By: Ron Woodrum
The father of modern missions is William Carey, a Baptist missionary in the late 1700’s who gave his life to reaching the Hindu world of India. William Carey was born in England on August 17, 1761. His early life was spent as an apprentice to a shoe cobbler (repairing shoes). He gave his life to Christ on February 10, 1779…not quite 18 years old. He joined the Baptist Church in 1783, being baptized by Dr. John Rylands. While repairing shoes this uneducated man taught himself Greek and Hebrew in order to study the Scriptures in their original languages. His aggressive study of the Bible soon led to a call to the ministry and in 1789 he became Pastor of the Harvey Lane Baptist Church. He read a book, by a fellow Baptist Pastor Andrew Fuller titled The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, and was moved by one line in the book…”If it is the duty of all men to believe whenever the gospel is presented to them, it must be the duty of all who have received the Gospel to endeavor to make it universally known!” That line convinced Carey that the Gospel needed to be shared with the heathen all across the world who had never heard. He built a leather globe of the world, and while repairing shoes, sought God’s direction about how to relieve this heart burden for the world. Once a month Baptist ministers met for prayer, Bible study, and fellowship. Carey was asked to share at one of those meetings. He shared his view of how Genesis 12:1-3 demanded that we bless the world with the Gospel. He felt that Matthew 28:19-20 was a binding commission for the Church to obey. While preaching on this subject to his fellow Baptist ministers, Dr. Ryland, the very one that had baptized him, interrupted him and said, “Sit down young man and be still! When God wants to convert the heathen, He will do it without consulting either you or me!” That caused Carey to study the Scriptures even more over the next eight years, and resulted in him printing a pamphlet entitled “An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to use means for the conversion of the Heathen”. His theme verse became Isaiah 54:5 “Thy Redeemer…The God of All The Earth shall He be Called”. Carey came in contact with a surgeon John Thomas who had returned from India, and was so moved with their lostness he was baptized, ordained and intended to return to the country to share the gospel. Carey’s friend Andrew Fuller heard John Thomas say “India was a veritable Gold mine, but was as deep as the center of the earth”. Thomas asked “who will go down?” Andrew shared that with Carey. Carey responded, “I will if you will hold the ropes!” Just before Carey left to go to his missionary work in India he preached a farewell sermon in which he declared that we should “Expect Great Things From God, and Attempt Great Things For God!” Those were his intentions.
He left for India in 1793. It took them five months to sail to India. During this time Carey was learning Bengali. He took his wife, and sons William, Felix, and Peter with him. His wife only went reluctantly. The first event was his five year old son Peter died to disease. Dorothy, his wife, suffered a mental breakdown and would spend the next 14 years on the mission field battling fits of insanity. The work was hard. In order to support their work Carey worked as a manager of an Indigo plant for six years. He worked during the day, and learned the languages and dialects during the nights. He translated the Bible into Bengali, and forty other languages. Just before he completed the Bengali translation, a fire destroyed all his laborious work. He had no choice but to begin it all again. It took seven years to see his first Hindu convert in 1800. His wife Dorothy finally passed in 1807. His son Felix forsook the mission work to become an Ambassador for the government. Carey wrote home to supporters, “Felix has shrunk from a missionary to an ambassador!” Carey was known for his patience and perseverance. He founded the Christian Church of India, the school system, including females in his education process, the postal system. This self-educated missionary translated the Scriptures into over 40 languages known to India, and printed 213,000 Bibles. Carey called himself “God’s Plodder!” He wrote, “If He give me credit for being a plodder He will describe me justly. Anything beyond that will be too much. I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything”. He reminds me of what Alexander MacLaren wrote-“We have all of a few moments in life of hard, glorious running; but we have days and years of walking-the uneventful discharge of small duties”. The steady plodding and discharging of those small duties enabled William Carey to “Accomplish Great Things for God!” The same is true for us. Just before he died in 1834 he wrote home to supporters and said, “Say nothing about Dr. Carey-speak about Dr. Carey’s God”. On one occasion a British ambassador tried to embarrass Carey by asking “haven’t you been a shoemaker for most of your life?” Carey responded, “Not a shoemaker-a shoe cobbler. I repair shoes”. He was a humble servant of God. His tombstone had only these words: William Carey. Born August 17, 1761. Died June 9, 1834. “A poor wretched worm-on Thy kind arms I fall”.
I came across a quote the other day by Joseph Parker. I believe it fits William Carey, and all who endeavor missionary work which can take so long to lay the foundation and see fruit. Joseph Parker wrote: “Is God all wise? Then the darkest providences have meaning. We will set ourselves as God’s interpreters, and because we cannot make straight lines out of our crooked lot, we think that God has turned our life into inextricable confusion. The darkest hours in our life have some intent, and it is really not needful that we should know all at once what that intent is. Let us keep within our own little sphere, and live a day at a time, and breathe a breath at a time, and be content with one pulsation at a time, and interpretation will come when God pleases, and as He pleases.”