Wednesday, 17 August 2011

William Carey

William Carey, so-called father of modern mission, was born this day (17 August) in 1761 – 250 years ago.

Sunday 21 August 2011 has been designated as ‘Carey Sunday’, endorsed by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Baptist Union of Scotland and the Baptist Union of Wales. BMS World Mission has a number of helpful resources here to help churches celebrate the 250th anniversary of Carey’s birth.

As a young Christian, I devoured biographies of William Carey, and I recall doing a short series on his life for 8- to 11-year-olds in my Sunday School class, trying to finish each week on a cliff-hanger!

I also recall, even as a young teenager, being intrigued about what appeared to be some major flaws in his domestic life as well as being fascinated by all his activities I wouldn’t necessarily have associated (at that stage in my life) with ‘mission’ – in agriculture and botany, in founding schools and a college, in campaigning against Sati (the practice of widow burning), in publishing a newspaper, etc.

In fact, a few weeks ago I came across a nice piece here by Vishal and Ruth Mangalwadi, imagining a quizmaster at the finals of the All India Universities competition asking the best-informed Indian students, ‘Who was William Carey?’, with the many different answers embracing him being a botanist, industrialist, economist, medical humanitarian, medical pioneer, agriculturalist, translator and educator, astronomer, library pioneer, forest conservationist, crusader for women’s rights, public servant, moral reformer, and cultural cultural transformer. The Mangalwadis conclude that ‘Carey was an evangelist who used every available medium to illumine every dark facet of Indian life with the light of truth’, and that ‘as such, he is the central character in the story of India’s modernization’.

The line perhaps most often associated with Carey – ‘Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God’ – remains theologically rich as well as ripe for reflection on practice.

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