A Missionary Who Transformed a Nation

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William Carey
A Missionary Who Transformed a Nation

When Englishman William Carey (1761–1834) arrived in India in 1793, it marked a major milestone in the history of Christian missions and in the history of India. Carey established the Serampore Mission—the first modern Protestant mission in the non-English-speaking world—near Calcutta on January 10, 1800.1 From this base, he labored for nearly a quarter century to spread the gospel throughout the land. In the end his triumph was spectacular. Through his unfailing love for the people of India and his relentless campaign against “the spiritual forces of evil” (Eph. 6:12), India was literally transformed. Asian historian Hugh Tinker summarizes Carey’s impact on India this way: “And so in Serampore, on the banks of the river Hooghly, the principal elements of modern South Asia—the press, the university, social consciousness—all came to light.”2 Who was William Carey? He was exactly the kind of man that the Lord seems to delight in using to accomplish great things; in other words, the kind of person that most of us would least expect. He was raised in a small, rural English town where he received almost no formal education. His chief source of income came through his work as a cobbler (a shoemaker). He had an awkward, homely appearance, having lost almost all his hair in childhood. Upon his arrival in India and throughout his years there, he was harassed by British colonists, deserted by his mission-sending agency, and opposed by younger missionary recruits who were sent to help him. Despite these setbacks, he became perhaps the most influential person in the largest outpost of the British Empire.3 Carey didn’t go to India merely to start new churches or set up medical clinics for the poor. He was driven by a more comprehensive vision—a vision for discipling the nation. “Carey saw India not as a foreign country to be exploited, but as his heavenly Father’s land to be loved and served, a society where truth, not ignorance, needed to rule.”4 He looked outward across the land and asked himself, “If Jesus were the Lord of India, what would it look like? What would be different?” This question set his agenda and led to his involvement in a remarkable variety of activities aimed at glorifying God and advancing His kingdom. Following are highlights of Carey’s work described in Vishal and Ruth Mangalwadi’s outstanding book The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for the Transformation of a Culture.5

Carey was horrified that India, one of the most fertile countries in the world, had been allowed to become an uncultivated jungle abandoned to wild beasts and serpents. Therefore he carried out a systematic survey of agriculture and campaigned for agriculture reform. He introduced the Linnaean system of plant organizations and published the first science texts in India. He did this because he believed that nature is declared “good” by its Creator; it is not Maya (illusion) to be shunned, as Hindus believe, but a subject worthy of human study. Carey introduced the idea of savings banks to India to fight the all-pervasive social evil of usury (the lending of money at excessive interest). He believed that God, being righteous, hated this practice which made investment, industry, commerce, and economic development impossible. He was the first to campaign for humane treatment of India’s leprosy victims because he believed that Jesus’ love extends to leprosy patients, so they should be cared for. Before then, lepers were often buried or burned alive because of the belief that a violent death purified the body on its way to reincarnation into a new healthy existence. He established the first newspaper ever printed in any Oriental language, because he believed that “above all forms of truth and faith, Christianity seeks free discussion.” His English-language journal, Friend of India, was the force that gave birth to the social-reform movement in India in the first half of the nineteenth...
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