It was Elizabeth Elliott who first made me aware of Amy Carmichael, by often quoting her when she had her 15 minute radio program, Gateway to Joy. After that I began to watch for Amy's books, as I sensed this woman had spiritual depths I desired. So far I've only got two, Gold Cord, and Rose from Brier.
Her purpose in this book is to show how God's hand has been on this unusual little rescue mission and home, school, and hospital throughout the long, slow earlier years when she was beginning it.
Carmichael's style is not conducive to a fast read. She also has a mix of and Old English, and what I can only assume comes from working in some of the native languages and dialects of India all her adult life. There is a poetic quality to her turn of phrase, and the way she uses the royal "we" when I suspect most of the time she means herself. The first time I read Gold Cord, I found myself easily distracted, and picked up other books to read too.
However, when I became hungry for dialogue with someone who knew the Lord intimately, I remembered this book, and took it up to read again. This time it was delightful. This time I was tuned in to learn from her, and to savor her unique turns of a phrase. I followed the saga of her burden for the little girls and babies that were (and probably still are) given to the temples to be raised as temple prostitutes. Amy longed to rescue them and raise them in a loving, wholesome environment. It seemed impossible at first, but slowly her haven, the Dohnavur Fellowship, started up and grew.
It was slowed perhaps because she insisted on praying for only workers who were of the Order of Epaphroditus. Knowing the Bible, I know immediately the type of workers she wanted. Ones who with the right motives, who cared not about their own comforts, but only of those in their charge. God did send her women, and later men, as the work was expanded to rescue boys who were used and mis-used in Drama Troups. Following this has reassured me greatly, that when a work is begun and done in God's timing and way, all the resources will surely be supplied.
Amy, a young woman from Ireland went to South India in 1895 and remained there without a break (read furlough) until she went to the greater Home prepared for her in Heaven in January of 1951. Meeting her in this book, (and I understand she has written about a dozen others), I find her to be a gentle, humble woman with a great devotion to our Lord, a delight in the natural joys of birds, brooks, and wooded areas or flowers, and profound respect for life. I find myself wanting to make myself posters and plaques of her pithy poetry lines and quotes.
It is hard to decide which items to quote from. However, one story had an exceptional impact on me, so I will condense the story a bit with re-telling and quote the most salient dialogue.
A Christian woman had come to visit and Amy tried to explain to her the great need for rescuing the little boys that were destroyed. "They burn them, don't they?" she had said and continued tranquilly to lunch. This led Amy to tell what a young relative of the officiating priest for the ceremony of purification for a certain Rajah.
Here is the dialogue she had with one telling her this story;
First came the familiar: "He ate of the five products of the cow, and he made a golden cow and gave it to our caste and feasted my caste men, thousands of them; then" - and this was said in exactly the same everyday tone-- "then there was also a special sacrifice, the sacrifice of a cow."
"But how take life? And of all life, that of a cow?"
"We do not take life," was the calm answer, "the fire takes it. The Rajah must spiritually pass through that cow's holy interior." (I soften his speech a little, it was explicit.) "There is a special hut made, and four of us are chosen to see that it is all done correctly. The cow is taken into the place where the fire is lighted. The cow may not be killed, of course. Then the door is shut. What is done after that is not done by man, that would be a cow-killing, which is unlawful. It is done by the fire--."
A rumour of this had reached us, but we had not believed it. "Burned alive, you mean?"
"So it is said."
"Are you sure? Have you seen it?"
"Yes," the colourless voice replied. "I can say I am sure, but I have not seen. No Brahman could look at such a thing. It would be unlawful and too much unpleasant; so the low caste people are appointed to do it."
"But they kill the cow first, surely?"
"With a knife? That is forbidden. That would be cow-killing. That would be a crime. To slay any animal is a crime. They are not allowed to do that."
"But to burn it alive is horrible. Can nothing be done? Could we not go to the Palace and--"
"It has been done for many centuries," was the gentle interruption, and the weak mouth said, "What can be done against custom? And who could withstand the Brahmans? In my country they have much power. They have power to curse son and heir."
Even so, it was incredible. "Perhaps the low caste men carry off the poor beast and deceive the Brahmans."
"Do you think that they dare?" was the sufficient answer. Then patiently, as to a child unduly moved about nothing, "It is not very often, only once at the beginning of a new Rajah's reign. And' (as an oddly happy after thought) "it is not a big cow, it is only quite a little one."
That was enough. We chanced to be near a blazing wood fire. "Could you put your finger-- not your big finger, only your little one-- into that fire and keep it there?"
Mechanically, then, he raised a cold and flaccid hand. Even in that moment I remembered how to shake hands with him was like shaking hands with the tail of a fish. Then recoiling, "No!"
But there is no way to refuse, no way out of the fire for the little cow that has been put into it. And there is no way to refuse and no way out of a life which will consume all that is good in the little boy who is put into it; and will any one be greatly comforted by remembering that he is not a big boy, but quite a little one?
Whew! Now there's a profound illustration and argument for respecting life in all humans, including the unborn, isn't there?
Yes, my respect for this woman has grown tremendously in this re-reading of Gold Corn. I must seek out her other books!
Another lesson I learned was from the stories she told of how they waited on God to prompt people to give financial support to their fellowship. (She doesn't like to call it a mission, as they were a family, wholly dependent on God for all their resources). Amy tells of one woman sending them a specific gift of one thousand English pounds. They rejoiced even more when another friend in Great Britain wrote to say that she didn't have the funds to help out, but she had prayed that God would send them one thousand pounds as a birthday gift, and whether it had arrived. Amy was pleased to let her know that it had arrived on a birthday celebration day, and it was exactly what was needed.
Since reading this, I'm taking to asking the Lord to send via anyone else the amounts of money that I would dearly love to send certain missionary friends. I'm waiting for reports to see how well this works.
Amy describes how, after long prayer and waiting they were invited to move some workers into a very muslim community. I think this illustrates the whole tone of the work of the Dohnavur Fellowship. She says;
"...We hoped to win a hearing from the most opposed by the friendliest way we knew. The people clearly understood why we wanted to come. "We have such sweet honey that we cannot keep it to ourselves. We have such a dear Friend that we want you to know Him. If we can help you in your troubles, then just for love's sake you will look when we show you our pot of honey. And when we tell you of our dearest Friend, you will not shut your ears. If only you will look, then you will want to taste; if only you will listen, you will want to know Him" -- in some such words we made our purpose plain For we were anxious to be straightforward, and not even appear to sneak in under false pretenses, and, after all, we knew only too well what it would cost these dear people, should any of them taste our honey and learn to know our Friend.
Not everyone is ready to enjoy this book as much as I have. If you think you might be, I encourage you to try. There are delicious spiritual bites and lovely little gems of truth and meaning in it.