Many great efforts toward social reform were started by Christians whose compassion for the sufferings of others birthed in them an activist spirit which expressed the love of Jesus Christ in real and substantial ways.
There have been periods in history when the Church, like the priest and the Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, “passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31-32) of those who suffered from poverty, neglect and injustice. But, even in those times, God raised up individual Christian leaders whose lights shone so brightly that societal attitudes were reformed and the lives of thousands were changed. Another inspiring example of this leadership-by-example was Amy Carmichael, who spent her life ministering to the needs of orphans.
Rescuer of Abandoned and Abused Children
“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” – Amy Carmichael
Amy Carmichael (1867 – 1951) was raised in a wealthy Irish family, but her love for God transcended her upbringing and caused her to reach out to poor, neglected and abused people on three continents.
One Sunday, walking home from church, Amy saw a poor woman struggling to carry a large bundle of rags and helped her. While doing this, Amy was observed by a number of her “respectable” upper class neighbors; typically, these neighbors scorned association with people of the “lower classes.” For a brief moment, Amy felt embarrassed to be seen with a woman who was so unkempt and obviously poor. Suddenly, she heard God tell her, “Gold, silver, precious stones, wood hay, stubble. Every man’s work shall be made known. It will be revealed with fire and the fire will test the character and worth of what each person has done.” This Bible verse (I Corinthians 3:12) so shook Amy that she spent the rest of the afternoon alone in her room communing with God. Replaying the incident in her mind and reevaluating her reactions, Amy resolved never again to let the opinions of people keep her from reaching out to others with the love of Christ, no matter what their social status. The impact that this incident had upon Amy’s character was displayed throughout the rest of her life.
Not long afterwards, Amy began visiting the poorer sections of town with a pastor from the Dublin City Mission. She soon became aware of the difficult living conditions experienced by the young factory girls who worked long hours in the local textile mills. These girls were called “Shawlies,” because, being too poor to afford hats, they had to cover their heads with their shawls during cold or inclement weather. Amy began began a Bible class with the “Shawlies,” and as their interest grew, she began inviting them to church. They enjoyed coming, but some church members were not comfortable having so many “common people” join their church. Undeterred, Amy prayed for God to supply her the money to construct a meeting place. Thanks to the Lord and to some generous friends, Amy had a tin building built. She called it “The Welcome Hall.” A sign on the front of the building read: “Come one, come all and come in your work clothes!” In 1888, Amy moved with her family to London and worked with factory girls there. She chose to move into the slums where the girls lived in order to be near them, and she slept in bug-infested beds when she could have lived a comfortable life with her family in a better part of town.
In 1895, after spending a year in Japan as a missionary, Amy embarked for India. She spent the next 55 years of her life there. While working as an evangelist and mentoring female converts to Christianity, Amy began to hear of the plight of young girls who were given to Hindu temples at a young age to be raised as temple prostitutes. Indian girls were often unwanted, and some parents would give or sell their daughters to the temple priests. By the age of 11, these girls would be “married” to temple priests. Amy never encountered any of these girls until Preena, a seven-year-old who had been sold by her parents to a nearby temple, appeared at her door. Preena had previously run away, but her mother returned her to the temple out of fear that “the gods” would punish her for aiding in her escape. When Preena returned to the temple, her hands were branded by hot irons as a punishment. After Preena jumped into Amy’s lap and clung to her, Amy told Preena that her God loved everyone equally and didn’t divide them up into “classes” as the Hindu caste system did. Preena begged Amy not to return her to the temple, and Amy did not. Eventually, she was charged with kidnapping.
Later, a second girl showed up at Amy’s door, and she realized that her calling was to provide a safe haven for these girls. Searching for other girls she could rescue, Amy dyed her skin with dark coffee, dressed in Indian clothes and traveled long distances to visit other villages. With help from home, Amy founded a mission in Dohnavur with an orphanage that is still active today. She rescued hundreds of girls from temple prostitution by talking their parents into giving them to her rather than to the temples. By 1913, the Dohnavur Fellowship was caring for 130 girls; in 1918 a home for boys was added.
As the orphanage grew, Amy eventually needed nurseries to care for rescued babies and a hospital to treat the sick. She often stayed up most of the night nursing sick babies. Since its founding, it is estimated that the Dohnavur Fellowship has been able to rescue over 2,500 girls and boys from danger and give them a Christian upbringing. Word about Amy’s mission spread all the way to the Queen of England, who helped to fund her work. Though Amy didn’t want personal publicity, her humble service called attention to the plight of Indian orphans. At long last, India outlawed temple prostitution in 1948. Today, Dohnavur supports 500 people on 400 acres; operating 16 nurseries and a hospital with a yearly out-patient attendance of about 40,000.