What were William Carey’s contributions to the modern missions movement?

Believers in Jesus Christ belong to the largest organization, with the longest history, on earth. Knowing the work of saints of old grounds us in who we were, who we are, and who we will become. 

By Mark D. Harris

William Carey (1761-1834), the 18th century cobbler who was captured by the grace of God and became the “Father of Modern Protestant Missions”, was a remarkable man in almost every respect. According to Indian Christians Vishal and Ruth Mangalwadi, writing in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, he made major contributions in many fields:

1. Botanist – He brought the English daisy to India and introduced the Linnaean system of gardening. A type of eucalyptus found only in India, the Careya herbecea, is named for him.
2. Industrialist – He was the first Englishman to introduce the steam engine in India and produce paper to use in the local publishing industry.
3. Economist – He introduced the concept of savings banks to fight usury in India.
4. Medical humanitarian – He advocated humane treatment for leprosy patients.
5. Media pioneer – He was the father of print technology in India.
6. Agriculturalist – He founded the Agri-Horticultural Society in India in 1820 and did a systematic survey of agriculture in India.
7. Translator and educator – He translated Indian religious classics (Ramayana) and philosophical treatises (Samkhya) into English. He was a scholar in Bengali, Sanskrit and Marathi, and translated the Bible into several languages.
8. Astronomer – He introduced and taught astronomy to mitigate the harmful effects of astrology in India.
9. Library pioneer – He pioneered the idea of lending libraries in India.
10. Forest conservationist – He wrote essays on forestry and taught conservation of natural resources.
11. Advocate for women’s rights – He fought political battles for 25 years to end the Hindu practice of burning widows on the pyres of their deceased husbands (Sati).
12. Public servant – He transformed British attitudes on India from imperial exploitation to civil service.
13. Moral reformer – Indian Upanishadic teaching separated spirituality from ethics, thus leading to moral degeneracy. He reemphasized the link in his Christian teaching.
14. Culture transformer – He was the father of the Indian renaissance of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The above list primarily describes his impact on India. It is clear that modern India would not be where it is without his godly influence. Britain and the Western World, however, were also changed. The fire for Protestant missions was lighted and 200 years later it is still brightly aflame. Bible societies and seminaries in the west and east owe a great deal to the work of this humble cobbler.

William Carey could only boast of 700 converts at his death. But in God’s timing, Carey and others like him were phenomenally successful. Not yet 200 years after Carey’s death, roughly 30 million Indians follow Jesus. William Carey was simple man who had a fervent heart for God, and that was all He needed to change India into the nation it is today, and to advance His kingdom on earth.

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