The Hesitant Missionary: Ida Scudder’s Profound Impact on India

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Last week, we continued our series on the History of Missions by examining the ministry and life of Temple Gairdner and his heart for Muslims. This week, we once again find ourselves in India in order to examine the missionary work of Dr. Ida Scudder. Her story is one that fascinates and thoroughly impresses me. She is renowned for her impact on medicine and education, particularly among women, in India in the first half of the twentieth century.

Ida Scudder (1870-1960) was born in India into a missionary family. The Scudder family could boast an amazing statistic regarding their devotion to missions. As Tucker notes, “In four generations, forty-two members of the Scudder family became missionaries, contributing well over one thousand combined years of missionary service” (Tucker, 368). These numbers shocked me, especially the thousand years of combined service. To say that this family has had an impact on overseas missions would be quite an understatement. Ida’s role in the family’s legacy had somewhat of an auspicious beginning. Having grown up on the mission field, she actually did not want missions work for her career.

As Tucker observes, Ida ended up back in India shortly after her high school graduation to care for her mother who had fallen ill. As a result, Ida ended up in charge of a school for girls with sixty-eight girls (Tucker, 368). While she was there, she felt called to minister to young women, particularly young pregnant women. Tucker relates how there was a night with three men seeking help for difficult childbirths, but customs would not allow Ida’s father to help, so the women all died. It was at that point that Ida saw the need and felt her calling (Tucker 368-69). She went back to America to go to medical school, and attended Cornell in 1898 because they began allowing women students (Tucker, 369). She brought a check from a wealthy woman donor in order to start a hospital, but soon saw the need to educate women as well. She had to raise a great deal of money to support both avenues. “While home on furlough, she captivated her largely female audiences by her stories of the hopeless plight of the Indian women, and every meeting brought more money for the project” (Tucker, 370).

Things really took off for Scudder, as she served as a doctor, teacher, and operated an orphanage for homeless children (Tucker, 370). Unfortunately, despite her successes, she struggled with government bureaucracy, with a requirement in 1937 that all medical schools had to be affiliated with the state-run medical school (Tucker, 370). The difficult decision was made that her school, Vellore Medical College, should be the first co-ed medical school in India. Unfortunately, this led to a bit of a scandal, since many of her donors had given to the cause of female education and training (Tucker, 371). These issues aside, Ida Scudder was really quite successful, both as a doctor and as an organizer. She helped start a medical school which trained numerous women and provided them with education which they might not otherwise have been able to access.

Tucker relays a couple of interesting anecdotes regarding Ida Scudder that I wanted to highlight as well. The first speaks to her fame. Tucker notes that someone actually sent a letter simply addressed “Dr. Ida, India,” and it was taken directly to her (Tucker, 371). The second story is that Scudder defeated a teenager (in two sets, winning every game) in a tennis tournament when Scudder was 65 after the teenager complained of “having to play a granny” (Tucker, 371). I wonder what the teenager said after losing to Ida so resoundingly.

Overall, Ida Scudder had a monumental impact upon the country of India. Her family already had quite the legacy, but Ida stands out for her work as a medical doctor, teacher, and innovator of women’s education and women’s health. Her work from 1898 to 1946 in India left quite a mark on the nation. If her tennis game is any indication, I am sure she was someone you would not want to cross. Her medical school was the first college of nursing in India and today “serves over two million patients and trains thousands of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals each year” (https://www.vellorecmc.org/who-we-are/history/).

I think that one of the most intriguing parts of Ida Scudder’s story is her initial desire to not continue the family tradition. She wanted something else for her life, but God had bigger plans for her. Her work obviously impacted people’s daily lives in numerous ways. If one ponders how Ida might not have even become a missionary at all had her mother not fallen ill, it seems like the illness was quite the fortuitous, if not providential, circumstance. Women’s education and health in India owe a great deal to Ida’s willingness to serve God’s calling on her life.

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.

Serious Missionary: The Ultra-focused Ministry of Amy Carmichael

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This week we are starting a new series on the history of Christian missions. In studying such a history, one will see that there are many powerful individuals and ministries. The main source we will rely on is Ruth A. Tucker’s From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions (please see the Recommended Books page on our blog). Today’s post focuses on Amy Carmichael.

Carmichael (1867-1951) was a missionary in India, where she ministered for over fifty-five years. Carmichael “founded Donhavur Fellowship and wrote some thirty-five books, a number of which were translated into more than a dozen languages. One of them, Gold Cord, has had sales of more than a half-million” (Tucker, 2004, 298-99). These facts alone make her a very intriguing person for our blog series. The fact that she had a 55-year ministry is nothing short of amazing, made more powerful when one considers that she never took a furlough (Tucker, 300). Also, the fact that she wrote 35 books with one of them selling 500,000 copies shows her impact came in several different forms.

Her ministry focused on serving children, including “child widows, temple prostitutes, or orphans” (Tucker, 300). Carmichael saw herself as the mother of these children in need. Her ministry flourished, as Tucker notes that “twelve years after she began her ministry she had 130 children under her care” (Tucker, 300). The numerous amount of children under her charge warranted others who likewise were willing to act as parents to them. As a result, Carmichael often urged that her fellow workers were supposed to remain unmarried. She started the Sisters of the Common Life for single women in order to have more women acting as mothers to the numerous children in the ministry (Tucker, 300).

The fact that she was in India for 55 years without a furlough caused Carmichael to likewise deny others’ requests for time off from the ministry (Tucker, 301). She was no doubt intensely focused on their work and thought that time away from the mission would lead to a weakened sense of calling and purpose. In fact, many of her critics accused her of running too tight of a ship and of being a dictator, mostly by those who tried to work with her (Tucker 302). One individual, Stephen Neill, ended up writing about his time working with Carmichael and noted that her authoritarian model was not always helpful, especially if someone came in with new ideas and goals (Tucker, 302-3), which he tried to do.

Overall, we are left with an image of a dedicated, organized woman who spent most of her life serving the children of India. She was gifted with incredible endurance, intelligence, and a deep desire to serve God’s calling in her life. Carmichael’s writing career was rather prolific, directly testifying to her intelligence and communication skills. However, one must also recognize that her dedication often came across to her coworkers as extreme, harsh, and too authoritarian. One has to wonder if she went too far in serving God.

This begs the question of whether or not one can “go too far” in following God. One need only interview people who have “flamed out” of pastoral ministry to find out that regular rest is often necessary in order to continue functioning in the ministries into which God has called a person. Pastors, missionaries, chaplains, nuns, monks, etc. need time to recuperate from their service. Amy Carmichael never took a furlough for over 55 years. Such a model would almost be unheard of on the mission field today. Often, missionaries travel back to their home country to raise support to continue serving in their respective mission fields; however, missionaries also take time to rest and reinvigorate  themselves in order to continue serving God to the best of their physical, mental, and spiritual abilities.

Amy Carmichael was a very devoted missionary who left a lasting impact on all with whom she came into contact. Much of it was positive, but some was also negative. I can’t help but wonder if the negative would have been lessened had she taken time off here and there to rest.

I close by asking those of you in ministry positions and other lay offices what your opinion is of such a model. Do you take regular furloughs/ vacations? Is such a model too “American,” worldly, etc? What level of exhaustion is okay in order to keep serving God’s calling in your life? Can one maintain Carmichael’s ultra-focused ministry model, or was she just particularly gifted by God in order to do so?