William Carey

The story of William Carey, 1761-1834, is one that has inspired me and continues to inspire me to encourage others to take part in evangelism and mission. So I though I would share a little of it here with you.

Carey was born to a weaver’s family and lived as a child in the rural English village of Paulerspury, Northamtonshire and was taken on as an apprentice at a local cobbler’s shop. It was while learning to be a shoemaker that he grew a passion for the Christian faith and began to teach himself New Testament Greek. He also took a great interest in international affairs and the religious life of other cultures. Later, in 1781, he met and married Dorothy Plackett but the hard life of a shoemaker meant that the family lived in poverty. In 1785 they moved to Moulton where Carey become a schoolmaster — and a year later he became pastor of the small Baptist congregation there.

It was in Moulton that Carey heard the missionary call. It was as he was reading the Last Voyage of Captain Cook. To many it was a thrilling story of adventure, but to Carey it was a revelation of human need! He then began to read every book that had any bearing on the subject.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20

Carey was convinced that the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel should be applied to all Christians, of all times and he grew increasingly frustrated that other Christians were not taking this seriously.  He read, he made notes, he made a great leather globe of the world and, one day, in the quietness of his cobbler’s shop Carey heard the call: “If it be the duty of all men to believe the Gospel … then it be the duty of those who are entrusted with the Gospel to endeavour to make it known among all nations.” And Carey sobbed out, “Here am I; send me!”

There were no missionary societies at the time and little support for missions. In fact at one minister’s meeting a Dr. Ryland shouted at Carey, “Young man, sit down: when God pleases to covert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine.” In 1792 Carey established his own missionary society and at its inaugural meeting preached a sermon with the call, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God!” 

Within a year, Carey, his family and friend, John Thomas were on their way to India. The first few years were very hard, facing illness, struggling to earn enough money to feed and care for his family, John Thomas leaving the mission project, loneliness and regret. Carey lamented but held on to hope saying “But I have God, and his word is sure.” Carey’s faith was further tested when he contracted malaria, his five year old son died of dysentery and his wife had a mental breakdown and needed to be locked away and restrained.

For seven years Carey learned Bengali and preached illegally, then in 1799 he was invited to move to a Danish settlement near Calcutta where he was legally able to preach in the British controlled areas of the country. Slowly, others joined him, a printer and two teachers among them and in December 1800, Krishna Pal, Carey’s first convert was baptised. Just two months later Carey published the first Bengali New Testament, this was followed by whole bibles or parts of the bible being published in over 215 different languages.

Carey also wanted to see social reform in India and campaigned against infanticide, sati (burning widows when their husbands pass away) and assisted suicide. He also founded a divinity school which, today is still teaching theology to thousands of students each year.

When he died at 73 (1834), from his deathbed Carey called out to a missionary friend, “Dr. Duff! You have been speaking about Dr. Carey; when I am gone, say nothing about Dr. Carey — speak about Dr. Carey’s God.”

Carey really lived by his philosophy to expect great things from God and to attempt great things for God.

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