THE MAN WHO TURNED A NATION UPSIDE DOWN
How would you proclaim the gospel of the ‘God who defied death’ to a community that
worships ‘Kali-the goddess of death’? How would you awaken a nation that is
deliberately kept in a slumber of ignorance and backwardness?
The year is 1793 – a young man disembarks a British ship and steps on Indian soil with a
determined look on his face. He has made this arduous journey after many arguments
and objections; his motives are illegal in the Act of the British Parliament. But a fire
burns in his heart, and with every breath his insides say, “Expect great things from God;
attempt great things for God.” With a wife and a few kids tagging along, it is not going
to be easy. He first needs to understand what these people are saying; Bengali is foreign
to his ears and feels strange on his English tongue, but he is undaunted. He takes up the
challenge, unaware that he will one day become a professor of Bengali, Sanskrit and
Marathi. But for now, he trudges through a completely new life, oblivious to the great
reformation he would bring to this land. In the years to come, many would applaud him
for mending a nation, and many would accuse him of defiling it. The future will call him the
Father of Modern Missions, but for now he is just William Carey,
a simple Christian missionary.
William Carey was more than just a Bible preaching missionary. He was an educator,
agriculturist, botanist, industrialist, economist, media pioneer, and much more. But
that was not what he intended to be when he got on the ship to India. He simply came
to tell the story of His Saviour Jesus, and to love the people as Christ would have loved
them. So, when the British East India Company looked down on India as ‘a territory to
be subdued and conquered’ and ‘as a trading base to be taken advantage of’, Carey
looked lovingly at its people and ached for their progress.
One day he attended a festival where children were thrown to the crocodiles in the river
as a fulfilment of vows their mothers had made. Another day, he witnessed a widow
burning alive on the funeral pyre of her husband. A few weeks later, he found ants
devouring the remains of an infant offered as sacrifice to an idol. Carey could not
believe his eyes. The men were okay with this, nobody dared question the priests who
headed these events, and the poor victims accepted their fate without fight. He had
only heard of a romanticized version of Indian culture, but the version he witnessed
with his own eye was terrifying. He was disheartened by all the rites, rituals and
superstitions, and knew that His Saviour’s heart grieved too. Carey knew the people
needed education to have their eyes opened to the evils of child sacrifice, child
marriage, slavery, and the oppression of women, lepers and lower caste men. But the
Hindu priests, higher caste men and even some British rulers willfully deprived the
people of education. They liked things as they were. The more ignorant the masses, the
more they could be manipulated. Carey couldn’t sleep. The cries of women and children
at the mercy of gluttonous men haunted his nights. Carey determined in his heart to
not just be a preacher of religion; he decided to roll up his sleeves and get in the ring to
wrestle the madness out of India. He would not just talk about the love of the true
living God; he would manifest this love and change lives.
So William Carey began his mission as a Translator, ardently learning many Indian
languages and translating the Bible into Bengali, Hindi, Oriya, Assamese, Marathi,
Sanskrit and more over the years. When he saw the beauty of every Indian language and
how some of them were going extinct, Carey made efforts to revive many languages by
giving them standardised spelling, printing dictionaries and grammar books. His
contributions to the Bengali Renaissance were so abundant that Rabindranath Tagore,
wrote: “I must acknowledge that whatever has been done towards the revival of the
Bengali language and its improvement must be attributed to Dr. Carey and h
colleagues. Carey was the pioneer of the revived interest in the vernaculars.”
Carey saw that no woman in India was safe. Widows were burned, young girls were
forced to become temple prostitutes, little girls were married off to old men and female
infants were smothered to death for want of a male child. Educating a woman was
considered sacrilegious, but Carey knew there was no other way. At a time when only
the children of a particular social strata were taught to read and write, Carey made a
bold move. He started the very first primary school in India that included girls and
pupils of all social classes. Yes, he was opposed and threatened, his efforts were
constantly thwarted, but Carey continued on. His educational reforms were the outset
of English medium education throughout India.
When the British East India Company focused solely on shipping ammunition and
soldiers into the country, William Carey made efforts to bring in books to educate
Indian minds. While they sought to subdue the Indians, Carey strove to liberate them
through education. The fruits of Carey’s efforts resulted in the concept of Lending
Libraries in India. He circulated books with the intent to regenerate Indian minds, to
shake them out of their intellectual slumber and give them a renewed perception of life.
When he saw how Indians worshipped the stars and planets and how astrology played a
large role in their superstitions, Carey decided to introduce astronomy to the masses.
He revealed to them the Christian view of the celestial bodies and their use in detecting
directions and devising calendars. He sought to release people from the bonds of
astrology and religious superstitions.
In 1818, Carey and his friends founded India’s first degree-awarding University in
in Serampore, West Bengal. It began training indigenous ministers in theological
studies, taught languages, arts and science irrespective of their caste, religion or
country. The college is still in operation today and boasts of its status as one of the
oldest educational institutes in India.
Decades before the Royal Agricultural Society was formed in England, William Carey
established India’s Agri-Horticultural Society. He had no formal education yet Carey
had a vast knowledge of plants, trees, soil, insects and beasts. He was an agronomist, an
expert in the field of soil management. In his five acres of land in Serampore, Carey
cultivated plants and trees that were unknown in the region. Seeing the poor
cultivation methods of farmers and how one fifth of the nation’s land lay waste, Carey
strove to introduce improved agricultural methods and tools in India. He urged his
friends in England to send seeds and books on botany, often wrote to the Botanical
Society asking them for seeds, sickles, scythes and plough-wheels. He brought the
English daisy to India, introduced the Linnaean system of gardening and for a period,
was given charge of the Botanical Garden of Calcutta. He campaigned for forest
conservation long before the government took an actual step towards preserving Indian
forests and wildlife. He yearned for Indians to take advantage of the rich ecology
around them and created an awareness about the conservation of natural resources and
forests. He appealed to the government to help poor farmers when he saw how the
fertile soil of the land was being wasted with bad-quality seed and equipment.
Although sensitive skin and other physical ailments made him an unfit gardener, with
his sheer will and determination, Carey contributed a great deal to Indian agriculture.
Industrialist and Media Pioneer:
Carey brought the modern science of printing and publishing to India. He founded
Mission Press, the largest in the country back then, with his Baptist Missionary friends.
They published the Bible (in 25 Indian languages), Christian tracts and also supplied
fonts and other printing resources to printers. The most significant activity of Mission
Press was the publication of dictionaries, grammar books and other literary vernacular
material for education. Carey also started the first ever newspaper and indigenous
paper for printing in India. Carey introduced the steam engine to India, taught the
blacksmiths to use his model to make engines using local resources, and unwittingly
initiated the country’s industrial development.
Carey did not expect his efforts to make such grand reformations. Whatever he did was
done out of love and perhaps that is what enabled him to focus on many pursuits
without the distraction of political aspirations, wealth or fame. It is unbelievable that
one individual is responsible for many transformations in a country so big. It gives us
the impression that William Carey was an influential man who got it all done with a
snap of his fingers. But the truth is, he was a man without money or influence. In fact,
his arrival in India was vehemently opposed and deemed illegal by the British
Parliament. For the first two decades in India, he carried out his work under Danish
protection in Serampore. Carey was also not free of familial responsibilities and cares.
The man accomplished everything while swimming against the harsh tides of life. His
little son died of an illness, which literally drove his wife insane. Her bouts of insanity
often prompted her to physically attack him which he endured with divine patience
until her eventual death. The building that housed his printing press was consumed by
a terrible fire that took down decades worth of hard work. Ten Bible translations, a
Polyglot Sanskrit dictionary and plenty of grammar books, steel punches, deeds and
account books turned to ashes in a day, breaking his heart and testing his faith.
While grieving the loss of his beloved second wife and his father, Carey’s heart was
furthermore torn apart by false accusations and major conflicts with another
missionary group. Around the same time, he was also forced to bear the debts incurred
by his son through a lavish drinking lifestyle. Bengal’s weather and the community’s
opposition to his work weighed heavily on his body and soul. In 1823, his home, his
beautiful garden and his school buildings were badly devastated by a flood pushing the
limits of an already wearied man. But he walked through every trial and loss, and like
Paul the apostle, Carey pressed on to take hold of that for which Christ first took hold
of him (Philippians 3:12).
Now, did Carey’s reforms mar the nation and strip it of its heritage and culture? Only
those who take pleasure in oppressing the innocent would say so. If murdering widows,
child sacrifice, child marriage, slavery, illiteracy and such are traditions to be proud of,
then yes, William Carey did strip a nation of its cruel traditions. He was not a
complacent idol to stand by and watch another human murdered in the name of
religion. What Carey did was not for himself, for he had no political aspirations or the
desire to amass wealth. His poverty, his health condition, his letters to friends asking for
nothing but books or seeds or tools are testaments to a selfless heart. He didn’t have to
endure poverty and illness in a country where his every move was opposed. He could
have sailed back to the safety of his home country and settled down in a quaint little
cottage. But he did not. He did not want to just kneel and pray from afar for a deprived
nation. He would get knee-deep into the situation and from there ask God to use him as
a vessel of healing and transformation.
William Carey died in 1834, but his spirit of love and determination can be resurrected
today if we refuse to remain complacent and take a stand against today’s degrading
culture. If he could turn a nation upside down with the minimal resources around him,
how much more can you and I accomplish with all that is available to us.
If William Carey could time travel to tell us something today, he would repeat his
famous epigram: “Expect great things from God; Attempt great things for God.”
To read more about this legend, check out our bestsellers “The Legacy of William Carey” and “William Carey: Father of Missions” at www.triaze.com