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Amy Carmichael, ‘Beauty for Ashes’ is a book written by a gifted biographer about a woman whose character and service to the Lord were exceptional. The result is a well-researched and fascinating account, full of adventure, in a remote corner of South India. The reader, however, will soon find that the best part of this book is seeing the rich spiritual life of Amy Carmichael and God’s gracious dealings with her as she walked a road of suffering and joy.
The book begins with a mighty statement, in shortened form below:
“To understand the story of Amy Carmichael we must go back to the beginning. Born at Mil- lisle, Northern Ireland, on December 16, 1867, she came from the Ulster Presbyterian stock which produced generations of women whose lives moulded homes and missionary outposts across the world. Reverence for God and family worship were part of the fabric of their lives. The Bible shaped Amy’s thinking and every phrase she wrote. The lessons of duty, discipline and hardship had come down through generations, and, when found in Christian women of vivacious and energetic personality, the earth knew the impact. Amy Carmichael was one such Ulster woman.”
Amy Carmichael was used of God in fruitful Gospel work in Ireland before arriving in Southern India where she laboured for over fifty years as a single woman. Amy’s work in India began with evangelism and was not easy in this place of spiritual darkness. In time, Amy became involved in rescuing young children from forced prostitution in the Hindu temples. This work was rewarding, exhausting and made her many enemies.
Here is a glimpse of Iain Murray’s account of the first rescued child:
A seven-year-old girl, Preena, arrived where Amy was staying at 6.30 on the morning of March 7, 1901. In Amy’s words, her coming ‘caused a new thing to begin and I was rooted for life’. The girl had fled from the custody of a temple where she was being prepared to become a temple prostitute. After Preena had been procured by the temple, she had escaped and walked the twenty miles back to her home. But temple women found her and brought her back to the temple. She was punished by having her hands branded with hot irons. On her second escape, the girl had fled for refuge to a church where she was found outside a ‘very small and desolate mite with tumbled hair and troubled eyes’ before being brought to Amy. Fifty years later, Preena recalled that morning meeting:
“Our precious Ammai was having her morning chota. When she saw me, the first thing she did was to put me on her lap and kiss me. I thought, ‘My mother used to put me on her lap and kiss me—who is the person who kisses me like my mother?’ From that day she became my mother.”
In her middle age, after a nasty accident, Amy became confined to her bed. During the following decades, she did most of her writing including biographical books about fellow workers and some of the children. She also wrote about the work at the orphanage and about various aspects of Christian experience.
Her poetry appears in ‘Beauty for Ashes’. Here is a sample. She wrote this to the Lord she loved:
Shadow and shine art Thou,
Dear Lord, to me;
Pillar of cloud and fire,
I follow Thee.
What though the way be long,
In Thee my heart is strong,
Thou art my joy, and song—
Praise, praise to Thee.