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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

William Carey in India

William Carey in India

The BMS became aware of Dr. John Thomas, a Baptist physician in England who had spent many years in India and who wanted to return to that land. Probably unwisely, the BMS appointed Thomas as their first missionary. However, before Thomas could sail, the BMS also decided to appoint Carey. Carey’s domestic situation complicated his appointment, for his wife Dorothy flatly refused to go. She was never in sympathy with her husband’s mission interests and never shared his world vision. In five generations, no member of her family had ever moved more than ten miles from their native village. She was a kind and good-hearted village girl, an affectionate wife and caring mother; and she probably deserves more sympathy than some historian s give her. At times she thought her husband might actually be going insane for considering such a preposterous plan to move to India.

Carey accepted appointment as a missionary to India, and the date for sailing was set before Dorothy was even told about it. Carey urged her to go with him, but she at first refused. So Carey took their oldest child, Felix, and set out for the ship. However, the sailing was delayed, and Carey took the opportunity to rush back home and plead once more with Dorothy to join him. With many tears, she yielded and had only a few hours to pack all her possessions for herself and four children, bid farewell to family and friends, and leave England forever. She was scarcely aboard ship when she came to regret her decision, and she adapted poorly in India. The heat and humidity took their toll, and she was subject to severe fevers. Their grinding poverty, the uncertainty of their existence, and the death of one child proved more than she could cope with, and she lapsed into deep and debilitating depression. For the last thirteen years of her life, she lived in a single room, with padded walls, behind a locked door. Somewhere in missionary history a word of compassion should be written for Dorothy Carey, who paid a high price for Baptist missions and never knew why.

The first few years in India were a nightmare to the Careys. Dr. Thomas squandered their entire annual allowance within a few weeks, and they had to find secular employment or face starvation. In his naive hopes, Carey had expected multitudes in India to turn to the gospel, and he was shocked at the utter indifference and occasional hostility his preaching met. To earn a living, Carey became a planter, managed an indigo factory, and later became a teacher at a university. He preached frequently but with little response. Carey found the social and religious culture of India so intertwined with the caste system that persons of status feared to become Christians.

For the first few years in India, Carey was essentially in missionary orientation. He had no precedents to guide him, no sizable body of missionary literature to offer insights, and few missionary colleagues with whom to compare notes. Carey’s work was trial and error until after a few years he hammered out a missionary strategy to go with the missionary theology he had developed in England. The methods Carey developed, emphasizing not only preaching but also Scripture translation and the printed word, along with efforts to move the mission churches toward indigenous status, are worthy of note in missionary history. On the mission field, Carey also developed a more open attitude toward other denominations, helping to lay some foundations for Baptist participation in the later ecumenical movement.

On the first day of the new century, 1800, Carey and his family moved to Serampore. There he was joined by two other Baptist missionaries, John Marshman and William Ward, with their families. Thus began a famous missionary partnership and the Serampore Mission. Marshman was the preacher; Ward the printer; Carey the translator.

H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1987), 186–187.

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