Amy Carmichael Biography
Amy Carmichael’s Early Life
Amy Carmichael was the first Irish daughter born to David and Catherine Carmichael, December 16, 1867, in Millisle, County Down, Ireland. There would be six brothers and sisters to follow her. Amy shared a bedroom with two of her sisters and was always having to shake her two brothers, Norman and Ernest from following her everywhere! Her father ran a flour mill, owned by Carmichaels for the last hundred years, and the family- big as it was- was never in need. Mr. and Mrs. Carmichael were devout Christians and raised their children in equal devotion to the Lord.
Amy Carmichael’s Ministry with the Shawlies
Amy’s family moved to Belfast when she was sixteen, and two years later, her father died. With his passing, and a fall through of the mill’s finances, she would spend the next ten years being a right hand to her mother and tutor to her younger siblings. But this wasn’t enough to deter Amy from reaching out to help those less fortunate. She made weekly trips into the slums of Belfast with a local pastor to hand out tracts and food to the impoverished. It was there that she first discovered the ‘shawlies’- girls her age and younger who worked in the mills. Seeing their hunger for God’s love and hope, she set up Bible studies, held at the Rosemary Street Presbyterian Church. The presence of the shawlies caused complaint and gossip amid the congregation, but Amy didn’t care. She was doing what God needed her to do and that was all that mattered!
The ministry with the shawlies blossomed and soon a building was purchased to seat the hundreds of girls gathering to worship the Lord. As much as at home Amy was at ‘The Welcome’, she now felt God’s calling pulling her elsewhere;to the slums of Manchester, England. There she lived in an apartment with bugs and rats for neighbors! The conditions were terrible, the streets dangerous, but Amy remained to spread God’s Word. Her health however, soon swept her out of the slums and into the estate of family friend Robert Wilson. It was in her two-year stay with Wilson and his sons that she first heard missionary Hudson Taylor speak. With his words, she felt the Lord drawing her to the same mission; ‘Go ye’.
Calling to go overseas
Breaking into missionary work was no small feat for Amy. Her initial application for the China Inland Mission was rejected due to her health. She traveled to Japan in 1893, but was forced to return to England after fifteen months, due to illness. Her recovery was long and spiritually agonizing. If God had called her to missions, why would He block the road so heavily?
Amy’s missionary work in India
In 1894, Amy received an invitation from a friend to join the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society in Bangalore. The climate would prove easier to her health and India was known as the British Empire’s ‘crown jewel’. But of course, Amy being Amy, was more interested of what lay beneath the luster. The ‘missionaries’ that she first housed with were nothing more then complainers, concerned more about keeping themselves pampered then converting the natives. Amy was easily the odd duck out, so it was only natural that she soon went to live with Reverend Thomas Walker and his wife in theTinnevelly district in 1896.
Thomas Walker was a gruff man, but a committed Christian… and no one had snapped at Amy where she couldn’t snap back! Through grueling sessions, she learned the Tamil language, studied the Hindu caste system, and began drawing in new converts. Especially young women and girls. They came seeking sanctuary from the temples where they served as prostitutes. Often, the girls’ families or other women of the temple would track them down and demand the girls back. Unlike Amy’s work in Japan, it was a great shame if a person converted to Christianity. The lucky ones would be shunned from their homes; others tortures or murdered. But nor Amy or the Walkers could be deterred. If a child came seeking refuge, they were instantly given a home and hope for eternal life.
Amy’s time in India lengthened and so did her adoptive family. Not only did she have the women of the Starry Cluster, a group who helped her evangelize across the villages, but as word of their group had spread, more and more girls showed up at their doorstep. Eleven-year-olds, babies, teenagers, until the family was over fifty in number! Amy realized then that her time of travelling and evangelizing was over. It was time to succumb to the cries of ‘Amma’ the Tamil word for ‘mother’.
Amma’s mission to the children of India lasted fifty-five years. She wore the traditional sari, dyed her skin with coffee or tea bags, and endured the hot and dry Indian atmosphere, all in the name of God’s precious children. In 1931 however, her race for Him was jolted by a fall in 1931. Her hip and back were badly damaged and she was unable to fully walk again. The last twenty years of her mission at Dohnaveur Fellowship were directed from her bedroom.Amy’s movements were limited, but her ministry was not. In twenty years, she wrote sixteen additional books of the missionary work in India. Presently, only a few of her books are still in print. When Amy passed away in January of 1951, no gravestone was planted par her request. However, her girls settled a bird bath over her burial site. On the bath was engraved one word; Amma.