It was the year 1901, a time when many inhuman superstitions were the norm in India. In Tamil Nadu, the devadasi system was a common practice - a system where young girls were married off to the gods. They were made to sing, dance and even trade their dignity to earn wages for the temple priests. Preena was one such girl. She was just 7 years when her mother dedicated her to the temple to earn favours from the deity. But Preena miraculously escape this sexual slavery. She ran and found shelter with an Irish Christian lady who lived in her town. The lady could not believe that such things would be done to young children. To her utter shock, she discovered that things were far worse than she could imagine. She began to pray earnestly and decided to do something.
This led to the beginning of the Dohnavur Fellowship, by Amy Wilson Carmichael.
Amy was born in 1867 to devout parents – David and Catherine Carmichael - in Northern Ireland. She grew in the fear of the Lord and committed her life to Jesus at the age of 13. After her father’s tragic death, Amy’s family moved to Belfast where she was fostered by Robert Wilson, the co-founder of the Keswick Convention. In Belfast, young Amy was moved by the plight poor slum girls who worked in the mills and factories and soon began ministering to them. The Keswick Convention meetings ignited in her a deep passion for Christ-likeness. There she met men like Hudson Taylor who instilled a missionary zeal in her.
Two words from the Lord, “Go ye…” kept resounding. Amy responded to this call and committed her life to missionary service.
Amy Carmichael arrived in India in 1895. She joined a missionary family – the Walkers - and shared about Jesus across South India through itinerant preaching. She finally moved to a small village of Dohnavur in southern Tamil Nadu and made it her home. Meeting Preena was a turning point in Amy’s life. She was now clear about what God wanted her to do. She started accepting infant girls from families who thought they were of no value. By 1913, Amy’s growing family of children had become the Dohnavur Fellowship. It was a refuge for more than thousand children, whose lives would have been a disaster without her. She would travel long distances to save just one child. The members of Dohnavur Fellowship wore Indian dresses and the children were given Indian names. Amy even dyed her skin with dark coffee to look like her children.
She brought dignity and value to the girl child through education and care and challenged the cultural superstitions. Amy would often say “One can give without loving, but one cannot love without giving."
Amy spent 55 years in India and never went back to England for a break or a holiday. After a terrible fall in 1931, she was confined to her bed for most of the time. People would queue up outside her room to meet her, calling it the Room of Peace. It was during these years, she wrote many of her now famous books and poems.
Amy died at the age of 83 in 1951 and was buried in the Dohnavur Fellowship premises. A simple stone tablet inscribed with the word “Amma” marks her grave. Today, 60 years after Amy’s death, the Dohnavur Fellowship is a thriving ministry. The sprawling campus includes a hospital, 16 nurseries, and a school. The life of Amy Carmichael continues to inspire us to fulfil God’s call on our lives.
“Give me the Love that leads the way The Faith that nothing can dismay The Hope no disappointments tire The Passion that'll burn like fire Let me not sink to be a clod Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God” - Amy Wilson Carmichael