As many of my friends know, I have a soft spot for Calcutta. With all itschallenges, it is still the City of Joy for me. It was our privilege to visit often Carey Baptist Church at Calcutta, when Rev.Walter Corlett, M.B.E, was the pastor.
In my last post ,I noted the Carey family set sail to Calcutta in 1793. Recent information/speculation revealed the Careys could not land at Calcutta. The British East India Company, as known then, did not wish to jeopardize their trade with religious affairs, ordered the captain not to let Careys disembark at Calcutta. The Captain wisely allowed them to land in Orissa, south of Calcutta. Eventually the Careys did make their way to Serampore, a Danish Colony, just outside of Calcutta. The Danes welcomed Careys with open arms.
It is one thing to dream but another to put feet to your dream. Carey started immediately learning the Bengali language. Sanskrit is mother to many Indian languages, as Latin is for Europeans. He hired a teacher, probably a Brahmin. Since most of the books in Sanskrit were Epic Stories, what an opportunity he had to learn this language, and at the same time, learn Hinduism, its logic, philosophy and culture! He got it from the Lord of the Missions, mysteriously through a pundit.
Carey put everything into spreading the good news of Jesus, preaching and planting churches, even starting schools while all the time emphasizing self-reliance. He worked in an Indigo factory to support himself. At one time he even taught Bengali language to the civil servants at Fort William. He bought a used printing press for his works and translations. Despite a disastrous fire that demolished his printing shop and scores of manuscripts, Carey pioneered translating The Bible into 44 Indian languages.
The good news of Jesus took root in India, particularly in the state of Bengal, the east and northeastern parts of India, the hilly regions of Assam, Darjeeling, Mizo Hills, Lushai Hills, and finally Nagaland, bordering Burma. Socially, the Church repudiated the caste system, solemnizing marriages between castes, long before the abolition of the caste system. In 1807, he was awarded the Doctor of Divinity by the prestigious Brown University, USA (previous recipients includes Thomas Jefferson in 1787). The English/Bengali dictionary was completed in 1825.
Along with all the massive achievements, life was not easy for Carey. There were organizational and financial stresses, along with tragedies in his family. Dorothy, his wife, suffered severe mental illness and passed away in 1807. Carey went to be with the Lord on 9 June 1834 at Serampore.
There is so much to learn from this moochie turned missionary that I find it difficult to begin. As a product of missions , watching and reading lives of old missionaries, I narrow it down to two main factors; preparation and attitude (feeling for the people).
As to preparation, even at the risk of repeating, I re-emphasize the advice of Mahathma Gandhi to veteran missionary to India, E. Stanley Jones: “Study the non-Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good that is in them, in order to have a more sympathetic approach to the people”. Why is such great advice so easy to understand, yet remains one of the weakest links? Carey grasped the concept miles ahead of Gandhi or Jones! He loved India, and by learning and translating Hindu epic stories, he became a rare missionary who knew the Indian mind.
Second, he defined missions with his life. He challenges us to move from a settled position, to rethink our own mission and ministry. He stubbornly protected servanthood from status. I suppose he had seen enough from those who projected “we have the expertise. We know the right prayers, scriptures, candles, chants, and incense”. I wonder, perchance another cobbler or a tinkerer repairing pots and pans or even a carpenter’s son appear on the scene, will we get upset and question “whence this man hath knowledge”? Harvest truly is plenteous but the labourers are few. But have we looked, encouraged and mentored? There could be a labourer right in front, not necessarily a university material but good enough to earn a Doctorate of Divinity!
Carey, with that understanding attitude, transformed Calcutta to a centre for foreign missions, particularly to the East. He showed the twain, east and west could always meet! It was not only his enormous work ethic, but the balancing with his integrity or wholeness. Adoniram Judson, the brilliant US Congregationalist missionary to Burma, desired to meet him. He came to Calcutta and stayed with him. He was influenced and later was baptized by Carey’s friend in Calcutta; so were many low caste shudras! They all felt he was one with them.
Carey’s challenge became the world’s mission: “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God”.
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God bless, Danny Paul