Amy Carmichael - India's Amma

Amy Carmichael - India's Amma

On 16 December 1867, in the village of Millisle, County Down, Ireland, a tiny babe was born to a young miller and his wife, David and Catherine Carmichael. They named her Amy Beatrice. She was the eldest of seven siblings and helped her parents raise them. She attended grade school in the hamlet and later attended Harrogate Ladies College for four years. She was five-foot tall, brown-eyed, and a bundle of hopeful energy.

When Amy was sixteen, in 1883, her father moved the family to Belfast, where they started a church, called Welcome Evangelical Church. After her father's death, two years later, Amy began a Sunday School class in the fellowship hall of the Rosemary Street Presbyterian church for the "Shawlies," the girls who worked in the mills and wore shawls rather than hats. The class drew hundreds of participants each week, so this class erected a building, called the Welcome Hall, in which to meet.

In her twenties, Amy moved to Manchester to work with the mill girls, and then, during a Hudson Taylor sermon at a Keswick Convention in 1887, she heard God's call to become a missionary. She went to London, to live at the China Inland Mission training house for women to prepare for foreign service. While there, however, Amy was not appointed by the Mission. She suffered from neuralgia and was deemed unfit for the rigors of mission life.

Undeterred, Amy joined the Church Missionary Society, and boarded a ship to Japan, where the language was difficult and the work hard. She moved to Sri Lanka, and then to Bangalore for her health, where she found her true home. She was then commissioned by the Church of England Zenana Mission, to work with girls and young women, most of whom were rescued from forced prostitution in the country's Hindu temples. She devoted the rest of her life to this work.

When she was thirty-four, Amy founded the Dohnavur Fellowship in the city of Tamil Nadu, about thirty miles from India's southern tip. Her fellowship became a sanctuary for more than one thousand children, starting with one rescued seven-year-old named Preena. Amy found this little one, who had escaped from her captors, and took her into her own home, providing food, shelter, and protection. She showed unconditional love to each child she rescued. They were made in God's image, and precious to Him. Amy began to write books about the underbelly of the religious system where she lived, provoking the ire of leaders, and even fellow missionaries. They did not want her to expose the "seamy side" of the culture. It was easier to turn a blind eye.

To the common people, however, Amy was beloved "Amma," or "Mother." She respected India's culture, loved her people, and sought to be of service. To blend in, she dyed her skin with coffee, dressed in saris, and learned several languages and dialects, so she could converse with anyone. In a time when women had little authority or public responsibility, particularly single women, Amy was a fireball. She and her supporters funded a hospital at Dohnavur, a home for young boys, and a Protestant religious order called Sisters of the Common Life.

In October of 1931, at age sixty-three, while Amy was inspecting some new hospital construction, she fell into an uncovered pit, breaking her leg and twisting her spine. Medical efforts failed to restore her to full mobility, and for the next twenty years, she was an invalid.

Not one to be idle, she directed Dohnavur from her bedside, and wrote fifty-five books and articles about her experiences as a missionary in India. She rejoiced when laws were passed forbidding temple prostitution in 1948. Amy died in India in 1951 at age eighty-three, having never taken a furlough. She asked no stone to be put over her grave. Instead, a fountain was erected in that quiet spot at Dohnavur. Her legacy, however, has been deep and wide.

Today, Dohnavur Fellowship continues, supporting some 500 individuals and families on 400 acres with sixteen nurseries and a hospital, all directed and staffed by Indian Christians.

We turn our attention this month to the magnificent Amy Carmichael, and the work of this tiny woman: evangelist, preacher, writer, social reformer, who provided a "safe space," for women, girls, and boys. She fought against sex trafficking and the abuse of children, offered hope and new life, and showed the people of India the way to Christ. She was a visible symbol of resurrection.
"One can give without loving, but one cannot love without giving."
Amy Carmichael
-Karen O'Dell Bullock
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