Friday, June 26, 2009

A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael

Amy Carmichael was an Irish missionary in southern India for the first half of the 20th Century. Through the years her books and poems have been quoted to me as examples of a life totally surrendered to Christ. Although attracted to the themes of her writings, I considered myself too practical to want to become acquainted with a Christian of such mystical leanings. Then I hurt my foot badly on a trip and was stuck in a strange apartment with only one remotely interesting book on the shelf, the biography of Carmichael written by Elisabeth Elliot.

A Chance to Die  is a fascinating look at a complex woman. Amy had to have incredible faith and character to go against the cultural norms for missionaries and Indian nationals as she began her ministry of rescuing little girls from becoming temple prostitutes. She was often misunderstood and called “dictatorial” by her critics. But those who knew and loved her used much kinder words. Certainly she was strong-willed, but the overpowering emotion that her “family” felt from her was love. Her standards of holiness and purity were so high that many a missionary recruit was dismissed without much ado, yet her thousands of letters to friends and supporters are filled with absolute kindness and tenderness. She refused to go on missionary furloughs “because the work was too important”, yet she had a rustic cabin built in the hills where she and her workers and orphans could get away to rest. She loved poetry and nature yet eschewed the “untruthfulness” of fairy tales. Her love for truth caused her to write prayer letters which emphasized the hardships of India much more than the victories.

As I read I couldn’t help but think that just as Amy Carmichael took pains to be “nobody”, never allowing anyone to glorify her, only Elliot could have succeeded in writing a book that neither deified nor vilified her. Elliot, in her own book Through Gates of Splendor, shocked me with her adamance that she'd made no difference among the Auca Indians with whom she had worked. She seemed to share Amy's philosophy of life: "Let’s serve the Lord no matter what it costs while never letting anyone know how we’ve suffered. All the victory and the glory belong to Him.”

Quite a motto!


Janet said...

One of these days I'm going to read this book. Elisabeth Elliott is one of my favorites, and the little bit I know of Carmichael's life suggests that Elliott would be her best interpreter -- as you say.

I hope your injury heals soon!

Heather VanTimmeren said...

This was a very influential book in my for me in my teenage years. I really should re-read it now that I have more perspective on life experience. If you can find any of Amy Carmichael's poems or devotional books they are priceless!

Jenny said...

I'm intrigued - she sounds a bit grim, but I'd like to know more.

hopeinbrazil said...

I didn't mean to make Amy sound "grim". It's true she was strict, but she loved celebrations and nature walks and she made up hundreds of songs for the children to sing. Elliot really does a good job of showing Miss Carmichael's many sides.

Carol in Oregon said...

I read this book this year too. I shared your opinion that no one could write a better biography than E. Elliot. However, one of my friends disagrees. I can't remember the title, but there is another A. Carmichael biography that she preferred to this one.