“Not Spiritual Work”

Posted on April 24, 2010



Some of Amy's girls (from her book "Lotus Buds," which you can view online at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29427/29427-h/29427-h.htm )

        So, Amy began her real life’s work without even knowing it.  By June 1901, just three months after Preena’s arrival, four more babies came into Amy’s care.  They were not temple babies but children who just needed help for various reasons.  Amy was hungry, though, to find and rescue the little temple girls, and she began to search for them.  She talked to Indian officials and begged supporters in England to pray.  Elisabeth Elliot writes, “When she told of the child-wives, twelve or ten or eight years old, people said, ‘Oh, you mean betrothed!  Another case of missionary exaggeration!’  No, she did not mean betrothed.  ‘We mean married.’”  Elisabeth Elliot also quotes a doctor who witnessed horrible physical consequences of sexual abuse in young girls in India at that time that I will leave out of here.  Amy herself probably didn’t know very many details of what was happening to these girls (she writes several times about learning from Preena and later from other little girls things that “darkened the sunlight” and were “terrible, unthinkably wicked”), but she knew it was bad enough that these girls needed her urgent help.

            It was 1904, three years after Preena came, before the next temple girl was found.  A little baby, just thirteen days old was laid in the arms of Amy who said, “we hardly understood what we had undertaken.”  By June of that year the Family had grown to include 17 children, 6 of whom were from the temples. 

            Then, Amy found that she could not travel any longer with the Walkers.  The children needed her.  They settled in a village called Dohnavur (Amy wrote, “Rhyme Doh with No, na with Ah, vur with Poor”), which was founded about a hundred years earlier by a Prussian missionary.  When Amy arrived, it consisted of a church with a dilapidated bungalow near it, surrounded by a group of small houses or huts with nominal Christians living in them.  Amy, the Starry Cluster, and the children took up residence in the bungalow when the Walkers left.   By May 1906, there were 15 babies, and there were 70 in the Family.  By 1913, Amy had become Amma to twice that many.

            Now, this is why I chose to write about Amy Carmichael.  Sure, she had a terrifically exciting life (China!  Japan!  Camping in jungles!  Evil temple men!  And so much more that you should definitely read about on your own: midnight escapes with girls in danger, prison and secret woodland meetings with a famous Indian bandit, poisonings, plagues, miraculous healings, etc.), but I have come to love her because of the everyday stuff.  She heard an Indian proverb that, “children bind the mother’s feet,” and she began to find it was true.  When the Walkers left, she asked, “Could it be right to turn from so much that might be of profit and become just nursemaids?”  Her babies needed as much care as all babies do and more.  Many of them were sick (lots of them died—I can’t write about it).  Ponnamal spent a month taking care of 15 babies with cholera on her own, through long watches of the night, while Amy was sick.  There was cooking, cleaning, sewing, mending, teaching, disciplining, and playing to be done.  Some of the children broke Amy’s heart by turning away when they got older.  I know there are moments when I have felt bound and wondered with Amy, “Could it be right to turn away from being a published author, bilingual evangelist, pediatrician, paralegal, artistic crisis pregnancy center volunteer (which I, of course, would be in my other life!) to wipe noses and bottoms, make peanut butter and jelly, and rock someone who can’t sleep because they are coughing?”

            But Amy and the Starry Cluster did it.

            Elisabeth Elliot writes, “It is not the business of the servant to decide which work is great, which is small, which important or unimportant—he is not greater than his master.”

            When she was much older, Amy wrote in her book If, “If by doing some work which the undiscerning consider ‘not spiritual work’ I can best serve others, and I inwardly rebel, thinking it is the spiritual for which I crave, when in truth it is the interesting and exciting, then I known nothing of Calvary love.”

Posted in: Amy Carmichael