Friday, 8 February 2019

William Carey - a rather modern missionary

Over recent weeks I’ve been revisiting the life of William Carey, the first BMS missionary who sailed for India just a year after the Baptist Missionary Society was founded in 1792.  That’s because I gave a talk on him at Women’s Own last month and tomorrow I’ll give a second at our Men’s Breakfast. I’ve partly chosen him for both occasions because we have a room named after him at Amersham Free Church and I want to make it clear it’s in honour of an historic Baptist minister rather than a recent Archbishop of Canterbury!

Carey was a remarkable man.  He came from the Particular Baptist tradition that believed in pre-destination to such a degree that many in his circle considered evangelism totally unnecessary, even sinful.  One senior minister is reported to have said to Carey at a Northamptonshire Baptist Ministers’ Meeting: ‘Sit down, young men, if God wants to save the heathen he’ll do it without your help!’.  Well, it might have been intended as a ‘put down’ but it had completely the opposite outcome!  Carey stepped up to the mark and immediately offered to go to India as the BMS’s first missionary in 1793.

He served there a full seven years before baptising his first convert.  He translated the Bible into local dialects only to have the printing shed burn down one night; so, he started all over again.  His son and wife died prematurely because of the climate. He worked hard at understanding local vegetation and working for increased crop yield, helping to form the Indian Horticultural Society En route.  He participated in setting up the first Theological College in India at Serampore, with a charter to award degrees from the King of Denmark.  And he campaigned for the abolition of ‘Sati’ – the tradition of burning the widow on her husband’s funeral pyre.

Carey was such an all-rounder. For him mission was about body, mind and soul.  In fact, the BMS have pretty much taken that as their template ever since.  He was a trail blazer – and although I guess it’s not his greatest honour, he is more than worthy to have a room named after him at AFC!

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