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Setting the stage for the historic prayer meeting with the five students who gathered under that haystack to find refuge from a storm in August 1806 was a little booklet written only a decade or so earlier by William Carey. The booklet was entitled:
“An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen.”
Carey was a cobbler and lover of maps. He was homeschooled and he made several world maps out of leather which hung in his shop where he made shoes. In that little booklet, Carey asks:
“Are Christians under an obligation to help transform societies that live in intellectual, moral, social, political, and spiritual darkness?”
This profound question provoked at least one elder in his church while listening to Carey’s presentation. The elder said:
“Young man, if God had wanted to save the poor heathen, he would do it himself and he would not need your help.”
Ruth and Vishal Mangalwadi have written an excellent little book about William Carey entitled: “The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for the Transformation of Culture” (formerly: “Carey, Christ, and Cultural Transformation: The Life and Influence of William Carey”). I am referring here to what I have learned from the Mangalwadi book.
Carey was known as the Father of Modern Missions because of his work in India and his written appeal to the institutional Protestant church of his day to respond to the Great Commission. Carey is mostly known for his commitment as a missionary to India, but few have understood that commitment or his understanding of the gospel and its power to reform society, Hindu Indian society as well as the powerful East India Company (a precursor to multi-national corporations). Though largely still unreached today, Carey had an incredible impact on India.
William Carey began his life work as a cobbler in England. Educated by his parents and a life-long learner, Carey developed a true concern for the calling of the Church to obey the commandment of Christ to preach the gospel to every creature. His understanding of that calling became personal as he endured the opposition of Church leaders and his own wife and set sail to serve God’s purposes in India for over 30 years.
What most do not know about William Carey is the extent of his work and vision for Christian missions. Mangawadi writes:
“He was a pioneer of the modern Western Christian missionary movement, reaching out to all parts of the world; a pioneer of the Protestant church in India; and a translator and/or publisher of the Bible in forty different Indian languages. Carey was an evangelist who used every available medium to illuminate every dark facet of Indian life with the light of truth. As such, he is the central character in the story of India’s modernization.”
Today India is the largest democracy in the world. What most do not know is that this simple cobbler from England was much more than a clergyman. His vision for the church and his understanding of the gospel to transform culture included nearly every arena of society, every sphere of influence.
Carey was not only a preacher and translator; he was a botanist who published one of the first books on science and natural history in India. He was an industrialist who developed the first indigenous paper for the publishing industry in India. He was an economist who introduced the idea of savings banks in India. He was a medical humanitarian who campaigned for humane treatment of lepers. He was a media pioneer who built the then largest press in India. He was an agriculturist who founded India’s Agri-Horticultural Society in the 1820′s, thirty years before the Royal Agricultural Society was established in England.
Carey was a translator and educator, a professor of Indian languages at Fort William College in Calcutta. He was an astronomer, introducing India to the scientific culture of astronomy, which made it possible for India to devise calendars, study geography and history, and plan their work and social order.
Carey was a library pioneer who started lending libraries. He was a forest conservationist who wrote essays on forestry and said that as the gospel flourishes in India, “the wilderness will, in every respect, become a fruitful field.” Carey was a crusader for women’s rights who was the first man to fight against the ruthless murders and widespread oppression of women, which was virtually “synonymous with Hinduism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”
Carey lived the life of a missionary, not hidden behind the confines of a church structure busying himself with merely religious duties. Carey was a public servant and moral reformer; Carey was a cultural transformer.
This man, his writings, witness, and work, is what inspired five students in a new nation, the United States of America, to pray and fervently seek the Lord for the people of Asia and for their own fellow students. And history continued to unfold…
BTW- Do you know what happened to that church in England where one of the elders told Carey to sit down?
That church is a Hindu temple today.