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Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur

In Isaiah 44:3-4 we have a beautiful promise that I feel is given in the context of revival. May I be so bold as to ask you to stop and read these two verses out loud? Think about your children as you read.

I will pour water upon him that is thirsty
And floods upon the dry ground:
I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed,
And My blessing upon thine offspring:
And they shall spring up among the grass,
As willows by the water courses.

amy carmichaelFirst of all, there must be a thirsting after God in our personal life. This often comes in the midst of a dry and dusty land, where no water is. From this deep, personal longing, God promises to pour out his Spirit upon that thirsting soul. He also promises to make an impact on the dry and dusty land around him. In this beautiful context of revival, God also promises to pour water on the children of this thirsty man or woman. Maybe it isn’t right to call it a promise, because, in reality, it is the natural overflow of the man who is revived. When God’s Spirit fills, He fills to overflowing. The children get the blessing from the revival of the parents.

In this text, God also describes how this blessing will affect these privileged offspring. They will prosper spiritually. They will grow up like willow trees planted by a river. Now, in this analogy, the children are the trees, and the parents that are revived are the spiritual rivers that supply a never ending portion of the Spirit’s influence in the children’s lives. What a lovely picture of a Spirit-filled home! Amy Carmichael was one of those willow trees.

Mom & Dad Carmichael

William and Catherine were married somewhere around 1865. They both had the privilege of being raised in a godly home. They were married in an Irish Presbyterian Church. The revival fires of 1859 had brought fresh breezes of the life-giving Spirit of God into both of their lives. I guess one can never be quite the same after you have been in the midst of a visitation of God’s Spirit. When God is real, and His voice clearly heard, it is like days of heaven on earth. Thousands of souls were ushered into the Kingdom, and Amy’s parents were in the midst of it all. These revival fires also brought new life and deliverance from the more formal services of the Irish Presbyterian Church. The newly appointed preacher had been in the midst of revival as well. All these divine circumstances were ordered by God, working together to provide many streams of water for young Amy to grow up in.

William’s family, as well as Catherine’s, can be traced back several generations. You find signs of godliness and commitment to Christ on both sides of Amy’s heritage. William was known by all in the little village of Millisle for his honesty, integrity, mercy, and heart of giving. It is hard for us transient Americans to imagine that a family could settle in one place for one hundred years, but this was the case with the Carmichael’s. Amy’s father was a miller—grinding grain into flour as his forefathers did for one hundred years before him. There was a God-fearing foundation under both families. They went to church on Sunday, kept the Lord’s day holy, believed the Bible, and many other godly principles were followed. Then revival came. Everyone and everything was lifted to new heights of love and dedication. Praise God for those life-giving seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. Though the village was small, and one might say the church very insignificant, there were weekly activities that stir the soul on toward God because of the revival: Bible classes during the week, evangelistic meetings on Sunday evenings, and the usual Sunday morning meeting which were now full of life and never missed.

The Practical Side of Revival

The Power of Sound Teaching

Amy’s father was a man of the Word. Every day the whole family was called to worship by the ringing of a bell. William sat with open Bible, reading and expounding from the King James Version. These daily exercises are what mold the mind and heart of a child. When the children are young, their little minds are open and clear, and memorization can happen almost unknown to them. The shorter catechism was also used consistently in the home, as their father was concerned that the family be sound in the doctrines of the church. As I study these saints of old, it impresses me again and again how the father knew it was his responsibility to guide the family with the Word. Today, I am afraid that many have given this task over to the preacher, and that only once or twice a week. Amy’s father was also a lover of Spurgeon’s written sermons. In those days, they were printed weekly. He would take the family on a Sunday afternoon walk and sit under a shade tree along the way, reading the latest of these sermons to all.

The Power of Firm Discipline

No one wondered what was expected of them, or where the lines were drawn in the Carmichael home. White was white, and black was black. There were few times when there was any ground in between. Many today feel that this is too strict, and it will prove to be counter-productive. Instead, we see that it brought a sense of love and security to homelife. What Mom or Dad said would always stand, and there was punishment if it was not obeyed. There were five forms of correction used, depending on the depth of the transgression. They were as follows:

  • To stand in the corner, with your face to the wall.
  • To lose your privilege to go outside and play.
  • To receive a spanking.
  • To be slapped on the hand with a ruler.
  • To be required to drink a mixture of substances that tasted bad.

In all these various corrections, the child was taught to take the punishment respectfully, and give thanks for it afterward. As I studied this area of child training, it seems that Catherine was the one who was involved in the corrections the children received. Father went away to the flour mill each morning and returned in the evening.

The Power of Mother’s Love

It is always a joy to view a well balanced home, where father and mother are engaged in raising the children. The Carmichael home was one of these. This Irish lady had a heart that was set on rearing a Godly seed for the Lord. Full of tender love, and full of what I call grit, is the best way to describe her. She would not budge from doing right with the children. If the children needed a spanking, they got one right away. If it was time to drink that terrible drink, she saw it through to the end. I like that. We need some more mothers like that in America today. It is alright to get tough and have a furrowed eye-brow from time to time. It will establish your authority.

On the other hand, this Irish lady was a tender, loving mother. She was one who would sit with a child in the nursery, and expound the crucifixion to her children when they were yet young. She was one who would sing to the children all through the day, placing memories in them that lasted a lifetime. It was Catherine who inspired little Amy to pray a believing prayer at three years old, asking God to change the color of her brown eyes. It was the dear mother who placed the children on her knee many a time, telling them and showing them that Jesus loved them. Oh, the childhood impressions placed there by a mother’s love. It is hard to measure this kind of influence.

The Power of Home Education

The historical records give no reason for the children being schooled at home. It seems that it was a common practice in those days. Though we do not find a reason, we can certainly see the good results of it in Amy’s life. The schooling was done by Mother, and what they called a governess. This was a young lady who lived in the home for the sole purpose of educating the children. One of these young ladies had a great impact on the children. Her name was Eleanor Milne. She was like an older sister in the home, and everyone loved her. A highly spiritual girl, she filled the children with many a story of missionaries and martyrs. The children sat in rapt attention as she told of India and the many needs that were there. Poetry, history, and geography all came alive to the children as she walked and talked with them by the sea-side.

Father and Mother were also very much involved in the homeschool they had. William would take the children on long discovery walks where many a science investigation took place. How the children looked forward to these times! Books were bought—all that could be purchased in those days. The children read and were read to, often. Toys were bought—the ones that were practical and useful; but the greatest toys for Amy were the toys of God’s creation. The children had pets to love and care for. Father bought them a microscope so they could discover more of the creation and order around them. The parents tried to surround them with all that was good and beautiful and right. At the same time, they endeavored to keep all that was not good and beautiful and right away from them.

The Power of Godly Exercises

As I study the histories of how God molds His servants, even before they are converted, I stand amazed at His providence. Let us look at a few of them.

1. Amy was destined to fulfill a calling to minister to the poor in India. Her mother had no idea of any of this; however, God was molding Amy through a Mother’s hands without her knowing it. When Amy was young, she remembers a common and regular practice of feeding the poor. Mother would cook a pot of soup for the old and the poor. Amy and her brother would have the opportunity to carry this soup into the village and serve it to the needy. Was this a coincidence? I don’t think so.

2. Amy was the oldest of seven children. Because of this, she often found herself caring for her siblings when they were ill. She developed skills of gentle comfort and care. She had a touch that so ministered to the ailing ones that they often called for her when sick. When Amy was seventeen, her dear Father died unexpectedly after some financial setbacks. The family was thrown into poverty, and Amy became like a second mother to the children below her. Was this just happenstance? I think not. God was molding a vessel. We must help our children to see the bigger picture.

3. When Amy was twelve years old, her father moved to Belfast, Ireland for business. He was a very Godly and influential man. Many preachers and church leaders stayed at his home. Guess who was sitting for hours, listening to these men talk of doctrines, of souls, of missionary exploits, and of Kingdom building?

4. When Amy was seventeen, she began gathering the city children together to teach them the Bible on Sunday afternoons. Her heart was being drawn out to the poor. She started a club called The Morning Watch. All who joined the club had to be willing to get up early each day to study the Bible and pray. Saturday, they would get together and share what they learned, or how they failed during the week. She also started a weekly class with the mill girls of the city. These were young factory workers. She was burdened about their purity and their souls, and she labored to salvage them from wreck and ruin. The class grew to 500 girls.

So what does all this mean to us? God was using all of this to make Himself a choice servant. Amy didn’t know it at first. Her father and mother didn’t know it either. The point I would like to make here is simple. God is still molding his servants the same way. We have some of them in our homes, under our care. Let us be alert, and not too cautious when we see opportunities for learning experiences. Some are overly cautious about youth working in the city where sinners live. These poor and pitiful scenes were the very things that placed a burden on Amy’s heart for lost souls. What if she was never allowed to see them?

A Life like Jesus

What was the result of these fresh streams of revival that flowed through the home where Amy lived? What kind of willow tree grew up there in the Carmichael home? It was a beautiful one. It was truly a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brought forth its fruit in its season. Its leaves did not wither either, and whatsoever it did prospered. (Psalm 1) Amy served her beloved Jesus at home in Ireland till she was twenty-seven. Then she went to Japan for four years, serving there as a missionary and enrolled in the school of Christ. When she was thirty-one, she went to India, where she began her life work. She never went home on leave. She died in India, at eighty-four years of age. How can we measure her fruitfulness? An orphanage for the temple children, churches, young preachers, a hidden life of prayer the last twenty years of her life, and the books she has written. Many are still drinking from the rivers of living waters that flowed out of this life. Dear fellow parents, now it is our turn to raise up vessels for the Lord. Let us give ourselves to God continually. Let us thirst for that living water and be filled. Let us pay the price that brings the blessings that make the rivers flow through our homes. Let us trust our God for willow trees planted by the watercourse.

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