Heroines of the faith: Amy Carmichael

Amy Carmichael was born in Ireland in 1867 to a well-to-do family. She decided to follow Jesus at the age of 13. At 18, her father died, leaving the family in a difficult financial situation. They moved to Belfast, where Amy became involved with the “shawlies,” mill girls who wore shawls rather than hats. She saw the appalling conditions in which they lived and worked. Starting as a small group class, the work grew until Amy needed a hall seating 500. Later she moved to Manchester, England, where she did the same.

A couple of interesting stories about Amy’s early life. She had brown eyes, but as a child always wished for blue ones. She was very disappointed when God didn’t answer her prayers for her eyes  to turn blue. But she was very grateful later on when God revealed his call on her life. Amy also suffered from neuralgia, a very painful neurological condition that often had her bedridden for weeks on end. An unlikely candidate for the mission field.

In 1887, at the Keswick Convention, Amy heard Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, speak about the missionary life. Soon, she felt God’s call to go overseas as a missionary. Initially she went to Japan, but she never really felt at home there. From there she went to Sri Lanka. Then, after a year at home, she set sail for India in 1895, where she did her life’s work. She never returned home again, serving for 55 years without a furlough.

Amy did not fit into the missionary community in Bangalore–she hated the tea-drinking parties and gossip of the missionary wives. Soon she moved to join the Walker family on the very southern tip of India. Along with one of the Walker daughters and a few Indian Christian ladies, they began an itinerant ministry, speaking about Jesus throughout the surrounding villages. Their motto? “How much can I do without that I may have more to give?”

Amy adopted Indian dress and lifestyle, sometimes dying her skin with dark coffee.

In 1901, a young five year old girl named Preena was brought to Amy. She had been sold by her mother into temple prostitution, and was being taught all the degrading practices of the Hindu temple prostitutes. She had run away twice before, only to be found, taken back to the temple and beaten. But this time, the lady who found her, rather than taking her back to the temple, brought her to Amy. From that time onwards, Amy Carmichael set herself to rescue these young children from this terrible lifestyle.

This work was known as the Dohnavur Fellowship. They have rescued literally thousands of children, mainly girls, from the horrific lifestyle of the temple prostitute.

In 1931 Amy was crippled by a fall that left her bedridden for the nearly 20 remaining years of her life. She wrote many books during this time. Wheeled in a wheelchair onto the veranda outside her bedroom, the children would come and sing songs to her in the evenings.

The impact of Amy Carmichael”s life and writing continue to have an impact, more than 50 years after her death–for example, her vision of Christians making daisy chains.

Information for this post came from here and here. There is an interesting short video about her life here.

 

Photo taken from the website http://www.amycarmichael.org

The church moves West (part 2)

The focus of Christian missions has historically moved west. This is the second of a three part series (here is part one) looking at this phenomenon, and is part of the foreword I have written to a new Kindle book, Greet the Church in Your House.  by Victor Choudhrie, due out in September. This book details the principles behind one of the greatest disciple making movements of our time.

 

This is a photo of Tony and me standing on the very harbor wall in Turkey (Seleucia) from which Paul and Barnabas left with John Mark to sail west on their first missionary journey. The harbor is now silted up and the harbor wall is about 100 yards inland.

 

While all this was going on in Europe, the epicenter of Christianity was sailing west across the Atlantic to the United States.  Waves of revival spread across the land as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield, John Wesley and Charles Finney preached to huge crowds. In 1906, the Pentecostal Movement began in Azusa Street in Los Angeles and spread rapidly throughout the world. The United States became the great missionary-sending nation.

But even as Christianity waned in Europe and began its decline in the United States, the center of Christianity was moving west again. Initially this was hidden. When the Communists overtook China in the late 1940s, threw out the missionaries, closed the churches and jailed its leaders, everyone wondered whether the church could possibly survive. When the bamboo curtain finally lifted, the world was amazed to see the church had thrived and multiplied. Ordinary people, mainly women and children, rather than trained preachers, were spreading the Gospel, and churches were starting everywhere in the homes of ordinary people. Small and hidden, the good news was spreading like yeast in a lump of dough.

Again the focal point of the church moved west. Via Korea and the cell church movement, it has moved on to India where the Choudhries and many others like them are seeing similar growth to China. Here God is restoring disciple-making and house church planting, not as a matter of necessity because of persecution, but as a deliberate policy with well-understood theological and ecclesiological reasoning. An emphasis on the Kingdom is producing marked changes in the local community too. As other nations hear what is transpiring in India, they are inviting men and women from India to come and infect their own lands with what Jesus is doing.

Part three to follow…

The church moves west (part one)

Over this past month, I’ve had the privilege of writing a foreword for a book written by one of my mentors in the faith, a church planter in India named Victor Choudhrie.  The book, due out in September , will be available on Kindle and is called Greet the Church in Your House. It describes the principles behind one of the greatest church planting movements of our time.

Here is part of the foreword–a birds-eye view of how the epicenter of Christianity has moved over the centuries:

Photo credit: Irina Patrascu (Creative Commons)

The spotlight on the center stage of Christianity is no longer focused on the church of Europe and the United States.

The epicenter of Christianity has arguably been moving west throughout the course of church history. The early church began her journey in Jerusalem, and although the gospel spread eastwards to India via Thomas, the apostle, and south through the Ethiopian Eunuch to Africa, its primary influence traveled in a westerly direction towards Europe. In the book of Acts, for example, we see Antioch and Ephesus becoming centers of missionary activity.

Soon, the hub of church history moved west again to Rome where it remained for several centuries. Under the Emperor Constantine, the church, the vibrant body of Christ, became an institution. Gone was The Way, the dynamic lifestyle that won disciples who modeled their life on Jesus. Instead, copying pagan religion, holy priests in sacred buildings dominated Christianity.

The Dark Ages followed the collapse of the Roman Empire and saw Christianity at its lowest ebb worldwide, with increasing corruption in the church and little to no understanding of the true nature of the gospel. However, a true remnant always remained.

The Reformation of the 16th century moved the core of Christianity northwest again to Germany, Switzerland and Britain. Firstly, the Bible was translated into the common language through the work of Wycliffe and Tyndale. The invention of the printing press made it available to ordinary people. Key New Covenant truths were rediscovered when Luther and Zwingli declared that salvation comes through faith; it cannot be earned. Other truths such as the priesthood of all believers, baptism by immersion, holiness and the social implications of the gospel followed in subsequent centuries.

To be continued…

God’s view of time

The church has become accustomed to measuring success by the world’s standards–not just in terms of numbers but in terms of speed. In our Western world we expect fast and instant. Think microwave dinners, air travel, Internet.

I think God views time differently.

Photo credit: Gilderic Photography (Creative Commons)

A story comes to mind; the story of James O. Fraser, chronicled by his daughter Eileen Crossman in the missionary classic, Mountain Rain.

James Fraser was a British missionary who went to Yunnan Province with the China Inland Mission in 1910. He loved to hike and climb, and it was on hiking trips into the Himalayas that he came across the Lisu people, a tribal group living high in the mountains of China, Myanmar, Thailand and India. He felt an immediate affection for them. His initial contact with them  was successful because he willingly adopted their lifestyle, staying with them in their huts, eating their food, sleeping on the ground. But nothing of any substance developed from this.

So what did Fraser do?

He prayed. Nothing happened. He became discouraged but he refused to give up. He set himself to pray through. He spent whole days and nights in prayer, crying out to the Lord for the salvation of these people whom God had laid on his heart.

Finally in 1916, he saw breakthrough. Scores of families came to know Christ. By 1918, the Lisu people had taken the Gospel themselves along family lines and 60,000 had been baptized. By the 1990s, the Chinese government admitted that more than 90% of the Lisu in China are Christians.

What would have happened if James Fraser had returned home in defeat after three or four years?

God’s timing is not our timing. If we are looking for instant success, we’re likely to fail. Within the simple church we look for multiplication and that starts slowly–really slowly–and takes time to gather momentum.

We can become discouraged and give up. Or we can choose to press through into everything God has laid on our hearts.

Are there times when you’ve been tempted to give up, but in pressing through, you’ve seen Jesus do things beyond your wildest dreams?

The Holy Spirit and DL Moody

I’ve just finished reading A Passion for Souls: The Life of D. L. Moody, an account of the life of the famous evangelist. I found myself surprisingly moved by his life.

DL Moody was born in Northfield, Massachusetts. His father died when he was only four years old and his mother was left caring for a large family, including twins that were born after her husband’s death. She had to send some of her children out to work at a very early age in order to survive. Barely literate in his early years, Dwight worked as a shoe salesman for his uncle in Chicago.

Following a conversation with his Sunday school teacher, Dwight became a Christian in 1855. He initially worked  with poor children off the streets, starting a Sunday school for them, and then began a church in Chicago which was burned down in the Great Chicago Fire. He was very involved with the YMCA.

His early years as an evangelist, both in the UK and in this country were very effective in terms of soul winning, mostly because of the huge amount of personal effort that he put in. He emphasized the “inquiry room,” where people received personal counseling in how to follow Jesus. After several years of intense striving, when he was near burnout, DL became convinced of his need of the Holy Spirit. Following an experience that he called “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” he became even more effective as an evangelist, preaching sometimes to crowds of tens of thousands, speaking with great power and authority and with increasing results in terms of people finding Christ. The striving that had marked his early days was gone as he trusted the Holy Spirit to work through him. He emphasized the Holy Spirit in all his teaching from this time on.

Here are some quotes from Moody’s book Secret power: or, The secret of success in Christian life and work:

“I think it is clearly taught in Scripture that every believer has the Holy Ghost dwelling in him. He may be quenching the Spirit of God, and he may not glorify God as he should, but if he is a believer on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost dwells in him… Though Christian men and women have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, yet He is not dwelling within them in power; in other words, God has a great many sons and daughters without power.”

“The Holy Spirit in us is one thing, and the Holy Spirit on us is another.”

“We all need it [the filling of the Holy Spirit] together, and let us not rest day nor night until we possess it; if that is the uppermost thought in our hearts, God will give it to us if we just hunger and thirst for it and say, ‘God helping me, I will not rest until endued with power from on high.'”

“The disciples of Jesus were all filled with the Spirit, and the Word was published; and when the Spirit of God comes down upon the church, and we are anointed, the Word will be published in the streets, in the lanes and in the alleys; there will not be a dark cellar nor a dark attic, nor a home where the Gospel will not be carried by some loving heart, if the Spirit comes upon God’s people in demonstration and in power.”

DL Moody’s later years were occupied in providing education, particularly for women. He founded or helped to found four schools including what is now known as the Moody Bible Institute.  He died at home in 1899.

 

 

What’s in a name? Different uses of the term, “organic”

The term, organic, means natural, nonchemical, living, and alive. When applied to church, it refers to something that grows naturally.

Photo credit: thebittenword (Creative Commons)

Two people have popularized the name, organic church within the simple/organic/house church world.

Neil Cole was the first one to do so with his superb book, Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens, which God has used to teach the principles of multiplication and harvest all over the world. He uses the term to refer to planting the seed of the Kingdom out in our communities where people need the Lord. Here’s a quote from the introduction:

What would it be like if churches emerged organically, like small spiritual families born out of the soil of lostness, because the seed of God’s Kingdom was planted there? These churches could reproduce, just like all living things do.

We have seen churches meeting in restaurants, offices, homes, university campuses, high school facilities and beaches. We’ve had churches meeting in bars, parks, coffeehouses and locker rooms…

Let the church be alive, organic, in the flesh. Let it be birthed in the places it is most needed. Let the church be fruitful and multiply…

In other words, Neil uses the term “organic” to refer to bearing fruit in the harvest. Everything “alive” that God created multiplies, and church should be the same way.

Another person who uses the term, “organic church” is Frank Viola. Frank has a passion for the Bride of Christ. He uses the term to refer to a church that has life within itself–the life of Jesus. Here’s a quote from the introduction of his book, Finding Organic Church:

By organic church, I mean a church that is born out of spiritual life instead of being constructed by human institutions and held together by religious programs. Organic church life is a grassroots experience that is marked by face-to-face community, every-member functioning, open-participatory meetings (as opposed to pastor-to-pew services), non-hierarchical leadership, and the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the functional Leader and Head of the gathering.

So Frank uses the term to apply to a community of believers whose life is centered around the living Christ.

It’s a question of emphasis. I’ve been in enough groups waiting on God with Neil to know that he believes in Jesus being the center and leader of the gatherings. And Frank has a desire to see the Gospel spread. They just use the term “organic” in different ways.

We need both emphases. We need organic church.

 

Multiplication tools: vision

The vision the individual members have for your group will determine the actions they take and your group's ultimate destination.

Destination
Photo credit: woodleywonderworks (Creative Commons)

Why are the people in your group meeting? 

Simple/organic church provides a more intimate community. This is great, and an important component of simple church, but if that is why people are meeting, community is what you will get.

Simple/organic church offers a more informal and relaxed atmosphere. But if that is the main reason you are meeting, it is what you will enjoy.

Simple/organic meetings are participatory, with the Holy Spirit setting the agenda. This is crucial, a vital component of what goes on, but it is in danger of stopping there unless there is a deliberate outward focus.

Unless your group has a vision for reaching out and touching the lives of those who don't yet know the Lord, you are unlikely to see the multiplication of new disciples and churches.

If you long to see the lives of those who don't yet know the Lord transformed by their coming into relationship with Jesus, then that vision needs to be set before people frequently. Everyone in your group needs to be excited by the prospect, otherwise they will resent the thought of change. As people buy into this vision, their actions and attitudes will change. It may take a little time, but it's worth putting the vision before people on a frequent and regular basis. It can be done in different ways: for example

  • An interactive Bible study on the Great Commission, or Luke 10, Matthew 10 etc.
  • Videos such as this one
  • Asking the Lord what he wants for your group

(This last one is crucial. Everyone in our simple/organic church bought into the vision of multiplication when we spent time seeking the Lord about his vision for our group and he showed more than 50% of us the same thing in different ways. You can read the story here. We frequently refer back to that vision and make sure that newcomers to the group hear about it. Whenever a potential new group starts, we remind people how this is a fulfilment of what the Lord showed us.)

Practical application: Ask everyone in your group to listen to the Lord with the question, "Jesus, what is your vision for our group?" Give everyone 20 minutes on their own to listen and then compare notes. See if a theme emerges. See if the Lord gives you a vision of an outward focus.