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William Carey, Pioneer Missionary To India (Part 4)

    Burdened by God to promote the spread of the Gospel around the world as Jesus had commissioned His followers to do, William Carey persevered amid much disinterest and opposition among fellow ministers in his area of England until the Baptist Missionary Society was formed.  What joy he must have felt when asked to accompany the first missionary appointee, the medical doctor John Thomas, to help carry the Gospel to India!

    The sum of 550 pounds had to be raised in three or four months.  Carey was penniless and Thomas was in debt.  Many were hesitant to give to what seemed so rash an adventure.  But God was faithful, and through the earnest efforts of Carey and Thomas, and other friends, the funds came to hand.

    Another difficulty to face was transportation.  The East India Company controlled all passages to India, and they were known to be hostile to missionaries.  An act of Parliament had made it a crime to reside in British possessions in India without a license from the company.  Being unable to obtain the needed permission, Carey and Thomas determined to trust the Lord and sail without the license, acting on the advice of John Newton that if God had something there for them to accomplish, “No power on earth can hinder you.”

    Not only was there the weight upon Carey of the uncertainty that they would be received into India without the company’s permission, there was the sorrow of leaving his wife and young children behind, as Dorothy did not feel she could accompany him on such short notice, having three young sons and another child on the way.

    “But he felt that his duty was plain – God had called him to India, and that sacred call must be obeyed.  He knew that soldiers, officials, and merchants on foreign service were often obliged to leave their wives and families in the homeland, and he was prepared to make a similar sacrifice for the kingdom of God.  In doing so he was buoyed up by the thought that the separation would only be a brief one:  he would do the first rough pioneer work alone, and then come back to fetch his dear ones.”

Ready to Sail…But a Setback

    Carey and Thomas met with refusal after refusal from captains resistant to taking on passengers to India without the company’s permission.  But by chance a vessel on which Thomas had formerly worked as a surgeon was in England preparing for another voyage.  The captain was ready to run whatever risk to take the missionaries to Calcutta.

    It was an hour of triumph for William Carey when he, his 8-year-old son, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas, and their daughter boarded the ship and embarked for India.  But alas, they had to stop at an island off the coast of England and lay at anchor for several weeks.  During this time, the ship’s captain received an anonymous letter warning him of the risk he ran that someone might lodge a report against him for taking passengers to India without the company’s permission.  Fearing he would lose the command of his ship, the captain changed his mind about taking the missionaries on to India.  The men had no choice but to disembark, while Mrs. Thomas and her daughter were allowed to continue on. 

    Moved to tears by this disappointment, Carey nevertheless wrote in bright faith to friends of the Missionary Society:  “All I can say in this affair is that, however mysterious the leadings of Providence are, I have no doubt but they are superintended by an infinitely wise God.”  The conviction that God had called him to this endeavor strengthened him in that dark hour.

Faith Rewarded

    Carey’s faith was rewarded.  During the days that followed, his wife was persuaded to join them, now having in her arms the new son born to them.  Additional funds were supplied and a Danish ship was found that would give them passage.  On June 13, 1793, the 130-foot-long vessel sailed from England, taking William and Dorothy Carey from their homeland to which they would never return.

    The turmoil and strain of setting out on a five-month ocean voyage with four young children was eased by the exceptional kindness of the ship’s captain.  Once Captain Christmas heard of their purpose for going to India, he provided the main cabin in the stern of the ship to accommodate them and invited them to his table for meals.  He became a staunch friend of the missionaries.

    Sometimes delayed by calm winds, sometimes battered by storms, they slowly made their way to India.  While on the voyage Carey, ever full of determination and energy, began the study of Bengali as Mr. Thomas had some knowledge of the language.  For nearly one month they were within 200 miles of Calcutta but were hindered from landing by a “violent current.” But finally, on November 11, 1793, Carey landed in Calcutta to begin what he knew to be his life work.


    The first months in India were extremely difficult.  Mr. Thomas soon had used up all the finances that the little party had brought with them.  Some of the family became ill.  The strangeness and lacks of India brought unhappiness for Mrs. Carey and her sister who had agreed to join them at the last minute in England.  The climate was hot.  Mosquitoes were bad.  Poisonous snakes, crocodiles, tigers and other wild animals added danger to their journeying in search of a home.  Despondency plagued Carey, but at last he was able to write:

    “The world appears little, the promises great, and God an all-sufficient portion.”  His courage and joy returned.  He found great inspiration in re-reading the story of David Brainerd, missionary to the American Indians.

    It was Carey’s desire to earn his own living in India and so he was grateful when a Christian Englishman offered him the position of managing an indigo factory.  Besides an income, this opportunity gave him much contact with the Indian people. Through these interactions he gained a knowledge of Indian thought and beliefs along with their language.

    One very great trial of the early months in India was losing their five-year-old son following an attack of fever and dysentery. Both father and mother were so ill they were barely able to be out of bed as they stood at the little graveside, feeling deeply the cost of carrying the Gospel to the people of India.

Beginning Accomplishments

    Within a year after arriving in India, Carey had translated several portions of Scripture into Bengali.  Within two years he was able to preach with liberty in Bengali reaching crowds of  2 to 600 people.  Converts among the Hindus and Muslims came slowly.  Carey was not satisfied.  He wanted to “attempt great things for God.”  With this in mind, he urged the Missionary Society to send out more laborers.

    (To be continued)

    – Arranged from the book, William Carey, Missionary Pioneer and Statesman (1761-1824) by F. Deaville Walker, published by Moody Press, Chicago, Illinois.