A Review, with quotes, of Jad Adams’ biography of the much-loved Mohandas Gandhi.
This biography of one of the most iconic figures of the twentieth century is impossible to put down. It’s a fresh look at the man through his own writings and the testimony of those closest to him.
One aspect of the book, unsurprisingly, dominated the reviews: Gandhi’s risqué experiments in testing his own commitment to Brahmacharya (celibacy). The claim is that the presence of the two young women who regularly slept in his bed was necessary in order to test that commitment and thus help preserve his spiritual power for the benefit of others.
Astonishing as that may sound, there’s much more to the book than that…
William Wilberforce – working for India’s freedom
William Wilberforce was, as yet, unable to change the policy of the British with respect to missionaries going to India.
Parliament refused to change their Indian policy to include ‘religious improvement’ as Wilberforce had hoped.
It’s interesting to note that the celebrated hero of the abolition of slavery bill was keenly involved in encouraging Christianity in India. Wilberforce was a Christian first and a politician second.
Servants of the British Empire intervene to stop Christian missionaries
William Carey attempted, perhaps in response to John Newton’s bad advice, to sail to India without a visa (or licence, as it was called then). But, although the Captain of the ship had allowed Carey to board, when a warning of legal action came from the British authorities, Carey and the team were ordered to disembark.
They watched in tears, as the only apparent means of their getting to India pulled out of the harbour – without them!
At this point Carey actually considered getting to India by land – a journey that would have taken many months.
The Adventure – The Hardship – Begins
Finally good news – a non-British ship, a Danish ship, was sailing to India and would take them. Finally there was a way around British resistance to missions.
And a further apparent answer to prayer was that, after much persuasion, Dorothy Carey, her sister, and all the children had agreed to join William and the others in the first modern attempt to take the message of the gospel to the people of India.
Colonialism and Christianity
While many assert that European missionaries were merely the puppets of colonialists and empire builders, William Carey’s story surely provides an example that this was by no means the whole truth.
Perhaps there were some hopeless, arrogant, religious manipulators who were serving money rather than God. But could this really characterise the many who forsook comfortable ministries in Europe in order to try and serve other nations with the gospel? The fact is that this was a tough and notoriously uncomfortable assignment – with little money involved.
There’s no question that 19th Century Europeans generally assumed their culture – and their race – was inherently superior to that of the colonised peoples; nor should it be a debate that to colonise (for one country to take possession of the land and peoples of another) is fundamentally wrong.
Yet in that context many genuine Christians sought to take the good news of Jesus Christ to those who hadn’t heard of him, in obedience to Jesus’ command to ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel.'
And these good guys doubtless made the kind of cultural mistakes and faux pas that we still make today, in business globally, as well as in understanding and respecting other cultures.
That Carey was no destroyer of local language or culture will be seen in future posts. For now, though, it was a great relief for him just to be on the way.
They sailed at 3am on June 13, 1793
More next time…
To read from the beginning of William Carey’s story click here
William Carey had already stirred up a new interest in world mission. He had already prompted the formation of a ‘Missionary Society’ which had begun to raise funds for world mission.
Now came the real test: who should go?
For Carey it was clear. He knew he had been called by God to go (George, Faithful Witness,IVP p.76). What may seem strange to us is that his wife and family would not be going with him.
William: Yes. Dorothy: No!
He had a clear call to India – an ‘appointment’, he called it. But Dorothy was not keen to go, and only consented that their eldest son should go with him until he was able to establish a home there. Then, possibly, the rest of the family would follow.
So the original party was to be William, his eight year old son, Felix, and another minister, John Thomas. But all that was to change, as we shall see.
In a final service in London, Carey shared his dream of translating the Bible in to the local Indian languages. A printer, William Ward, was in the congregation and spoke with Carey afterwards. ‘You must come over and print it for us!’ said Carey. Seven years later he did just that.
Colonialists and Missionaries were not serving the same purpose
Carey had no official documentation or permission to preach in the British territories in India. In fact, the Empire kept missionaries out. The gospel inevitably leads to emancipation and while you could go as a chaplain to expats it was not at all easy to go as a church planter amongst locals. Empire and missionary work did not always go hand in hand – as we are often led to believe.
Newton on Carey: ‘He is an Apostle!‘
Carey went to the converted slaver and, now, Anglican Minister John Newton for advice.
‘What is the company [The British ‘East India Company’] should send us home on our arrival in Bengal?’ asked Carey. ‘Then conclude’, replied Newton, ‘that your Lord has nothing there for you to accomplish. But if He have, then no power on earth can hinder you.’ Not brilliant advice, and Carey sought to appeal to the Company before going. (George:82)
Newton was later to describe William Carey in glowing terms: ‘Such a man as Carey is more to me than bishop or archbishop: he is an apostle.’ (ibid)
Visas aren’t just a modern necessity
Carey urged Newton to try and get special permission from the East India Company for Carey’s work but he failed. William Wilberforce, who was working hard in the background to have the company’s policy towards evangelism changed, had not succeeded yet in adding the possibility of ‘religious improvement’ to the responsibilities of the company, thus clearing a way for church planters to go officially. It seemed they were unlikely to get on board any ship bound for India without the proper licence.
To read the next post, ‘Colonialism and Christian Mission’, click here
To read the first part of the William Carey Story click here