Monday, September 20, 2010

Fragile Flower in India


I knew of the name of Amy Carmichael from having read a number of her inspirational poems. I did not know of her solid Ulster Christian upbringing. Her repeated attempts to enter missionary work compromised by fragile health. Her ultimate settling in the Tinnevelly District of southern India. Her establishment of the orphanage and school known as the Dohnavur Institute. Her adoption, almost entirely, of Indian culture. Her rich sense of family, though remaining unmarried. The rescue of many very young local girls from the practice of Hindu temple prostitution and servitude. The thorough and seemingly strict program of lessons, chores and religious exercise. The frequency of disease and untimely death for the children. The number of rescues proving the diligence of their attending "angels" (fevers, delirium, choking accidents, cobras, returning influences of the old dark life). The falling accident which through complications rendered Amy bed-ridden for the final twenty years of her life. The change in assignment from meals, maintenance, lessons and admissions to writing, counselling and communing.

For all of this information and many more stirring words from Amy (1867-1951) I am indebted to Elizabeth R. Skoglund and her book Amma: The Life and Words of Amy Carmichael, 1994 Baker Book House Company.

What profound questions were asked by the rescued children, girls and boys! Where do the dead go? Is it a place of comfort or confusion? What is love? Is it only that which was offered to me by Hindu masters? Does the God Christ have power to change my angry ways? Where are all the flowers, music, parades and excitement in your religion? Such were the challenges faced by Amma and her dedicated staff, many of whom were orphans at Dohnavur in the first instance.

The author Skoglund makes very clear the understanding which motivated Amy in rendering comfort, "to come alongside and strengthen". There was to be no coddling or leniency, no unconfessed sin, no missed Hour of Prayer. But there were occasions of fun involving music, crafts, readings, outings in nature, swimming and the celebration of each child's Coming Day (the day of admission, birthdays often remaining unknown).

Of comfort, Amy made the following comparison:

"Who can tell how the parakeelia plant of Central Australia can resist wind, frost, heat, and in a tract of country where there is no surface water, remain green after three years' drought; so green, so full of life-giving water that horses and cattle feeding upon it need no water. We have a wonderful God, the God of all comfort, who comforteth us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. He can turn the least of us into a parakeelia-or better, far better, for a parable cannot show everything, He can comfort us so that we know how to discover to others the parakeelia's secret Spring."

It is noteworthy that in preparing for her life of toil, hardship, care-giving, stamina and ultimate submission, Amy Carmichael drew heavily from the thoughts of Samuel Rutherford, Hudson Taylor, Geraldine Taylor, Charles Spurgeon, F. B. Meyer, H.C.G. Moule and Andrew Murray.

Closing now with one of her poems:

Thou art my Lord Who slept upon the pillow,
Thou art my Lord Who calmed the furious sea;
What matter beating wind and tossing billow
If only we are in the boat with Thee.

Hold us in quiet through the age-long minute
While Thou art silent, and the wind is shrill;
Can the boat sink while Thou, dear Lord, art in it?
Can the heart faint that resteth in Thy will? (Edges of His Ways, London, S.P.C.K. 1955)

I think yet one more would be appropriate:

Not that He doth explain
The mystery that baffleth; but a sense
Husheth the quiet heart, that far, far hence
Lieth a field set thick with golden grain,
Wetted in seedling days by many a rain.
The End, it will explain.

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