Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sarti and Immolation

Born in Northern Ireland to a wealthy Presbyterian family, Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) became one of the best known missionaries of the first half of the twentieth century. Her ministry took her first to Japan, then to Ceylon, and finally to the Dohnavur province of India.

Although the brutal Hindu traditions of sarti and immolation—burning widows alive on the funeral pyres of their deceased husbands—had been legally banned, to her horror she discovered that ritual abortion and female infanticide were still quite common. In addition, many of the young girls that she had come to work with were still being systematically sold off as slaves to the nearby pagan temples in order to be raised as cult prostitutes.

She immediately established a ministry to protect and shelter the girls. Although she had to suffer the persecution of various
Hindu sects and the bureaucratic resistance of the British colonial government, Carmichael built an effective and dynamic ministry renowned for its courage and compassion.

Sadly, many of her fellow missionaries in India—having partially accepted the presuppositions of Planned Parenthood’s Malthusian thought—believed that her effort to build an orphanage and school was actually a "worldly activity" that distracted her from the "saving of souls." To such accusations she simply replied, "Souls are more or less firmly attached to bodies."

Since her death in 1951, her Dohnavur Fellowship has continued to carry on ministries of evangelism, education, and medical aid among the poor and helpless. It remains one of the most dynamic Christian work on the Indian subcontinent.