Popularly known as “the father and founder of modern missions”, William Carey was one of India’s first missionaries. In his 41 years of mission service, Carey made the Scriptures accessible to 300 million Indians through translations into more than thirty different indigenous languages. His maxim in life and service was: “Expect great things from God: attempt great things for God.”
A linguist and theologian, Carey “founded the Serampore College and the Serampore University, the first degree-awarding university in India” (Wikipedia). He also set up 18 mission stations all over India which were run by 50 workers, half of whom were Indian.
In his biography, Thomas John Bach rightly observed: “Not many missionaries have started their careers with so few advantages, or culminated their work with so much success for the glory of God and the good of man, as did William Carey” (www.wholesomewords.org/missions/bcarey18.html).
Though he was a brilliant man, gifted with special linguistic skills, Carey saw himself as “a very ordinary man lacking brilliance or even giftedness. He simply said of himself, ‘I can plod.’ This was, no doubt, an overly modest attitude on his part. Nevertheless, the dominant theme, is his refusal to let obstacles discourage him or cause him to swerve from that which he understood to be God’s will for him. He persisted! And as a result he was used to accomplish the seemingly impossible. He gave whole or partial Bible translations in thirty-four languages to India’s many varied peoples!” (www.teachkids.eu/pdfs/william_carey.pdf)
Wholly dedicated to his calling to serve the people of India, Carey never returned to his native land of England. He remained in India till his death in Serampore in June 1834.
Family background and early years
William Carey was born on 17th August 1761, in the obscure English village of Paulerspury to a poor Christian weaver and his wife. He was the eldest of five children.
Some years later, his father accepted the post of parish clerk and village schoolmaster. Carey moved with his parents and siblings to the schoolhouse on the hill.
When Carey was six, he started attending his father’s school. A diligent and conscientious student, he had a thirst for science and natural history. News of the outside world fascinated him and aroused his keenest interest. An avid reader, he devoured with relish, books of travel and adventure. His favourite book was Captain Cook’s Voyages which stirred his interest in heathen lands.
A lover of nature, the young lad filled his room with specimens of plant and insect life. He spent much of his time exploring the fields and forests of Northampshire for new things to add to his collection. Soon his bedroom was turned into a miniature museum. His father was proud to show his son’s findings to his students: “Let me show you Columbus’ latest discovery.” So the village children called the schoolmaster’s son, Columbus.
Besides being inquisitive, Carey manifested a determined spirit. The first time he tried to get a nest from a tree, he fell and injured himself so badly that he had to be confined to bed. But the moment he could walk again, he climbed the tree and retrieved the nest that had escaped him earlier. He told his surprised mother: “I couldn’t help it, Mother. If I begin a thing, I must finish it.”
“Next to the grace of God in his heart, it was this determination of purpose, great as his intellectual power was, which was the secret of his ultimate success” (www.wholesomewords.org/missions/bcarey14.html). This persevering spirit was to characterise Carey’s whole life and missionary service in India.
Unlike more influential preachers like John and Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield who were educated in the prestigious Oxford University, Carey had no formal education. Specially gifted in languages, he taught himself Latin, Greek and Hebrew.
“The majority of his education would be of the trial-and-error method, his school a heart set afire for lost people in faraway lands, and his degree a Doctorate in suffering for the cause of Christ” (www.wholesomewords.org/missions/bcarey15.html).
After completing his education at the age of 14, Carey sought work as a gardener because of his interest in botany. However, his sensitive skin unfitted him for an agricultural career. His father found him an alternative trade – as an apprentice to a shoemaker, Mr Clarke Nicholls of Piddington, about nine miles from his native village. Though the work was hard, Carey laboured on tirelessly.
(… to be continued)