Amy Carmichael was an Irish Christian missionary who worked in India for 55 years (1892-1947). She founded the Dohnavur Fellowship, a ministry dedicated to rescuing children, particularly girls, from temple prostitution. She also published 35 books about her experiences in India, including biographies, poems, and reflections on faith.
Carmichael was unique among her contemporaries in that she was sensitive to and respectful of Indian culture and traditions. She avoided the Anglicization trends of her time among British missionaries. This was evident in at least four key areas: (1) Learning the Local Language, (2) Adoption of Indian Customs, (3) Attention to Social Issues, and (4) Critique of Colonialism.
- Carmichael learned Tamil fluently and used it extensively in her work, both in communication and in her writings. This allowed her to connect more deeply with the local people and understand their culture.
- She encouraged the use of Tamil in Christian worship services and translated hymns and religious texts into Tamil. This helped to make Christianity more accessible to the people she was trying to reach.
- Carmichael also established schools that taught in Tamil.
- Carmichael was intentional about adopting Indian customs. For example, she wore saris and lived in a simple Indian-style home. This helped her to identify with the local people and avoid appearing as an outsider.
- She participated in and respected local customs and traditions, even those that were not explicitly Christian. This demonstrated her willingness to learn from and appreciate Indian culture.
3. Focus on Social Issues:
- Her appreciation for and sensitivity to Indian culture does not mean she shied away from addressing immoral social issues such as child exploitation and caste discrimination. She was genuinely concerned for the well-being of the Indian people.
- The Dohnavur Fellowship, a community of women dedicated to serving the needs of the local population, was based on Indian models of community service and avoided imposing Western models of social organization.
4. Critique of Colonialism:
- While Carmichael remained loyal to the British Empire, she also criticized certain aspects of colonial rule, particularly those that were oppressive or exploitative. This demonstrated her awareness of the negative impacts of colonialism and her commitment to fairness and justice.
- While not openly opposing colonialism as a whole, Carmichael did criticize specific policies and practices she deemed unjust or harmful, such as the forced labor system and the exploitation of India’s resources.
Carmichael’s respect for Indian culture and traditions (for which she was opposed by fellow British missionaries) and her critique of the abuse and exploitation of children so prevalent in Indian society (for which many locals opposed her) showed remarkable courage. Though not apparent to many of her contemporaries, Carmichael was following Paul’s example, who said concerning his missional strategy, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (9:22).