Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Doing God's Work God's Way

Catching up on some of my reading, I came across some concepts from Amy Carmichael's life that struck me as extraordinary. Her mission work started in her hometown in Northern Ireland amongst the mill girls, who were disparagingly referred to as "shawlies". (These girls wore shawls instead of hats, which were more "respectable"). She writes about the expanding work:
From this time on, the work for the mill-girls grew and grew till we needed a hall that would seat 500; just then we saw an advertisement in The Christian. An iron hall could be put up for 500 pounds and it would seat 500 people.
When I was about ten or eleven I was asked to collect money for the Birds' Nest, Dublin, and as I happened to be staying with my grandmother I took the collecting card to her various friends in Portaferry and asked them to help. There was one who had just built a new house for himself. He refused to give anything.
Perhaps it was the repulse of that refusal that set me thinking: Why not ask God to make those who love Him want to help the little children whom He loves, instead of asking for help from those who perhaps don't love Him?
Later on many thoughts came, and in the end I settled that it is enough to ask our Father only, for the money for his work. I had no thought then, no faintest dream of what He was going to do in answer to prayer like that.

Amy then goes on to tell how God used a Christian friend of her mother's to provide the funds and Amy herself after much prayer approached a mill owner about purchasing part of his land. Everything was provided for and her hall was built and given the name "The Welcome". Looking only to the Lord for her finances and provisions was the method Amy carried with her into all her future work.
Looking around her at the various church groups using fundraising for their projects brought these words:
We must have money. We can't build spires ninety feet without it, we can't decorate our churches with elegant windows without it, we can't issue costly programmes for our social meetings without it, we can't furnish our sanctuaries with real polished mahogany without it...How are we to get it? You may touchingly plead for the 865,000,000 heathen abroad. You may paint a picture terrible and true of the state of the home heathen at our doors. You may work yourself into hysterics over these and other intensely real realitiies but you won't get the money. So another plan must be devised. We shall get up a fancy fair.

Next she writes about an advertisement in the local paper about one such fair put on by a local church and the theatricals involved.
Continuing in a light hearted manner she says:
Let us fancy for a moment we are a band of Israelites who want to build a magnificent abode for the Mighty Presence to dwell in. We convene a committee...Moses says, stroking his beard meditatively, "Ah the people's tastes must be considered, in the present state of society we cannot do otherwise, though of course it is not a desirable course to pursue."
"But brother,"remarks Aaron, "the Tabernacle must really have decent curtains, and if they are to be of goat's hair they will cost quite a large sum of money and then they must be embroidered..." Then Bezaleel speaks: "You speak, my brethern, as if nothing but the curtains should be considered, but there is a great amount of carving in wood and cutting in stones to be thought of and various curious things to be devised out of gold and silver and brass. These too will cost money." There is a silence. Moses looks puzzled when in a very hesitating voice Aholiab says, "Have we not, Bezaleel, got both time and talent to devote to this work? Could we not spend and be spent in the service of the sanctuary?" But he is quite squashed by the head-shakings of the committee. Such a thing would never do. "What would become of our families if we worked for nothing? Really Aholiab should be ashamed of himself--such an idea!" etc.etc. Suddenly Moses' face brightens. "Just what I remarked at first," he says pleasantly, "In the present state of society we must conform a little to the world. We'll have a Bazaar!"

Isn't it a pretty picture--far superior to: "And they came both men and women as many as were willing-hearted and brought bracelets and earrings and tablets and jewels of gold and every man that offered, offered an offering of gold unto the Lord." Three things we may notice:
1st as many as were willing-hearted
2nd brought their own possessions
3rd unto the Lord.
Is the work for which we want the money God's chosen work for us, or our chosen work for Him? If the former, will not He see after the money necessary? If the latter, then how can we expect anything better than we have?

In her biography of Amy's life, A Chance to Die, Elisabeth Elliot concludes this part of Amy's work by adding:
These principles, discovered when Amy was alone with her Bible and her God, written down only for the small circle of readers of Scraps were never laid aside. Years later their influence was felt by thousands.

Looking for people to help her in work with the mill girls was another issue that Miss Carmichael was determined to be different.
Frank Houghton writes this in his book, Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur:
What was required in one who was to take part in this work? As Amy studied the book of Ezra the question was answered. At that time others beside the Lord's people offered to help in building His house, but their offers were refused. Even though refusal caused offence, and in fact delayed the completion of the work, the Jewish leaders held firmly to the principle that none but the Lord's people could share in the task (Ezra 4).

Amy's words continue:
It is the word of 1 Corinthians 3. 11-15 again. Do we want to build in substance that will abide the test of fire? Then let us see to it that the builders are those whose hearts are set on building in gold, silver and precious stones. This was what was taught to us then.
You will not find it difficult to see the bearing this has on all that was 'before ordained' to be. What I want you to notice specially is the great kindness of our Lord. He led me into this truth at the very beginning and He has kept it as a settled thing in my heart ever since. Nothing that I have told you made for a superior attitude as some said it would. It was just the opposite. It had and it has a very humbling influence.

Houghton writes about the outcome of such a strange practice:
And as she waited, refusing to accept kindly offers of help from any who were not utterly one with her in her desire for the salvation of the mill-girls, a band of loyal friends was given, including older Christian women as well as Amy's contemporaries.

I'm not advocating a certain financial policy of missions and ministries. I just wanted to highlight Amy's reliance on the Lord for all her needs. Lessons to be learned here for sure.

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