Amy Carmichael: An Influencer for the Gospel, Part 1

Tomorrow (June 15, 2016) will be the one-year anniversary of Elisabeth Elliot, beloved Christian missionary, author, and speaker, meeting the Lord face-to-face. Elisabeth Elliot wrote a biography of Christian missionary and author Amy Carmichael and considered her to be a spiritual mother. Today we feature Part 1 of a two-part series on Amy Carmichael, spiritual mother to Elisabeth Elliot.

Flowers growing next to a brick wall, quotation from Elisabeth Elliot speaking of Amy Carmichael, Christian woman and missionary: "Amy Carmicahel showed me the shape of godliness."

Though a humble, Christian influencer for the gospel as an adult, Amy Carmichael (1867-1952) was a determined, mischievous child. She was the oldest of seven children born to David and Catherine Carmichael in the small town of Millisle, County Down, Ireland.

As a daughter of devout Christians, her family had regular prayer time together. Once during family prayer time, Amy’s mother, Catherine, was alarmed at the sound of a distinct peep. Amy, too, acted in bewilderment at the noise only for Catherine to uncover later that Amy had been hiding a frozen mouse in her pocket. The then-revived mouse, whom Amy had been determined to save, had given them both away.[1]

Later, when Amy was at boarding school, she asked her teacher for permission to stay awake past bedtime in order to watch the predicted comet of 1882. The teacher’s denial of permission did not stop Amy. She willfully kept herself awake until the very early morning at which time she awakened the other girls to head to the roof to watch the comet. Her plan was hindered when they saw their school teachers, who had been gazing above in anticipation of the comet, turn their gazes to the girls.[2]

Catherine Carmichael was a determined woman of great faith. She filled her home with strong Christian values, and she selflessly loved her children. At the age of 42, Catherine’s husband died, and she responded with obvious trust in the Lord. She modeled this for her children, reciting to them, “the Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him” (Na. 1:7).  Amy was so influenced by her mother that she would say of her, “there never was such a mother so good, so loving, so unselfish, so perfect in every way, we can only thank God for her and try to make her shadowed life bright with our love.”[3] Catherine’s sacrificial love and wisdom were mirrored by Amy in the ministry God would have for her.

Amy’s personal love for God began in 1883. Amy was initially sure that she already loved God, but an evangelist showed Amy her need for a Savior. Amy came away with a new, less-selfish perspective on life. Following this experience, when Catherine took Amy dress shopping, Amy—although she found a beautiful navy-blue dress—instead convinced her mother that she did not need the dress. With this, a large sacrifice for a sixteen-year-old girl of limited clothing options, she told her mother that Christ had given her new purposes.[4]

Her purposes were to love God and be a good, holy Christian within the new faith she had in Jesus Christ. In 1886, Amy attended a conference in Glasgow, Scotland. The last sentence of a speaker’s prayer struck her heart profoundly: “Now to Him who is able to keep us from falling” (Jude 24). Up until then, she had been striving to be a good child of God, but she realized that He keeps her from falling into sin. He does the keeping. This perspective would serve her well in a future ministry; she could not take responsibility for the choices of individual souls. Instead, she could trust in the God who is able to keep His children—including those who would trust Jesus as a result of her ministry—from falling.[5]   

Soon after the Belfast conference she began a ministry to the “shawlies” in Belfast.  “Shawlies” were poor, factory-working girls and were called such because they were too poor to afford hats to wear to church, so they wore shawls instead. Many people overlooked these young ladies. Many did not recognize that God’s love extended to them. Amy did. She made a request of the church minister to begin a ministry specifically for them. The minister granted her request; Amy was to run it.[6]

Amy started her work by visiting the factories and making friends with the young women. Many in the church were against Amy’s work, saying, “those dirty rough mill girls weren’t made for church-going.”[7]  Many of the church officials were also troubled at such a ministry. However, God was not against the work. That is what mattered. The mill girls were responsive and understanding of the gospel. The services that Amy began for them were overflowing with hundreds in attendance.[8] 

The large interest in the meetings meant a new need for a bigger facility. A co-worker suggested that they ask the minister to take a special offering for the new building.  Amy responded to her co-worker that they would wait. Amy believed that the Bible taught to ask God for needs but not beg other people. So, if the Lord wanted this work done, He would provide someone with a desire to give the money. Though no one previously exemplified this kind of prayer to Amy, she held to it and faithfully prayed each day. Not long after this prayer commitment, Amy received an invitation to dine with a woman to whom she had never been introduced, Miss Kate Mitchell. Miss Mitchell desired to hear of the ministry among the factory-working women. After hearing the fruit of the ministry and the need, Miss Mitchell donated all of the needed money to build the new hall.[9]

The hall was called “The Welcome.” The motto was rightly, “that in all things He might have preeminence.” Amy organized the evangelistic meetings, arranging for two of D.L. Moody’s students to speak. On a daily basis, people came to faith in Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, “The Welcome” was opened every night for some sort of activity—all of which were planned by Amy.  She planned “services, sewing clubs, choir practice, reading lessons, and mothers’ meetings” for the young ladies.[10] The young ladies were not only drawn to the activities, but to Amy herself. One author writes, “Amy was an excellent organizer, full of enthusiasm and energy, a fine leader who inspired others.”[11] Amy’s determination despite the opinions of others recalls her childhood demeanor, which was now employed for God’s purposes.

Amy was then asked to start and lead a new ministry in Ancoats, Manchester. This would also benefit ladies working in factories. Because the ministry in Belfast was well under the control of Miss Mitchell, Amy felt she could agree to the new work. She implemented the same plan as at Belfast. Yet, she decided to live nearer to the women, moving to their neighborhood and living in a room filled with cockroaches and bed bugs. In part, this decision was also due to the previous death of her father, because of which the family came into financial hardship. Amy dedicated herself to the new ministry. However, she became ill with neuralgia, a nerve condition that caused soreness and often required bed rest for extended periods of time. As a result, she was required to cease all of her work.[12]

During the time of her sickness, Amy went to live with Robert Wilson. He was a sixty-year-old Christian man who was a speaker and cofounder of a series of conferences called “Keswick Convention.” Amy was sure that during this time with Mr. Wilson, she had spiritual lessons to learn before God could further use her in ministry. One of these lessons came through hearing these words of a Keswick speaker, D.L. Moody: “Son, though art ever with Me, and all I have is thine.” God’s love stood out to Amy newly.  The truth brought her to tears; she realized that God is love, and that He desired to supply her needs—which He already knew—through her faith. “All I have is thine,” are words she would never forget.[13] Furthermore, the motto of this conference was, “All One in Jesus,” a truth that resonated with Amy. The themes that Amy gleaned through the Keswick conference would be seen woven into her writing later in life.[14] 

While Amy was living with Mr. Wilson and gleaning from the Keswick conferences, she continually felt a burden for lost souls. However, she resolved that God would not send her—primarily because of her neuralgia. So, she prayed that God would make her satisfied with staying behind to send others as missionaries. However, the desire to be sent as a missionary to an unbelieving country grew even stronger; it became, “irresistible and inescapable.”[15] After praying through her desires with Mr. Wilson, she believed the Lord unmistakably told her, “Go ye.”[16]

As these words, “Go ye,” swept through her, questions also arose. Would her mother support the decision? Where would she minister? Catherine’s committed faith shone again. The Lord had spoken to Catherine as well—Amy must go. Catherine trusted that God would take care of Amy and that He had the prerogative to take her wherever He desired. Her second question was not easily answered—no one would accept her as a missionary. At last, Mr. Wilson suggested she go to Japan to work with a family he knew, the Buxons. Amy felt so strongly about serving in Japan that she began traveling before hearing the reply from the Buxons as to whether or not they would have need for her as a missionary.[17] 

Later this month, Of Larks will conclude our survey of the life of Amy Carmichael as an influencer for the gospel with Part 2 of this series.

[1] Curtis, Kenneth A. and Daniel Graves, eds. Great Women in Christian History: 37 Women Who Changed Their World (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc, 2004), 136.
Ibid., 137.
Hosier, Helen Kooiman. 100 Christian Women Who Changed the 20th Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 2000), 237.
Curtis, Kenneth A. and Daniel Graves, eds. Great Women in Christian History, 137-138.
Dick, Lois Hoadley. Amy Carmichael: Let the Little Children Come. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 28.
Ibid., 29.
See note 4 above.
Dick, Lois Hoadley. Amy Carmichael, 29-32.
Hosier, Helen Kooiman. 100 Christian Women, 247-248. 
See notes 4 and 9 above.
See note 9 above.
See note 11 above.
See note 4 above.
See notes 4 and 11 above.