Amy Carmichael: An Influencer for the Gospel, Part 2

June 15, 2016 was 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 is Part 2 of a two-part series on Amy Carmichael, spiritual mother to Elisabeth Elliot.

Feel free to catch up on Part 1 if you have yet to read it.

Green vines growing next to a white fence. Elisabeth Elliot speaking of Amy Carmichael: "Through Amy Carmichael I saw that the change to die, to be crucifed with Christ, is not a morbid thing, but the very gateway to Life."

After serving the Lord by ministering to poor factory-working women and experiencing somewhat of a recovery from her nerve condition, neuralgia, Amy learned that missionaries in Japan, the Buxons, would welcome her. Amy’s trip to Japan was characterized by cramped space in hotels, food that was unusual to her, and chaotic travel. Yet, she kept a good attitude. In addition to those difficulties, she felt a deep burden in being surrounded by unbelievers. “Heathendom was a felt presence to her, she felt a great gulf between her and [the Japanese people].”[1]

This gulf motivated Amy to action. Even before fully learning Japanese, Amy shared the gospel alongside of Misaki San, her translator. Misaki San suggested Amy wear a Kimono. But because of the cold weather and her neuralgia, she did not. Amy witnessed to an elderly lady in the hospital who showed an interest in the gospel. Just as Amy was beginning to ask the woman if she wanted to repent of her sins and trust Christ, the lady became distracted and asked about the fur on Amy’s gloves. Amy was so saddened that she resolved never again, “to risk much for so little.” [2] She wore Japanese clothing from then on.

Amy traveled with other missionaries to evangelize in the Buddhist village of Hirose. They shared the gospel during the day and invited people to their evening evangelistic services.  While in Hirose, she asked the Lord what to pray and felt Him impress upon her heart to pray for the salvation of one soul. While they were in Hirose, a young silk-weaver heard their message and believed. Then, Amy’s neuralgia again caused her to stay in bed for one month.

After she was well, she went out to Hirose and believed she must pray for two souls. The silk-weaver from Hirose brought two friends to meet Amy and the other missionaries. These friends became believers. Two weeks later, Amy felt impressed for four souls—more than many missionaries in Japan see won to Christ in a year. Amy was disappointed, however, that this visit to Hirose seemed to go poorly; no one appeared interested in the gospel. Yet, at the evening service, one lady stood, asking the way to Christ. She and her son converted. At the home of some Christians that evening, another came to Christ and another the next morning. Amy’s prayer had been answered and her faith had been tested. Amy was ill for a month and a half after this trip. 

Toward the end of that illness, Amy felt impressed upon to pray for eight souls. The other missionaries considered this prayer, “not faith but presumption.”[3] However, Amy was convinced of His will because she would not have the courage to ask it without His strength. Finally, an older missionary agreed with her prayer after reading from Jeremiah 32:17 that nothing is too difficult for the Lord. Indeed, eight souls were saved during the next trip.

That trip to Hirose was the last time Amy felt impressed upon to pray for a specific number of people to be saved. Her neuralgia became so consuming that a doctor gave an order for her to leave Japan for a warmer climate. She left in July 1894 to eventually return to Mr. Wilson’s house. Amy was unsure of her next step. The then-ill Mr. Wilson suggested India, a more suitable, sunny climate. However, Amy thought India would be too easy. Surely the Lord wanted her back in Japan. Mr. Wilson suggested that the Lord wanted her in India so that she could stay well long enough to complete more work for Him. Mr. Wilson was right; Amy sailed to Banglador in October 1895.[4] 

From the beginning of her time in India, Amy remembered both her lesson in Japan about authentic dress and that Jesus was, “made in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:7). So, she wanted to culturally adapt to be like the people she would be serving. She adopted many customs and the beautiful sari dress of the Indian people. This adaptation happened gradually, as this was not the customary practice for missionaries there.[5] 

While in India, a primary aspect of Amy’s work involved children. The practice of Hinduism, a religion that originated in and was largely limited to India, enslaved little boys and girls. They were said to be married to the temple priests and they were engaged in prostitution. Amy would go to many lengths to save these children from the temple, often catching the parents of infants before they reached the temple to persuade them to give her their baby instead. Amy wrote a book about slave trafficking in India, entitled, Things as They Are. Initially, this book was rejected from publication because of the terrible circumstances it communicated. However, it was eventually published, bringing prayer and financial support to Amy’s mission.[6] 

Once Amy rescued the children, she cared for them and educated them; she often had many new infants to nurture at one time.[7] After ten years, Amy, combined with her coworkers, had prevented two hundred children from slavery. By the end of her life, one thousand children were spared. Surely the nurturing qualities that Amy learned from her mother were used well during this period of time. Many on-lookers, however, believed that Amy was not doing missions work, but merely doing a maid’s work—taking care of infants. To those who believed that raising children in the knowledge of the Lord was not true missionary work, Amy remembered to “go on loving, go on praying, go on forgiving, watch for the comforts of God.”[8]

Amy’s mission was to rear the rescued babies into adults who would strongly love the Lord. She knew they could do more to reach their own people than a foreign missionary. Arula and Pearleyes were two girls rescued by Amy. Because of Amy’s influence, they dedicated their lives to the mission started by her. Other girls from among Amy’s children grew to be called the “sisters of the common life.”  They discerned that God’s will for them excluded marriage so that they could “fully attend upon the Lord without distraction.” [9] Amy’s children have served the Lord all throughout India.

In addition to her care for children, Amy also influenced women in India. One day, Amy instructed a ministry partner, Ponnammal, and other women associated with the mission how to evangelize. She instructed them to remove their jewels—a drastic step because an Indian woman without jewels would be considered, “an eyesore, a reproach.”[10] However, Amy saw no need for an evangelist to wear jewels that might distract from the gospel. The shedding of jewels had a wonderful effect. These women found a new “spiritual liberty.” [11] They discovered their individual character and strength without depending upon jewels for their identity. More Christian women in India who wanted to support Amy’s mission would follow, selling their jewels and sending the money. 

Many teens who wished to escape their temple or home lives in search of Christianity also heard of Amy and were drawn to her. Jasmine, a very young widow interested in Christianity, was considered to be a reproach by her family; the early death of her husband was blamed on sin in Jasmine’s past life. Amy took Jasmine through the Bible, starting from creation. One day, the Scripture readings were Isaiah 53 and the account of Christ’s crucifixion from one of the gospels. Upon studying these together, Jasmine became so devoted to Christ that she exclaimed, “Oh, if I had only heard of Him before! How many years have I lost in not loving Him!”[12] 

On October 24, 1931 at the age of 64, because of an injuring fall and her neuralgia, Amy was sent to bed for the remainder of her days. Although she could no longer be busy with caring for children, she had an active inner life and was furious with her pen. Amy wrote many books, poems, songs, and letters. Her publications grew to total nearly forty.[13] Regarding her books, Bishop Frank Houghton wrote, “I think it is true to say that God used her pen for more widespread and deeper spiritual blessing during the post-accident period than in all of the preceding years.” 

From the girls at her boarding school, to the “shawlies,” and from the converted Japanese women, to the young ladies and children in India, Amy Carmichael was faithful to the gospel message wherever the Lord led her. She was a charismatic leader and a kind and convincing evangelist. She was a “soul uncommonly abandoned to God.”[14] She modeled faith, selfless discipleship, obedience without regard for personal cost, and bold faith. Regarding any trials in her life, she professed and exemplified her conviction that, “faith never wonders why.”[15]

Elisabeth Elliot wrote in the preface of her biography on Amy Carmichael, "[She] became for me what some now call a role model. She was far more than that. She was my first spiritual mother. She showed me the shape of godliness."[16] The reason for Amy's influence was her complete surrender to Christ. Elisabeth goes on to write about her understanding of Amy's surrender, "[Through Amy] I saw that the chance to die, to be crucified with Christ, is not a morbid thing, but the very gateway to Life."[17] Through Amy's passion for the message of the gospel, Amy directs our attention to God and, "It is to her credit that we often lose sight of her and see, instead, God and His doings."[18]

[1] Hosier, Helen Kooiman. 100 Christian Women Who Changed the 20th Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 2000), 248-249.
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), 139-140.
See note 1 above.
Hosier, Helen Kooiman. 100 Christian Women, 248-251.
Dick, Lois Hoadley. Amy Carmichael: Let the Little Children Come (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 69-70.
Dick, Lois Hoadley. Amy Carmichael, 100-115.
Dick, Lois Hoadley. Amy Carmichael, 65-67.
Dick, Lois Hoadley. Amy Carmichael, 91-92.
See note 6 above.
Dick, Lois Hoadley. Amy Carmichael, 154.
Elliot, Elisabeth.  A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1994), 15.
[17] Ibid.
Dick, Lois Hoadley. Amy Carmichael, 5.