Carey devotes 41 years to mission work in India
William Carey, known as the father of modern missions, went to India under the appointment of the Baptist Missionary Society, devoting 41 of his 73 years to India without a return to his homeland. He was an able linguist and translator; a botanist of considerable reputation; and a missionary statesman par excellence. William Carey was born on August 17, 1761, in a village in Northamptonshire, England. He spent his childhood in poverty and became a shoemaker’s apprentice at the age of 14.
Even though he had no formal education, Carey had an avid appetite for books. He was influenced by the biographies of John Eliot and David Brainerd, and the Bible. While working in the cobbler’s shop, Carey was converted to Christianity. He enthusiastically took up the faith, and though little educated, the young convert borrowed a Greek grammar book and proceeded to teach himself New Testament Greek. When his master died, he took up shoemaking, but the cobbler’s life was hard and his pay was insufficient. Carey’s family sunk into poverty and stayed there even after he took over the business.
InApril 1789, Carey was called to the pastorate of Harvey Lane Church at Leicester. Here he was brought into association with men of culture, and books were freely placed at his disposal. During these years he acquired a profound linguistic skill through the study of Hebrew, Latin, Greek, French and Dutch. He supplemented his meager pastoral income by teaching school and making shoes.
Convinced that Jesus’ call to “make disciples of all nations” was still relevant, Carey and his family set sail for India on June 13, landing at Calcutta on November 11, 1793. Here he endured six years of extreme trials.
In October 1799, things finally turned. He was invited to a Danish settlement in Serampore, near Calcutta. He was now under the protection of the Danes, who permitted him to preach legally (in the British-controlled areas of India, all of Carey’s missionary work had been illegal).
He soon mastered numerous Indian languages, labored constantly for the conversion of individuals, and led in establishing 20 churches and mission stations in India by 1814. His linguistic ability gained for him a professorship in the crown college, Fort William, of Calcutta. With William Ward assisting him as printer and Joshua Marshman as educator, Carey and his colleagues spread the word of the gospel in all ways possible.
Carey sought to give the Indian people literary tools and resources that would enable them to evangelize their own country. He led in building a paper mill, setting up a printing press, publishing the first Indian newspaper, as well as the Bible in the language of the people.
From his life’s earnings he contributed to mission work in India, and superintended the translation of the Bible into 42 Oriental tongues, making the Bible accessible to a third of the world. During Carey’s lifetime were printed 212,000 copies of the Scriptures.
Carey and his colleagues established Serampore College in 1818 to train Christian leadership. It still remains today one of the outstanding educational institutions of Asia, offering theological and liberal arts education for some 2,500 students, and is a tribute to its founders. His efforts for social reform led to the passage of laws prohibiting the heathen practice of infanticide, disposing of children for religious or economic motives; and abolishing the sati rite of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands, as well as assisted suicide.
Thousands of great missionaries were impressed not only by Carey’s example, but by his words “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” The history of nineteenth-century Protestant missions is in many ways an extended commentary on the phrase. Carey died in Serampore in 1834, an internationally honored figure. He outlived nearly all who were associated with him in his prolonged residence in India. Read More