Heroes of Faith: Amy Carmichael

Biography by

Katherine Bussard

Ex. Director & COO

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one anther, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” ~ 1st John 4:7-8

Amy Carmichael: Loving as Christ Loved | 1867-1951

Born to an Irish mill owner as the oldest of 7 children, Amy grew up in a loving and devout Christian family. While away at boarding school in 1883, Amy made the decision to put her faith in Jesus as her Lord and Savior. A natural leader, Amy courageously defied expectations even in her youth, reaching across social barriers to serve with Christian love. As biographer Elisabeth Elliot observed, “The preoccupations of seventeen-year-old girls–their looks, their clothes, their social life–do not change very much from generation to generation. But in every generation there seem to be a few who make other choices. Amy was one of the few.”

Amy saw the challenges of those less fortunate than her, and as a teenager, started a Bible study among girls working in the textile factories near her family’s home in Belfast. Called “Shawlies” because they covered their heads with shawls instead of expensive hats, many of these young women felt unwelcome in church. Though a respectable young woman of her class would hardly speak to a “Shawlie”, Amy knew these women were beloved by the Savior. She took the Gospel to them in the form of a Bible study, teaching girls to read and study the Word of God for themselves. When the Bible study grew quickly to more than hundreds of young ladies, Amy prayed for a place to gather and the means to purchase it. God miraculously provided £500 (today’s equivalent of about $85,000 USD) which enabled her to purchase a tin tabernacle she named “The Welcome Hall.” With the new space, the scope of Amy’s work expanded. Women were discipled in the Word and learned practical life skills on weekdays, and on Sundays they had a place to worship that was truly open to anyone. Well over a hundred and thirty years later, The Welcome Hall remains a vibrant ministry in West Belfast and is home to the Welcome Evangelical Church and flourishing weeknight outreach ministries.

As Amy came of age, her beloved father passed away and her family faced bankruptcy. They moved to Manchester, England, and there Amy found a new ministry illuminating the city slums with the light of the Gospel. During this time, she was also mentored by a family friend, Robert Wilson, one of the founders of the Keswick Convention. When Hudson Taylor of the China Inland Mission spoke at the annual convention in 1892, Amy felt the Lord saying, “Go Ye” and knew she was called to give her life to missionary evangelism. She volunteered for the China Inland Mission, but was turned away due to her health. Undeterred, she offered her services to the Church Missionary Society and sailed for Japan in 1893. She served there for nearly two years doing street evangelism and other outreach, but she contracted a serious illness and returned to England to recover. As her health improved, the call to “Go Ye” again stirred within her soul; Amy arrived in South India in November 1985, never to leave. She spent 6 years mastering the difficult Tamil language, discipling Indian Christian women, and ministering in the city. In 1901, she and another family of missionaries moved to the village of Dohnavur, where she later purchased land and founded the Dohnavur Fellowship.

While Amy cared for many women who accepted Christ and were consequently rejected by their Hindu families, Amy’s greatest work had not yet begun. The caste system and native religions hid many evils, including the horrifying practice of scarfing children (especially young girls) in Hindu temples where they would live life enslaved as temple prostitutes. When a young girl named Preena escaped a temple and ran to Amy for help, Amy knew that she had to rescue as many other children as she could. The work of rescue was grueling and dangerous, but she trusted God and saw His unfailing faithfulness. Tragically, some rescued children died from illness and unthinkable wounds others had inflicted on them. The Fellowship also faced tremendous opposition from a culture that did not regard children with the love of God, but Amy never wavered in obeying God and surrendering to His will. She ran to Him when her heart broke and kept faithfully obeying Him. She became Amma (Mother) to hundreds of Indian children over subsequent decades, loving them with the boundless love of Jesus. She never once solicited funds, but prayed to the Lord to send the workers and resources she needed to care for her growing family, and He always did.

As the Fellowship summarizes, “From the beginning it was a family, never an institution. Amy was the mother, loving and loved by all. As the family grew, its activities grew too. Baby nurseries led on to cottage homes, schools for all ages from toddlers to teenagers, a dairy farm, rice lands, fruit and vegetable gardens, tailoring departments, kitchens, laundries, workshops, and building offices with teams of builders, carpenters and electricians. From the small beginning of one obedient woman and one small child came a ‘model village’, complete with its own simple Indian facilities and even a hospital to serve the sick and in which to preach the Gospel to the thousands from the villages who flocked to it for help.”

In 1931, Amy suffered a serious fall and became bed-ridden. Still Amma to her children, she actively mentored other missionaries and native Indian believers to continue the work of caring for the large family of the Donhavur Fellowship. She counseled and prayed with children and wrote prolifically during this time, finding ways to minister in spite of her health. The hundreds of poems and more than 40 books penned during these difficult years ministered to people around the world during her lifetime and continue to inspire missionaries and believers generations later. Perhaps her greatest legacy is in the lives of those eternally changed by the Gospel, who continue her work. Today, the Dohnavur Fellowship remains a thriving refuge and home for hundreds Christian boys and girls who are nourished with the selfless, Christ-like love of Amma’s rescued children who have given their lives to help others in the same way that she helped them.

Lessons From Amy’s Life:

Amy Carmichael’s life is proof that one ordinary person who obeys God can do extraordinary things. She asked the Lord to conform her will to His and to fill her with His love for others. She asked God not make her successful in the eyes of the world, but to make her faithful to His good plan. No matter the adversity she faced, Amy never lost sight of her Savior, but sought strength, comfort, and joy in His perfect love. When she confronted the heartbreaking evils of this world, she fixed her soul on what was eternal and persisted. “Cruelty and wrong are not the greatest forces in the world. There is nothing eternal in them. Only love is eternal.” At every turn, where ever the Lord placed her, from the factories of Belfast to the slums of Manchester to the streets of India, Amy sought simply to show the love of Jesus. May we have such a singular, unwavering focus to cary the hope and love of the Savior to the world around us. May we measure our success in terms of our faithfulness to the Father’s will.

Amy Carmichael in Her Own Words:

“He said “Love…as I have loved you.” We cannot love too much.”

“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.”

“But God is the God of the waves and the billows, and they are still His when they come over us; and again and again we have proved that the overwhelming thing does not overwhelm. Once more by His interposition deliverance came. We were cast down, but not destroyed.”

“The word comfort is from two Latin words meaning “with” and “strong” – He is with us to make us strong. Comfort is not soft, weakening commiseration; it is true, strengthening love.”

“Blessed are the single-hearted, for they shall enjoy much peace. If you refuse to be hurried and pressed, if you stay your soul on God, nothing can keep you from that clearness of spirit which is life and peace. In that stillness you will know what His will is.”
“God Hold us to that which drew us first, when the Cross was the attraction, and we wanted nothing else.”

“We profess to be strangers and pilgrims, seeking after a country of our own, yet we settle down in the most un-stranger-like fashion, exactly as if we were quite at home and meant to stay as long as we could. I don’t wonder apostolic miracles have died. Apostolic living certainly has.”

“One day we took the children to see a goldsmith refine gold after the ancient manner of the East. He was sitting beside his little charcoal fire. (“He shall sit as a refiner”; the gold- or silversmith never leaves his crucible once it is on the fire.) In the red glow lay a common curved roof tile; another tile covered it like a lid. This was the crucible. In it was the medicine made of salt, tamarind fruit and burnt brick dust, and imbedded in it was the gold. The medicine does its appointed work on the gold, “then the fire eats it,” and the goldsmith lifts the gold out with a pair of tongs, lets it cool, rubs it between his fingers, and if not satisfied puts it back again in fresh medicine. This time he blows the fire hotter than it was before, and each time he puts the gold into the crucible, the heat of the fire is increased; “it could not bear it so hot at first, but it can bear it now; what would have destroyed it then helps it now.” “How do you know when the gold is purified?” we asked him, and he answered, “When I can see my face in it [the liquid gold in the crucible] then it is pure.”

A Chance to Die: the Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael, by Elisabeth Elliot

About the Author

Katherine Bussard
Ex. Director & COO
As Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of Salt & Light Global, Katherine works to disciple servant-leaders in all walks of life, equipping them to share the redemptive love and truth of Jesus. She facilitates training in good governance for communities around the state, mentors other Christian women in leadership, and champions sound public policy. In speaking, writing, and serving, Katherine seeks to encourage the body of Christ to see all of who they are what they do through God’s Word. Katherine resides with her husband and partner in Kingdom service, Jeff.

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