2 Corinthians 12:7-10 John 15:1-8
This is World Communion Sunday, a day that encourages us to remember our family ties with Christians around the world, most of whom we’ll never know, but who are seeking to be God’s people wherever they live.
In our Gospel reading from John, Jesus says to us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Christians around our world who are connected to Jesus through faith; who have received Jesus into their heart and have given Him their life; who abide in Him: are our family.
Let’s hear about a member of our Christian family who did great work in India.
Let’s see if you can identify her from this description. She was a woman not born in India, but who spent most of her adult life there, working as a Christian missionary among the poor. She founded a religious order for women to assist with her work in aiding people in need and became highly regarded for her selfless dedication to others. In fact, although she was unmarried and had no children, she was sometimes referred to as “Mother.” She lived into her 80s and died in India in the 20th century.
If you think you know this person, great! But before you answer, here is one more hint: She was not Roman Catholic. Many of you are going to say “Mother Teresa.” She does fit all those facts except that she was Roman Catholic.
The description is of a woman who predates Mother Teresa by a few decades. Her name is Amy Carmichael, who was sent as a missionary to India by the Church of England. Her name is unfamiliar, because although both women worked in the 20th century, Carmichael was earlier. She began her mission work, in the 19th century. Carmichael died at age 83 in 1951 and Mother Teresa died at age 87 in 1997. Much of Mother Teresa’s work was with the dying. Much of Carmichael’s work was helping women and girls caught in human trafficking.
Carmichael was born in Ireland in 1867. Her mother had blue eyes, which the little girl thought were beautiful. Amy had brown eyes. Her mother told her that God always hears and answers prayers. So, while she was still quite small, Amy prayed one night that God would change her eyes to blue. She went to bed confident that God would do as she asked. When she awoke in the morning, she ran to the mirror to see her new blue eyes, only to be disappointed. Her eyes were still brown!
When Amy was 19, her family traveled to England to attend a spiritual conference. The purpose of the conference was to call people to a “higher Christian life,” and it was there that Amy responded to God’s call. Eventually, she offered her services to the church, and in 1895, she was commissioned by a missionary society of the Church of England to go to Dohnavur, India, where she served the next 56 years in mission work, without a furlough.
A major part of her work there was devoted to rescuing babies and children from situations and backgrounds of extreme danger, including girls who had been sent to the local temples to serve as prostitutes. She eventually started the Dohnavur Fellowship, which became a place of safety and refuge for children. In 1916, needing help with the work, she formed a religious order called Sisters of the Common Life.
Through Amy’s work and that of her sisters in Christ, more than 1,000 children were rescued from neglect and abuse. There probably would have been even more, except that in 1931, a serious accidental fall affected Amy’s mobility and forced her to spend much of her time confined to the Dohnavur Fellowship’s compound. Even then, she wrote a number of spiritually helpful books. The Dohnavur Fellowship continues yet today as a home and community for children in South India.
Amy had requested that when she died, no stone be place at her grave, so instead, the children she had cared for put a birdbath over it with a single inscription, Amma, which means “mother” in the Tamil language.
In 2 Corinthians 12:7-8 Paul writes, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
There was a reason Paul was not granted his prayer for God to remove the ‘thorn in his flesh.’ God’s reason was to keep Paul from boasting about his experiences and the great works he was doing. You can read about Paul’s experience in verses 1-6 of this 12th chapter of 2nd Corinthians.
There was also a reason that God didn’t change Amy’s eyes from brown to blue when she asked him to in her prayer. When Amy arrived in India she learned about the temple girls. Even some Christians were against Amy when she stepped into the struggle to end the prostitution of the little girls, because they thought she exaggerated the situation.
The truth of what went on behind the scenes was hard to get at. Amy found she must pretend to be an Indian and visit the temples herself. Dressed in a sari with her skin stained, she could pass as a Hindu. Now she understood why God had given her brown eyes. Blue eyes would have been a dead giveaway. Her naturally brown eyes completed the disguise!
You hear me pray, “God we know you hear our prayers, help us to trust in your answers.” Sometimes God answers ‘Yes,’ sometimes ‘No,’ sometimes ‘Wait awhile.’
It’s in that ‘Wait awhile,’ that we often understand the answer to our prayer.
Was Amy’s prayer to change the color of her eyes as important as Paul’s prayer for God to remove the ‘thorn in his flesh? I don’t know. In Amy’s eyes it was.
When we pray for healing, sometimes the answer is, ‘no.’ We may not understand the answer until later. Sometimes the cancer, the Parkinson’s, the Alzheimer’s, the stroke, the injury would be so painful and debilitating that God has mercy and takes the person home to rest in peace and become whole again in God’s healing light.
If your prayers haven’t been answered in the way you would like, please trust in God’s answer.
I encourage you to stay connected to the True Vine and abide in Jesus and you will have the strength to endure whatever you’re going through.
Pastor Paddy had it right last week when he said, “We think we are praying to a God out there, what we need to understand is that we should be praying to the God within us.”
Jesus knows what it is to be human; to suffer, to weep, to love, to lose someone you love and to not have his prayer answered. Jesus knows what it is to trust in Father God.
Lord Jesus, we know you hear our prayers. Help us to trust in your answer. Give us the courage, the strength and the peace to trust you, no matter what we’re going through. Amen
Pastor Rosemary DeHut