The Personal Cost of Missions: William Carey’s Successes and Failures

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Today we are continuing our blog series on the history of missions. Last week, we found ourselves in India, discussing Amy Carmichael. This week we are again returning to India to examine the ministry of William Carey, who has been called the “Father of Modern Missions” (Tucker, 122).

William Carey (1761-1834) married his shoemaker boss’s sister-in-law, Dorothy, who was five years older (Tucker, 123). Their marriage is one of the more intriguing and unfortunate aspects of the story of William Carey’s ministry in India, as we will see below. Carey was one of the founders of the Baptist Missionary Society, and quickly volunteered for the mission field. Dorothy, however, refused to go (Tucker, 124). Only after a delay in Carey’s departure, and the birth of their fourth child, did Dorothy finally relent and join William and their children in heading to India (Tucker, 125).

One can already see the problems inherent in William Carey’s ministry: Dorothy did not want to go with him. Also, the East India Company resisted missionaries, which led the Careys to move their ministry into the interior of India (Tucker, 125). India was a harsh place, and the Careys’ time was made harsher by the death of their son, which sent Dorothy into a “delusional disorder” in which she thought William was cheating on her (Tucker, 125).

Despite the family troubles, the mission continued with William relocating the mission to Serampore, near Calcutta. Here the Serampore Mission became a success, leading to schools, printing, and translation of the “whole Bible into Bengali, Sanskrit, and Marathi… and translated the New Testament and portions of Scripture into many more languages and dialects” (Tucker 126-127). William Carey’s time in India is a study in contradiction. You have the family trauma and his wife’s declining mental health coupled with the outward successes of the Serampore Mission. Ruth Tucker notes that while all the success was going on in the mission, Carey “neglected his children, failing to give them the parenting they so desperately needed. Even when he was with them, his easygoing nature stood in the way of firm discipline, a lack that was plainly exhibited in the boys’ behavior” (Tucker, 127).

Dorothy died in 1807 and Carey married Lady Charlotte Rumohr, whom he had baptized four years earlier, six months after Dorothy’s death (Tucker, 127-128). Charlotte became a valuable member to the mission, helping William’s translations and being a loving mother to the children, but died in 1821. “Two years later, at the age of sixty-two, Carey married again, this time to Grace Hughes, a widow seventeen years younger than he” (Tucker, 128). Clearly William’s family life was marred by upheaval and tragedy.

Carey’s time in India saw a great deal of change in the Serampore Mission. The group had to deal with new missionaries who wanted to change the living situations and other ways in which the Mission operated. The Serampore Mission did eventually split from the Baptist Missionary Society, but eventually rejoined with it (Tucker, 129). Carey also was noted for being focused on “social issues-particularly in his long struggle against widow burning and infanticide. But otherwise, he sought to leave the culture intact” (Tucker, 130).

So what do we do with William Carey? Was he a success? His is a complicated picture, fraught with his seeming abandonment of his family, particularly his mentally ill wife. He did not provide the help with his own children that they needed. Yet, his mission flourished, grew, and essentially provided a model for modern missions going forward. I would argue that Carey is a strong picture of the dangers of jumping into ministry without first assessing the cost.

In my master’s and doctoral work, I have seen many colleagues who have jumped into a major life change such as getting a Master’s of Divinity or a PhD without first considering what it means for their family and friends. In fact, in my first year of seminary, I sorely neglected my job, leading to me being fired. My pursuit of God’s calling in my life led to me making mistakes at my job and being fired. I have known people who have burned out and/ or allowed relationships and family life to deteriorate because they are willing to sacrifice anything to follow what they perceive to be God’s calling for their lives. In watching people head toward careers in ministry, I wonder if God truly is calling them into vocational ministry or if they are simply going after what sounds exotic or challenging (like William Carey). I have wondered before if I also jumped in too quickly. Thankfully, I seem to have found that balance.

There are countless stories of pastors who have burned themselves out, who have allowed things in their lives to crumble while their ministries thrive. I wonder if it is worth it? Should we consider it a blessing when the ministry of an individual is successful while their personal life falls to pieces? Is the benefit of the greater good worth the damage to an individual? Should we just see it as their personal sacrifice to following God’s calling? I think, for me, a less successful ministry and a successful personal life are more glorifying to God.

Midweek Blog: Anne Hutchinson, the “Unnatural Woman”

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Last week marked the end of our Augustine series. I really enjoyed going through several of his key works. This week I am starting a new series on American Church History. I have recently (Spring 2015) taught a course on modern American religious history, but this series will cover things and people from the full range of American Church History. I wanted to begin this blog by one of my favorite Puritan figures, Anne Hutchinson.

Hutchinson (1591-1643) and her family followed her pastor John Cotton to Boston. As Mark Noll writes, “Hutchinson began a midweek meeting to discuss Cotton’s sermon of the previous Sunday and also to take up other spiritual concerns” (Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada, 60). One can see how she would begin to draw attention, and suspicion, toward herself through such actions. Noll actually notes that no one was bothered by Hutchinson until people thought she was preaching antinomianism (against the Law); i.e. that Christians have Christ and therefore have no use for the Law of the Old Testament (Noll, 61). Hutchinson also taught that since Christians have the Holy Spirit, God could communicate directly to them. She ended up getting in trouble for this last point, as she “claimed that the Holy Spirit communicated directly to her, apart from Scripture” (Noll, 62).

She actually ended up moving out of Massachusetts to Rhode Island and then to New York, where she was killed in a Native American attack on the village in which she was living. Prior to all of this, she was actually examined by the Puritan authorities while still in Massachusetts and for today’s blog I want to take a look at that specifically.

Anne Hutchinson responded to the governor John Winthrop’s accusation that she was doing things not “fitting for your sex.” She responded, “The Lord knows that I could not open scripture, he must by his prophetical office open it unto me… I confess I have been more choice and he hath left me to distinguish the voice of my beloved  and the voice of Moses, the voice of John Baptist and the voice of antichrist, for all those voices are spoken of in scripture. Now if you do condemn me for speaking what in my conscience I know to be truth, I must commit myself unto the Lord” (Gaustad and Noll, eds. “The Examination of Anne Hutchinson,” in A Documentary History of Religion in America to 1877, 97). She also answered their questions of how she knew that the Holy Spirit was communicating directly with her by saying, “By the voice of his own spirit to my soul” (Gaustad and Noll, 98).

There are few things from Hutchinson’s response that I want to highlight here. First, is that she did not let proscribed gender roles restrict her ministry. She followed God’s calling in her life despite the societal limitations she faced. Secondly, she notes that the Lord has to open scripture up to her. It is clear that God has done so, as Hutchinson’s responses to the various questions during her examination quote scripture from throughout the Bible. She also shows a resilience and commitment to her ministry as she says, “If you condemn me… I must commit myself to the Lord.”

Her resilience is further illustrated when she later responds, “You have power over my body but the Lord Jesus hath power over my body and soul; and assure yourselves this much, you do as much as in you lies to put the Lord Jesus from you, and if you go on in this course you begin, you will bring a curse upon you and your posterity, and the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (Gaustad and Noll, 98).

Whoa. Talk about a bold and in-your-face response. She shows commitment to the principle that the Holy Spirit can speak to individual believers, as she says that the “mouth of the Lord hath spoken” the curse she pronounces on her accusers. Hutchinson clearly knows what is at stake. She is ready to accept their punishment, and is ultimately excommunicated and flees to Rhode Island, but I think her attitude about such punishment fits with her ministry. She is not afraid to do what she feels God calling her to do, even though that meant pushing the boundaries of what men and women could and should do within Puritan society. She was holding her meetings even after being told to stop “by the general assembly” (Winthrop’s statement). Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised that she shows such a resilience in the face of condemnation. Other women in Puritan Boston were executed for disobeying the religious body, such as Mary Dyer, so Hutchinson’s resolve should be admired.

One can study people throughout church history and find a number of examples of those who were not afraid to push the church’s boundaries, often facing the penalty of excommunication or even death. Hutchinson joins that group of fearless individuals who follow God’s calling on their lives no matter the cost. It actually reminds me of a few missionaries I know. One person serves in Asia and has been threatened with being arrested if she continues to minister and evangelize those in her country. I imagine that Anne Hutchinson would be proud of this person for following God’s calling no matter the cost. People throughout the world follow God’s calling with the threat of death or injury or imprisonment being a very real and very dreadful possibility. Now, one can argue it’s pretty easy to follow God’s calling in the United States, but history shows that has not always been the case.