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What We Must Learn from Amy Carmichael, Missionary and Defender of Children


In nearly every sector of society—media, education, medicine, public policy, even sports—children are now subjects of social experimentation. As fundamental realities of life such as sex, marriage, and parenting are reimagined, we say to ourselves, “Oh, the kids will be fine.” Overwhelming evidence suggests they aren’t.

At the same time, too many churches and too many Christians, often jaded by Christian activism either poorly done or poorly received (or both), have moved to the sidelines. At times, this move has been away from the social implications of the Gospel, focusing instead on individual transformation and privatized faith. Other times, this move has been simple compromise on moral issues, often out of a misplaced attempt to be inclusive and “welcoming.”

This indifference to our culture’s widespread exploitation of children, places these churches and these Christians firmly outside the priorities of Church history. Time and time again, across cultures and time periods, those who brought the Gospel to pagan cultures found themselves defending and protecting abandoned, abused, and victimized children.

One of the great missionary heroes of Church history is a clear example. Amy Carmichael was born in 1867 to devout parents in Ireland. By 1895, after already serving as a missionary in Japan and Ceylon, Carmichael devoted herself to bringing the Gospel to South India.

Immediately, Carmichael started wrestling through the idea of contextualization, how best to present the Gospel in that cultural setting. For example, unlike most missionaries at the time, Amy wore the same clothes as the local population. She travelled with a group of Indian women converts known as the Starry Cluster and would tell anyone, regardless of caste,(another cultural reality) about God’s love. Many women fleeing slavery and prostitution in Indian temples came to Christ because of her teaching.

One day, a young girl named Preena, who had been sold as a temple slave by her widowed mother and literally branded when she tried to run away, listened as Amy Carmichael told of God’s love. Preena ran away again, this time to Amy’s house.

Amy knew that if she took Preena in, she could be charged with kidnapping. However, she also knew to send Preena back would mean further beatings or even death. Driven by the truth of the gospel, Amy welcomed Preena into her home.

This led Amy to begin studying the caste system in more detail. She learned that children were often dedicated to the gods and left at temples to be slaves and child prostitutes. Horrified, she dedicated the rest of her life to fighting these abuses.

As word spread, children and teenagers who had run away from temples began to show up at her door. Soon, Amy was looking after almost 50 people. So, she moved all of them to the city of Dohnavor and established the Dohnavor Fellowship, a home for former child prostitutes.

In 1901, Amy was taken to court by infuriated Hindu priests. Still, Amy continued to provide a home for any child who came to her for help, and the priests’ lawsuit was ultimately dismissed. In 1918, she added a home for boys, many former temple prostitutes. Throughout her life, Amy Carmichael took in over 1,000 children, giving each one a new home, renewed hope, and even a new name.

In 1931, Amy had a serious accident and broke both her leg and her ankle, and badly injured her hip and back. This, combined with neuralgia, effectively left Amy bedridden for the rest of her life. As a result, she led the Dohnavor Fellowship from her bedroom.

In 1948, largely because of Amy’s work, child prostitution was outlawed in India. Three years later, Amy died at the age of 83. At her request, no stone marked her burial place. Instead, the children she had saved erected a birdbath over her grave, engraved with the word Amma, which means “Mother.”

The parallels between what children faced in that pagan culture and what children face in our pagan culture is obvious. In both contexts, children are sacrificed to sexual ideologies, and forced to serve the desires of adults. In both contexts, anyone who resists faces significant social pressures, even political penalties. One difference is that Carmichael didn’t think that standing for children would be an impediment to telling people about the love of God. On the contrary, she believed it was an essential part of serving Christ in that pagan culture.

Today, you can join Carmichael and others from Christian history by making a Promise to America’s Children, pledging to protect the minds, bodies, and the most important relationships of children. And then, learn all the ways children are being victimized and how the church can help, by reading Them Before Us: Why We Need a Global Children’s Rights Movement, a vital new book by Katy Faust. Them Before Us is the featured resource from the Colson Center this month.

Publication date: March 16, 2021

Photo courtesy: Ross Wilson/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons, image cropped and resized.

John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and radio host of BreakPoint, a daily national radio program providing thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

BreakPoint is a program of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. BreakPoint commentaries offer incisive content people can't find anywhere else; content that cuts through the fog of relativism and the news cycle with truth and compassion. Founded by Chuck Colson (1931 – 2012) in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends. Today, you can get it in written and a variety of audio formats: on the web, the radio, or your favorite podcast app on the go.

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