July 1, 2012
William Carey is widely recognized as the father of the modern missionary movement. He was born into poverty in mid-eighteenth century England, the son of a weaver who also taught school, and the family’s circumstances meant that he had only a very limited formal education. At fourteen he was apprenticed to become a shoemaker and cobbler, and during his late teen years he came to faith in Christ, a conversion that not only changed his eternal destiny, but changed everything about his life. He became a fervent student, learning as much as he could about God’s Word, and teaching himself the biblical languages, while he cobbled shoes. He also studied God’s world, fascinated by the accounts of world explorers such as James Cook, a fascination that led him to hang a large map of the world on the wall of his shoe repair shop to guide his prayer.
The Lord opened opportunities for Carey to minister God’s Word and he became a well-known preacher. In turn, he developed a vision for taking the gospel to the unreached parts of the world, a vision that led him to write a book and to preach widely on the theme of foreign missions. His passion inspired a famous sermon on the theme “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” Carey set out to do exactly that, and in 1793 he and his family set out for India, the first of a band of missionaries who would follow in his footsteps. The story of Carey’s ministry is a remarkable one, full of heartbreak and suffering but also full of the glory of God in establishing a foothold for the gospel in India, establishing a team that would translate God’s Word into forty-four languages and dialects by 1832, and inspiring many others as a trailblazer to attempt great things for God by going into all the world to preach the gospel. He would never return to England.
As Carey and his companions talked about the needs of the world, his good friend Andrew Fuller said “There is a gold mine in India; but it seems as deep as the center of the earth; who will venture to explore it?” Carey’s response was immediate: “I will go down the mine if you will hold the ropes for me.” His friends committed themselves to do that, as God would give them strength. And they did, holding the ropes by their prayers, their financial support and their support-raising. But one of the most significant rope-holders was his sister Mary, bedridden and suffering from a degenerative spine disease. Confined to her bedroom for 50 years, she could only use her right hand, and for 30 of those years she was unable to speak. But she used that hand to write countless letters to her brother, connecting him to home, and she prayed for him every single day for the rest of her life.
The challenge is for us to grab a rope. As we send forth missionaries and those on short-term mission teams, as we engage in ministries here at home, we are not all called to serve in the same way. But it is for all of us to find a way to “hold the ropes” so that God’s great work can be done, to his glory and to the blessing of the nations.