Our Mission Can Still Succeed
William Carey has been a hero of mine since high school, when I read a biography about his life and work. He was a pioneer—a missionary before it was popular to be a missionary.
In fact, after pleading with a ministers’ gathering in England to take on the Great Commission, William was famously interrupted by an older (and obviously cranky) pastor: “Young man, sit down! When God chooses to convert the heathen, He will do so without your help or mine!”
Carey, a shoemaker, hung a world map in his shop and prayed for awakening in faraway lands. He felt God’s call to personally take the gospel to India.
In the economy of his day (late 1700s), this meant leaving the comforts of home, enduring a long sea voyage, putting to shore in an area unfriendly to the gospel, having no insurance and very little assurance that things would work out or that he would ever see his home again.
To add to the difficulty, Carey’s family and friends thought he was insane and tried to talk him out of going. His wife initially refused, but Carey plodded on. She grudgingly agreed to join him, but later in his ministry she literally went mad and tried to kill him after one of their sons was taken with a tropical fever.
He faced tremendous financial setbacks, resistance from governments, sicknesses, and dangers. Like the apostle Paul, Carey was “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed” (2 Corinthians 4:8 NIV).
In the long view, however, Carey’s ministry became one of the most influential in Christian history, inspiring generations of missionaries. Carey translated the entire Bible into Bengali, Sanskrit, Hindi, and other languages, and portions of Scripture into more than thirty dialects.
At the same time, he also labored to create dictionaries for these languages, translating classical Indian works into modern dialects. He rejoiced to see Indian believers holding freshly translated Scriptures in their hands for the first time, the name of Jesus making its way into the unreached subcontinent.
Carey also founded a college (in his free time, no doubt), helped secure social reforms in India (such as banning sati—the burning of widows on their husbands’ graves—and outlawing child sacrifice in sacred rivers), and started a newspaper entitled Friend of India. His mission station in Serampore became a model for missionaries the world over, earning him the title “Father of Modern Missions.”
While Carey himself never saw the full fruit of his labor, it can be said today that millions have been led to Christ from the seeds he planted in the late 1700s and early 1800s. His tireless devotion to Christ and to the people of India changed that nation and, due to the extended influence of his missionary challenge, changed the world.
Carey’s motto was as well known to his associates as it is today in missionary circles: “Attempt great things for God; expect great things from God.”
He could have prayed over his world map in England and stopped there, continuing to make shoes and hoping God would somehow do the work. But Carey did both—he prayed, and he attempted something that seemed impossible.
I have read and re-read the story of William Carey, and as I ponder what revival would look like today, in my own life and church, I wonder: If a shoemaker can touch off a worldwide missions awakening and lay the groundwork for millions to enter the kingdom, what does God want me to do?
What kind of display of spiritual power might God have in mind for our generation through a few who give themselves entirely to Him? What plan am I a part of that is so bold, only God could make it work? How am I taking responsibility to complete the Great Commission?
Our hope for mission success as believers in Jesus doesn’t just rest on our willingness to work hard, although William Carey certainly did that. It doesn’t just rest in the support and solidarity of our churches, although that’s helpful when it’s available. It doesn’t rest in our freedoms, our economies, our politicians, or in any of our personal circumstances.
In the best of times, our mission can succeed. And in the worst of times, our mission can succeed.
The hope for this rests in God Himself, who is eternally committed to the mission of life and love in this world. He is able to use anyone with the faith to attempt great things.
Generations ago, one of those people was William Carey. Today, one of those people could be you.