The Keeping of the Charge

AUDIO VERSION

 

On May 9, 2012, only three days after Priscilla was unable to run to shelter from the rain and we both recognized that “something was definitely wrong,” we were introduced for the first time to the remarkable woman who would become our companion, counselor, and spiritual mentor for the rest of this journey.  We didn’t realize it at the time, however.  Perhaps the fact that this woman had lived almost her entire life on the other side of the globe, and had been dead for over 60 years, helps explain this.  Her name was Amy Carmichael.

Grad IV was meeting for its summer Bible study in a home on the edge of campus that had become known as the “InterVarsity House.”  But the facility actually belonged to a local church.  That church was just about to renovate the house for the use of its own newly restarted ministry to students.  InterVarsity’s chapters would be welcome to use the place again once the renovation was finished, but they could no longer maintain staff offices and a small library there—the church had other plans for those spaces.  There was nowhere else to keep the books, so after Bible study that night we were all invited to help ourselves to any of them we wanted.

Priscilla and I noticed a book entitled Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur.  “Let’s take that one,” we said, “we like missionary biographies.”  We had a number of trips lined up for the summer and knew there would be driving time and waiting time, and we thought this would make for an interesting read during those moments.

We started the book on our trip to Colorado, reading it aloud together for morning devotions.  We continued it on our trip to the East Coast, so fascinated by then that we took turns reading it non-stop as we drove, the passenger recounting stories of faith, courage, and sacrifice while the driver blinked away tears in order to keep seeing the road clearly.

The book was a challenge and inspiration to us right from its Table of Contents.  Amy’s biographer, Frank Houghton, divided her life into three parts, describing them based on an observation Amy herself made in one of her books.  She remarked in Though the Mountains Shake about the duties of the Levites as described in the biblical book of Numbers:

The Lord ordained that the Levites were to ‘war the warfare of the service’ from twenty-five years to fifty. After they were fifty years old they were to ‘keep the charge.’  So there is a difference between the Warfare of the Service and the Keeping of the Charge. It is impossible to think of ever dropping the Keeping of the Charge.  That goes on to the end, but the young and strong are needed for the Warfare of the Service.

Houghton used these phrases as titles for the second and third parts of Amy’s life.  (He described the first part as “Preparation for a Lifework.”)

During her Warfare of the Service, which actually began when Amy was a bit over thirty, she pioneered the rescue of girls and boys from temple prostitution in India.  This was in the early 1900s, when most people didn’t believe such a thing existed, or wouldn’t talk about it if they did.  Amy had to battle tirelessly against entrenched human traffickers and scandalized public opinion to carve out a safe space for endangered children, eventually hundreds of them, on the Dohnavur compound, as a witness against an evil that unfortunately we must still battle today.

When she was sixty-four, Amy suffered an accident from which she never recovered.  That, said Houghton, was the beginning of her Keeping of the Charge.  Until her death twenty years later, she was essentially confined to her room as an invalid.  But during that time she wrote thirteen more books (she’d already written over twenty), along with innumerable poems and letters.  Among other things, these writings explored with great courage and insight the place of suffering in the lives of believers.  Houghton wrote, “I think it is true to say that God used her pen for more widespread and deeper spiritual blessing during the post-accident period than in all the preceding years.”

Priscilla was tremendously encouraged to think that, maybe even by God’s design, a season of “Keeping the Charge”—of staying faithful, no matter what—might follow a season of service in a person’s life.  Houghton, borrowing Paul’s phrase from Philippians, sub-titled the second part of Amy’s life as the one “wherein she learned to know Christ in the power of his resurrection,” and the third part as the one “wherein she learned to know Christ in the fellowship of his sufferings.”  “Maybe that’s what I’m supposed to be doing now,” Priscilla reflected.

Once we finished Amy’s biography, we went on to read 15 or more of her books, many of them more than once.  One of the things we appreciated most was her beautiful and consistent picture of God.  In these books she told her readers in countless ways that our God is a God of love and kindness, and that we would know Him that way if we would only set aside our doubts and fears, and trust Him.

But we kept coming back to one book above all the others.  It was called Rose From Brier.  It’s a compilation of letters Amy sent to friends and supporters during the first year after her accident, as she was coming to terms with what she called the “sudden shutting down of all joyous activities.”  Her insights about finding peace through acceptance of what God had allowed were priceless.  Her admonition to “trust, endure, and not be offended” became Priscilla’s motto for the duration.  And Amy’s insistence that God still had a purpose for her own life, and for the life of anyone who’d been separated from the “warfare of service,” was stirring.

Only a few days before we first read the book, in September 2012, Priscilla was protesting that simply going on with her life and waiting months for a follow-up appointment at the specialized clinic wasn’t working.  The business of her life had to be to find out what she had, to see whether she could fight it.  “I know,” I replied.  “You’re a soldier, and you either have to be in the fight, or fighting to get back into the fight, not just waiting.”  But shortly afterwards we read for the first time in Rose From Brier Amy’s application of this same analogy to her own situation, and we were both consoled and challenged:

No soldier on service is ever ‘laid aside,’ only given another commission.  . . . Only, as I have been learning through these months, the soldier must let his Captain say where, and for what, He needs him most, and he must not cloud his mind with questions.  A wise master never wastes his servant’s time, nor a commander his soldier’s—there is great comfort in remembering that.

Eventually we started reading a chapter from the book every night, meaning that we went all the way through it about every month.  It got too inconvenient to keep checking out and returning library copies, so we resolved to get one of our own.  The book is still being published today (it has never gone out of print since it was first issued), but new editions are paperbacks.  Priscilla really wanted a hardback copy in Amy’s signature binding of blue (her favorite color) with gold lotus-flower decorations.  So I went on line to look for one of these older copies.

Some people were selling 1933 first editions as collector’s items for $70.  That seemed a bit steep even for a book we planned to use every day.  I looked around some more, seeing mostly similar prices, until suddenly I came across a copy for only $1.  It was from the sixth printing in 1950, but that didn’t matter to us.  The listing said it was in like-new condition, and I figured, “How could we go wrong for a dollar?”

When the book arrived, it was absolutely beautiful.  It stayed at Priscilla’s bedside for the rest of her life.  And it came on Valentine’s Day 2013, a love token from her dear Heavenly Father.  Or, as Amy would have said, from her Beloved.

Amy Carmichael
Amy Carmichael

Author: endlessmercies

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister and served local churches as a pastor for nearly twenty years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School. Dr. Smith answers questions about the Bible, particularly those that arise from the use of his study guides, at goodquestionblog.com.

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