How many of us will not go to a Sunday service because we have a headache, or not attend a church function because we had a hard day? Amy Carmichael had plenty of bad days. She was afflicted with neuralgia, a neurological disorder that affects a person’s energy level. It often left sufferers weak and achy, even to the point of leaving them bedridden at times. But having this condition did not keep Amy from answering the call God had on her life.
Amy Carmichael: Early Setbacks
Amy Carmichael began her life in Ireland, blessed. Her parents were wealthy, and she attended highly regarded boarding schools. They were both devout Christians and taught their seven children about God and His love for them.
- Family – Times were not always good for Amy Carmichael and her family. They moved to Belfast after her father’s flour mill business suddenly closed. This event placed him a deep depression, and he fell ill and passed away. Amy was 18. Their family struggled to pay bills. She spent much of the next period of her life, helping her mom raise her younger siblings.
- Infirmity – A repeated illness kept Amy Carmichael on the sidelines. Neuralgia was a somewhat rare disorder that left her in constant pain all the time. When it would flare up, it would keep her bedridden for weeks at a time. She felt that it would be unlikely she would ever become a missionary.
Amy Carmichael: Call to Missions
Two events helped Amy Carmichael see people for who they are; God’s children. Through these two life-changing encounters would layout Amy’s ministry for her entire life.
- The Homeless Woman – Amy saw an elderly homeless lady. She and her brothers helped the lady, but she became ashamed when she saw people from the church; she hid her face. Farther along, God spoke to her, saying, “Gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and straw–the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If the foundation survives, he will receive the reward.” Amy later found it was I Corinthians 3:12-14. She knew that God was telling her she needed to correct her heart when she helped people. That night, Amy Carmichael made a vow to God to always do things that pleased Him.
- The Hungry Child – Another occurrence involved a young beggar child. Amy was having lunch with her mother, and the girl was outside, looking into the teashop. She had no money and was cold and hungry.
Amy Carmichael then knew what she was to do. God was calling her to help the poor and needy.
Amy Carmichael: The Mission Field
When one suffers from a chronic illness, they are often left feeling hopeless and unusable. But God had a plan for Amy Carmichael. The change in vision began with one man, Hudson Taylor. Hudson is the missionary that founded the China Inland Mission. She became all the more determined to become a missionary.
- Shawlies – The “Shawlies” were a group of girls the same age as Amy Carmichael, who worked in the mills. They wore shawls instead of hats because that was all they could afford. She helped a local pastor by distributing tracts and food. She became close with them, eventually hosting a Bible study in a nearby hall. The group grew to over 500, so she attempted to bring them to church, but they were not accepted. That did not hold Amy back, she would eventually find a location, and through a donation, she purchased a tin building for the Shawlies to attend, she called it Welcome Hall.
- Setbacks – Her mother fell on hard times and relocated the family to Manchester. This move took her away from her ministry with the Shawlies, but through determination, she continued ministry to the poor. She heard Hudson Taylor speak and felt the urge even more to become a missionary. Unfortunately, her medical condition kept her from joining CIM. She was also a generation too early to be accepted as a single female missionary to a foreign country.
- Successes – Amy Carmichael was accepted to the Church Missionary Society. She set out with three other women to minister in Japan. She struggled at first adapting to the culture, and after missing an opportunity, she began wearing a kimono to help relate to Japanese culture and began learning the language to eliminate the need for an interpreter. God impressed upon her to pray for a specific number of converts, He helped her achieve the number, and more, even though her prayer numbers drew criticism from other missionaries.
Amy’s illness grew worse. After spending a month and a half in bed, doctors told her that she needed to return to England. Reluctantly, she did. The return home confused Amy about the Lord’s calling. Why would he call her to missions, then put up such a roadblock?
You Can Make a Difference
God would continue to give Amy opportunities to minister. And she was eager to answer everything God set her heart to.
- Writing – Amy Carmichael was a prolific writer. She wrote over 40 books about her ministries, including personal stories about the children she rescued while serving in India.
- Ministering – After returning to England and recuperating, she received a call to assist with a ministry in India. She was eager to return to the mission field. Amy learned from Japan and quickly adapted to the culture wearing traditional clothing and learning the Tamil language. Amy would eventually learn about the negative customs Hindus held regarding the sale of young children to the priests of the temples. She set out to do something about it. She saved many children through her rescue mission. Amy and her mission team relocated to Dohnavur, and she founded the Dohnavur Fellowship, a children’s home for those rescued from the prostitution of the temples.
Amy Carmichael spent the next fifty years serving in India. The climate there was beneficial to her condition. However, in 1936, she had a terrible fall and spent the next 20 years bedridden. Yet she continued to lead the Dohnavur Fellowship from her bed, she continued to write, and she continued to pray. She never asked for funding, but God always saw the mission was taken care of.
As we can see from the life of Amy Carmichael, anyone can be used for God’s purposes. I have learned personally that while I cannot physically go out and help our missions team hang sheetrock, I have a God-given ability with words. I can take what I witness others doing and convey it to those who want and need to know what is going on in other countries just as Amy Carmichael used her passions to change the world.
After a long fight, that almost caused Amy to go to prison for kidnapping, India eventually outlawed the practice of temple prostitution. Laws were even created to prevent child abuse primarily through Amy’s tireless work. Most of that occurred during the final years of her life, the years she spent in bed. If Amy Carmichael can change the world from her bedside, what can you do for the Lord today?