Born in the mid 18th Century in Northampton, England, William Carey was a hardworking shoemaker who spent much of his free time learning Greek, Latin, and French while repairing shoes at the workshop.
That’s because Carey knew his life wasn’t going to revolve fixing soles, but saving souls.
The son of a schoolteacher, Carey was given a solid education, rising to the status of teacher, himself. He also became a pastor and preached stirring and effective messages; history reports that his altars were routinely filled with repentant sinners.
Through his ministerial efforts, Carey was able to secure himself the comfortable salary of 15 pounds per year…but it wasn’t satisfactory to a man who continually had his eye on the horizon. He worried long and hard about foreign missionaries, and spent many hours praying for them, their families, and more importantly, their work.
His zeal for missions pushed him to join the local “preacher’s meetings” to rouse them to support international missionaries. At one meeting he asked his peers, “Whether the command given to the Apostles, to teach all nations, was not obligatory on all succeeding ministers.”
The ministers were outraged! “Sit down, young man, sit down. You are a miserable enthusiast. Certainly nothing can be done until another Pentecost…. When the Lord wants to convert the heathen He will do it without your help or mine.”
Not long after that discouragement, Carey organized a missionary team that called themselves “The Particular Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Heathen.” (They must have had larger business cards back then.) He also went on to write a book about missions. It was entitled An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. (The title was almost as long as the short – but compelling – book.)
His focus on missions eventually put Carey in cahoots with Dr. John Thomas, a Christian surgeon who’d been evicted from India because of unpaid debts. Thomas convinced Carey to join him in India so they could work together for the sake of the Gospel. Almost on the spot, Carey agreed to do so.
Their trip was nothing short of treacherous, but the harrowing journey didn’t even compare to what awaited them on the subcontinent of India.
India greeted the missionary team with millions of gods, gods made of clay, wood, stone, rocks, and any other form of matter that could be deified. Many of the gods were mere animals; Carey found men bowing before monkeys, cobras, cattle, and even birds. Worse, these “gods” made awful demands of their subjects. Some people hung their naked bodies on hooks while others were slain in the temples to appease their gods. Still others were publically stoned to death to honor the pantheon of gods. Even child sacrifices were made in worship (and fear) of the gods.
Residents of India also practiced suttee, the killing of women upon the death of their husbands. Sometimes the widows were burned alive along with the corpse of their husband; sometimes they were buried alive with the body of their husband.
It was in this poverty-stricken and superstitious environment that William Carey began to work and preach.
He soon ran out of money and was forced to take a job in an indigo factory. He pled with English Christians back home to underwrite his ministry, but his letters were answered with excuses instead of support. He labored all day in a factory, and then poured over language books in the late hours of the night, working on translations, while tigers, jackals, and “holy” men howled outside his tent.
It would take seven, long, depression-filled years before William Carey won his first convert to Christ. But this English missionary was never swayed from the calling God had given him.
The toll Carey’s missionary work took on him and his family is hard to overstate. While in India, his first wife died. He remarried, only to lose a second wife on the mission field. (Carey also buried his son Peter at the tender age of 5.)
But today, the subcontinent of India still bears the marks of Carey’s life. India contains one of the largest bodies of Christian believers in the world, and thanks to Carey’s diligence in the arena of translations, the Bible was made accessible to 300,000,000 people because he translated it into 40 different languages and dialects!
Though the mission was never easy, William Carey changed the lives of millions of people when he stopped fixing soles and started saving souls.
Ten Decisive Battles of Christianity by Frank Spencer Mead. Freeport 1970, Pages 121 – 136.
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