Some know her as a writer, the author of over 40 books. Others know her as a missionary to India, one of the most famous people influenced by the great Hudson Taylor. In her day, hundreds of orphans in India knew her as "Amma," their word for "Mother."
Amy Carmichael was born on December 16, 1867 in County Down, Ireland. She was the oldest of seven children born to a miller named David and his wife Catherine, both devout Presbyterians. David moved the family to Belfast when Amy was sixteen, but it was not two years later that David fell sick and died. At 17 years old, young Amy Carmichael quickly learned the responsibility of providing for many.
Even from a young age, Amy had a desire to spend her life investing in the kingdom. Elisabeth Elliot tells a story of an event that changed Amy as a child. She writes,
"Once back in Ireland, as Amy and her family were returning from church they chanced upon an old woman carrying a heavy bundle of rags. Amy and her brothers took the bundle and helped the old woman to her destination. To Amy, this act of sacrifice and kindness was "hated." As they turned and walked along, they passed by the other Churchgoers and worried what these "respectable people" would think. Before bringing the woman to her destination Amy and her brothers passed by an elaborate Victorian fountain. A voice impressed upon Amy's heart the words from 1 Corinthians 3:12-14: "Gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble. If any man's work abide...." That afternoon Amy sought God privately in her room anguishing over the idea of what would last in eternity from her own life. The lessons of obedience and sacrifice from that day would echo through the rest of her life."
While attending the Keswick Convention in 1887, Amy heard Hudson Taylor, founder of China Inland Mission, speak about the life of a missionary. It was here that Amy became convinced that God was calling her to give her life as a missionary. She immediately applied to China Inland Mission, but was turned away. She was not turned away because she was incapable of serving in China. She wasn't turned away for moral issues or because she needed more study and preparation. She was turned away because she suffered from neuralgia.
Most of you reading this likely have no idea what neuralgia is. I didn't either. Neuralgia is a disease of the nerves, often making the whole body weak and achy. It often put her in bed for weeks at a time, and Amy suffered from it her entire life. If ever there was a person who had a reason to not sacrifice for others, it was this woman.
“Can we follow the Savior far, who have no wound or scar?”
Amy, however, persevered. She joined another missionary group and moved to Japan. During her time there, she had two words written on her wall:
After 15 months, she fell ill and was forced to move back home to Ireland. And after serving in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) for a brief time, she went to Bangalore, India and found her lifelong vocation.
Upon arriving in India, Amy dove headlong into reaching the people there. She adopted their customs, she dressed in their garb, she even colored her skin to eliminate any possible barrier with those to whom she spoke. As a child, Amy had been dismayed that God had given her brown eyes instead of blue. Now, she realized that her brown eyes were a gift, as she was able to fit into the Indian culture.
“He said “Love…as I have loved you.” We cannot love too much."
While serving as an itinerant evangelist, Amy discovered the evils of the Hindu temples where little girls and boys were used in unspeakably wicked ways. At this time in India, orphaned children were often enslaved as servants in the Temples. This custom often forced the children into prostitution and other unspeakable horrors. Furthermore, the adults in the country had one of two responses: They didn't see or they didn't care.
“If souls can suffer alongside, and I hardly know it, because the spirit of discernment is not in me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”
Amy was shocked to discover these traditions, and she began to pray tirelessly that God would deliver these children. And he did. It started with a young girl from a temple who escaped and found her way to Amy's door. Amy took her in and rescued her from the temple.
It didn't stop with that one girl. Amy began to help more and more children. In 1901 Amy founded Dohnavur Fellowship to continue this work. The Fellowship provided a home to children and young adults. Amy served at the Fellowship until her death on January 18, 1951 at the age of 83. For 56 years she served faithfully in India, still suffering from neuralgia, without ever returning home.
"The vows of God are on me. I may not stay to play with shadows or pluck earthly flowers till I have done my work and rendered up account.”
In many ways her life was epitomized by those two words written on that wall in India: Yes, Lord. As a young single woman, she answered the call to the mission field. When rejected by one missionary group, she persevered. When too sick to remain in Japan, she recovered and then moved on to India. When confronted with the horrors of the local temples, she responded with selfless love. When bedridden for the last 33 years of her life, she remained in her ministry, serving and loving.
God used Amy Carmichael for 83 years to show His love, both through her work in India and through her writings abroad. Even during her life, Amy's writings stirred the hearts of Christians across the world. Perhaps the most notable would be Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, who read of Amy's life, and responded by sacrificing everything to reach the Huaorani tribe
Though Amy has been gone for many years now, her work lives on. Children continue to be saved through her organization, women serve selflessly at the Dohnavur Fellowship to minister to the orphaned and abandoned, and Christians worldwide are still inspired to respond to the work of God with but two words,
From Amy's writings:
"If I do not give a friend “The benefit of the doubt,” but put the worst construction instead of the best on what is said or done, then I know nothing of Calvary love."
"If I take offense easily; if I am content to continue in cold unfriendliness, though friendship be possible, then I know nothing of Calvary love."
"If the ultimate, the hardest, cannot be asked of me; if my fellows hesitate to ask it and turn to someone else, then I know nothing of Calvary love."
"If I belittle those whom I am called to serve, talk of their weak points in contrast perhaps with what I think of as my strong points; if I adopt a superior attitude, forgetting “who made thee to differ? and what hast thou that thou hast not received?” then I know nothing of Calvary love."
"If by doing some work which the undiscerning consider 'not spiritual work' I can best help others, and I inwardly rebel, thinking it is the spiritual for which I crave, when in truth it is the interesting and exciting, then I know nothing of Calvary love."
"If I am afraid to speak the truth lest I lose affection, or lest the one concerned should say, "You do not understand", or because I fear to lose my reputation for kindness; if I put my own good name before the other's highest good, then I know nothing of Calvary love."
For further reading, here are a few resources I recommend:
a Pastor currently living in Phoenix, AZ. He majored in New Testament Studies at Ozark Christian College. Born and raised in Texas, he grew up the third-born of 7 kids and loved (almost) every minute of it! He is happily married to his high school sweetheart, Breanna, and has two wonderful kids, Hannah Joy and Peter. More than anything, Evan wants to be a man who is marked by a hunger for God.
“The God who came, still comes. The God who spoke, still speaks.”