It is the 18th of January 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1951.
Today we turn our attention to India at the beginning of the 20th century. Of course, it could be called the 19th century, or 21st or 51st depending on the calendar you chose in India. But regardless of what they called the date, Indians knew the year we call 1858 as the beginning of direct British rule in India. The British Raj would be in place until their independence in 1947.
The history of the British in India is unfortunately typical of many empires subjugating a people in the interest of trade. Authors like Rudyard Kipling, who was born to English parents in India, filled the British imagination with primitive and unflattering views of the natives. It is unlikely that any of the locals would think of themselves as "the White Man's Burden," as Kipling would call them.
We see diplomatic missions often paired with evangelical missions. As you might expect, missionaries were often seen, at least by their governments, as a kind of bonus for the people they sought to do business with. Historian of the church Kenneth LaTourette has noted this and referred to the 19th century as the great century of world missions, at least in terms of numbers.
LaTourette also notes that these missionaries "cut across denomination and confessional lines." This was partly due to the lack of theological education required for a missionary. Increasingly the lack of church sponsorship or affiliation furthered the reputation of under-educated missionaries. It was also because many of the missionaries were women. In an age when women had little opportunity to serve in the local church, the mission fields could be an oasis of egalitarianism. Add the allure of missionary biographies and fantastical tales of far-off lands. And there you go, an evangelism explosion, or an explosion in the number of people calling themselves Evangelists.
In 1951 in India, one of the most famous of all missionaries, Amy Carmichael, died on the 18th of January. The Irish born Carmichael would become synonymous with missions of mercy, especially in India. Elisabeth Eliot, widow to missionary Jim, would write a book about Carmichael, stoking interest in her "A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael" in 1985.
Carmichael was born in 1867. She arrived in India in 1895 as a 28-year-old. In 1901 she learned of the conditions of young girls in some Hindu temples. It was not uncommon for Indian couples to commit a first-born daughter to a life of service in the temple. It could have been out of devotion and in seeking the gods' favor, or it may have been a way to ensure food and clothing for girls whose parents could not afford them. The system was prone to abuse, and by the time Amy was introduced to the practice, she described it as a "great secret traffic in souls and bodies of young children." The crusade against child trafficking, in that explicit language, became Carmichael's life mission.
It is too easy with a missionary's life to accept the hagiography and add another to the list of Christians-who-will-always-be-better-than-you. It can also be easy to see mission work in the context of colonization and westernization, blaming the worst on those who possibly sought to do the most. Carmichael was a flawed human reflective of her age, but the tangible good work should not go unnoticed.
Carmichael worked with the untouchables, the discarded, and abused. But the locals saw her as a white demon, practicing magic to entice young children to her. But her work persisted. She founded the Donahvur Fellowship in Tamil Nadu, a location known for its cluster of temples. Amy never left India but, in 1931, took a fall and was severely hampered in mobility for the rest of her life. In 1948, a year after the end of the British Raj, the Devadasi, what Carmichael called "child trafficking," was outlawed.
She had hoped that the Donhavur fellowship would continue without her, and eventually with only native Indian staff. Today it is just how she envisioned it, serving over 500 people in Tamil Nadu, where she died 70 years ago today, the 18th of January in 1951.
The reading is an octave from Ms. Carmichael.
"Thou art the Lord who slept upon the pillow,
Thou art the Lord who soothed the furious sea,
What matters beating wind and tossing billow
If only we are in the boat with Thee?
Hold us quiet through the age-long minute
While Thou art silent and the wind is shrill :
Can the boat sink while Thou, dear Lord, are in it;
Can the heart faint that waiteth on Thy will?"
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 18th of January 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a graduate, cum laude, of D. James Kennedy's Evangelism Explosion course, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.