur, surrounded by the girls and her workers.

There are so many analogies here in Amy’s life. Remember how Paul was in prison at the end of his life? I have often thought how the early church must have said to God, “What are you doing letting him be in prison? We need him. He is the one taking the gospel to the Gentiles. He is our spokesman. He is our main man.” We know now in retrospect if Paul had not been sitting in prison, we would not have all those epistles. There was a purpose in that. Likewise, we have Amy’s writings today. It reminds me of Paul in that way. Because of her invalid state, she could still write up until the last month of her life. We have her writings, her devotionals, her thoughts. I encourage you just go online. Google “Amy Carmichael” and you will see a million things that she wrote. But, I think I would best describe her life in the scripture of John 12:24 where Jesus essentially said, “I must fall and die like a kernel of wheat that falls into the furrows of the earth. Unless I die, I will be alone, a single seed, but my death will produce many new wheat kernels, a plentiful harvest of new lives. If you love your life here, you will lose it. If you despise your life here, you will exchange it for eternal glory.” Surely, she was one of those seeds that was planted in the ground and then it began to take root.

Now, here is the thing. You know, when you look back at ministries, churches, and missionaries, they come and go as far as earthly view. The churches of the Revelation for example, were all in modern day Turkey. They are just ruins now. It is not the place. It is not even the actual church. It is the lives that are touched that go on for the influence of Christ. Dohnavur Fellowship was that time for her. It has gone down. It is going to come back. It struggles. Now, all of these ministries do. My husband always says that churches and ministries are a snapshot in time. For that moment, God uses them, but He does his own thing, as we might say. We are not always sure why He does what He does, but He uses people, their words, their influence. I think it is interesting Amy is really the epitome of Jim Elliot’s (Elisabeth’s martyred first husband) saying, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” That is Amy Carmichael.

There is a scripture in Revelation 14:13 that I love. You know of wonderful Christian people who have given their lives to Christ and have gone on through death. We have a great saint at First Baptist Church, Esther Beth Rogers. She was a true saint if there ever was one. I thought about her when I read this verse the other day. In Revelation 14:13 I love this,

“And I heard a voice from heaven saying Write. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says his spirit, “That they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.”

Amy Carmichael died in 1951, the year I was born. We have been talking about her life, her deeds, her work, her words, her portrait of sacrifice. I pray that it would encourage you as much as it has encouraged me. Go online. Read some of her words. Read some of her poems. It may be a little hard to understand her words at times. It will not hurt you to figure it out. It did not hurt me. It will not hurt you to read something a little out of the ordinary and to understand what some people have done.

When I was in China several years ago, I was visiting with a group of women in the area where Lottie Moon (who I mentioned before) had gone taking the gospel for the first time. One of the women there was sharing that she worked at the university. She said to Gene, “I have students in my apartment every night wanting to know about the Bible. Every night they are wanting to know about Christianity.” She said, “I believe the sinner’s prayer. I have to just lock my door some nights because I have to get some sleep. I then have to turn them over to Christ. I cannot direct them to churches because there is no freedom of religions, supposedly.” She said that the interesting thing is she read a scripture out of John 4:38 where essentially Jesus says, “You have not done the hardest work. You are simply here to reap that which was already worked on by others.” I think of that with Amy. There is a thriving Christian community in India. Granted, it is not all truly Christian, but there is a thriving Christian community. Everywhere these missionaries went, today the ministries do not look the same and they may have different names, but is it not interesting how they have thrived? I am talking about China and Africa and India. Any historian will tell you Christianity has shifted from Western Europe and Northern America east towards China and Korea. Why? You just have to wonder. Is it not because these people, these women, these men buried their lives for the sake of the gospel? One little seed sacrificed now sprouts up a huge crop. Now, they are the ones leading the way in Christian commitment and missions.

Not too long ago, we were in a closed Muslim country, and we were talking with some of our people who were there. They said it is interesting that the people who have the strongest calling to the Muslim world are the Asians. That is because they know nobody is going to listen to the Americans or Europeans. You know, we are the evil empire to many of them. Many there are anti west, but they know that Asians do not have that stigma. They do not have that particular connotation and so they feel like they are the ones God has called to minister to the Muslims. Is that not interesting? You know, God just does what He wants. He uses people who are willing to say like Amy, “Lord, this is my story. I will follow you. I will give my life in this way.”

Let me read you this and then we will be finished. On her deathbed, she wrote this,

One thing have I desired, my God of thee,
that will I seek Thine house be home to me.
I would not breathe in alien air.
I want to be with Thee,
oh Thou fairest of fair.

For I would see the beauty of my Lord
And hear Him speak who is my hearts adored.
A love of love can such wonder dwell in Thy great name of names, Emmanuel,
For Thou with Thy child, Thy child at home with thee.
Oh, Lord, my God, I love. I worship Thee.

Amy Carmichael, a true portrait of sacrifice.

Related Topics: Character Study, Christian Life, Cultural Issues, Missions, Sacrifice, Spiritual Life, Women's Articles