William Carey (1761 — 1834) was a pioneer missionary to India and has become known as the “father of modern missions.”
William Carey was born in 1761 near Northampton, England. He came to believe the gospel at age 18 and began an intensive study of languages, mastering Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, and Dutch, all the while working as a shoemaker, a vocation that left him in poverty.
In 1787 William Carey was ordained as a minister by the Particular Baptists, a Calvinistic Baptist group. As a minister, Carey began to advocate for world missions. (Previously, missions activity was primarily directed at under-reached areas in one’s home country or to overseas colonies.) In 1792, Carey preached a sermon in which he uttered the phrase that would forever be associated with him and his philosophy of ministry: “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” In the same year he published An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen in which he appealed for Christians to get involved in missions activity. Also in the same year, a new missions society was formed, the Particular Baptist Society for the Propagating the Gospel Among the Heathen (later the name was changed to the Baptist Missionary Society). Members paid dues, which were used to support missionaries. William Carey was part of the first contingent sent by this missions society, and he sailed to India the next year.
In 1799, Carey was joined by two other missionaries in Serampore, India, Joshua Marshman and William Ward, and the group became known as the Serampore Trio. In all, they started 26 churches and 126 schools. They translated the Bible into 44 local languages and developed grammars and dictionaries. They also started medical missions, savings banks, a seminary, a girls’ school, and a Bengali-language newspaper.
William Carey advocated for the abolishment of suttee (the custom of burning a widow on her dead husband’s pyre) and founded the Agricultural and Horticultural Society of India (currently the Agri-Horticultural Society of India), which conducted experiments on medicinal and edible plants to better serve the Indian people. Carey started the first Indian printing company and introduced the first paper mill and steam engine to India. He translated Indian stories into English. Previously, missionary activity had never involved this kind of comprehensive ministry and social reform; however, since the time of William Carey, missionary activity has involved a wide range of ministry to both body and spirit.
The following are some quotes from William Carey that reveal something of his heart:
“To know the will of God, we need an open Bible and an open map.”
“You have been speaking about William Carey. When I am gone, say nothing about William Carey. Speak only about William Carey’s Savior.”
“When I left England, my hope of India’s conversion was very strong; but amongst so many obstacles, it would die, unless upheld by God. Well, I have God, and His Word is true. Though the superstitions of the heathen were a thousand times stronger than they are, and the example of the Europeans a thousand times worse; though I were deserted by all and persecuted by all, yet my faith, fixed on the sure Word, would rise above all obstructions and overcome every trial. God’s cause will triumph.”
“I’m not afraid of failure; I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”