Catherine Jane Carmichael
Mother of Amy Carmichael
? – 1913
Catherine Jane Carmichael rocked seven cradles as a mother. The first was of her daughter, Amy. Amy Carmichael gave her life in God’s service in India. She founded the Dohnavur Fellowship and helped countless children of India escape temple prostitution. Because Catherine was such a godly role model, Amy was able to become a surrogate mother to many Indian children. Catherine helped to change the world because she was a mother who trained up her children well, and then let them go. (For more information on they story of Amy Carmichael, click here.
Catherine was a loving and nurturing mother, combining plenty of lap-time stories and singing with consistent discipline. Her children knew what was expected as well as the consequences for disobedience. She required that her children accept their punishment calmly. Catherine was determined to train her children to handle life’s difficulties with grace and this training, coupled with Amy’s adventurous spirit, served her well on the mission field when she faced grave difficulties. The Carmichael children were raised with an abundance of joy and love and Amy was known to say that she got “endless fun out of life.” According to Amy, there was no child happier than she. This upbringing gave Amy a strong emotional base and love that permeated her life’s mission with the Dohnavur Fellowship.
Catherine was sure to teach raise her children to know and serve God. Once again her lap was offered as she told them stories from the Bible. She also taught her children about the power of prayer. Catherine had taught Amy this at a very early age. “Ask God, Amy, if you want anything badly. Share it with Him and He’ll always give you an answer.” Amy took this to heart. More than anything she wanted to have blue eyes like her mothers instead of the brown ones she had. Amy knelt and asked God to change her eyes to blue and was quite sure He would do so by the time she woke up the next day. Upon rising, she looked in the mirror and to her disdain, they were still brown. Bewildered, she sought out her mother to find out why God hadn’t answered her prayer. She learned a lesson here that stayed with her for the rest of her life. “No”, soothed her mother “can also be an answer.” Although the Lord answered her prayer by saying “No”, she eventually viewed her brown eyes as an asset to her later on when she rescued young children from being temple slaves in India. Her mother’s instructions were true. God always heard and always answered; sometimes it was yes, sometimes it was wait, and sometimes it was no. This was an invaluable tool to Amy, as prayer became the foundation of her ministry. She didn’t ask people for money to support her mission work. She only asked God. Little did Catherine realize when she gave this little lesson on prayer that it
would affect her daughter’s life profoundly for the rest of her life. Catherine also trained up her children with a heart for God.
She not only taught them the Word of God, she exemplified it having a deep love for God and an intimate personal faith in Jesus Christ, Catherine passed this devotion on to her children. At a time where church going was the socially accepted norm, Catherine found much joy in going. Instead of regarding it as a formal “duty” it was the highlight of the week. Catherine taught her children at an early age to know that God loved them and that He was very real. The reality of a personal relationship with God shaped Amy’s life and pointed the way for her future.
Among other admirable attributes, Catherine Carmichael was charitable and compassionate and she gave her children every opportunity to develop these gifts as well. Catherine wanted her children to see the needs of others and then act to meet them. Catherine taught girls cooking and singing and she made hospitality a way of life. When Amy gathered local children for a meeting in her home, Catherine didn’t object. Instead, she made tea for them. When neighbors were sick, elderly, or destitute, Catherine sent Amy and her siblings to them with canisters of soup. The Carmichael children learned to care for others by small acts of kindness to people in their own sphere of influence.
Catherine also trained up her children to have unwavering faith. She taught her children that when storms blow, we will stand strong if we have a strongly rooted faith in God. When Amy was eighteen, money became a problem in the Carmichael home and not long after, Catherine’s husband died. In the midst of her despair, Catherine found solace and strength in her faith, particularly the truth of Nahum 1:7: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust him.” Two years later a financial crash ate up the rest of the family’s money, but Catherine did not despair. Instead of panicking, she knelt with her children in prayer. God met their needs during that crisis and she taught her children that they could rely on God.
After training her children well, Catherine let her children go. She loved them dearly, but she held them loosely. Her fist occasion to practice this releasing of her children was while Amy was still at home. Her family had relocated to the city of Belfast when Amy was in her teens. Though Catherine would rather shield her children from the ugliness of this world, she allowed Amy to venture out of her sheltered world into the Belfast slums to minister. Amy joined a friend whose father worked at the Belfast City Mission and together they visited the city’s darkest streets. Catherine also was subject of gossip as she let Amy go to enter the slums and invite the “shawlies” (poor girls who couldn’t afford a proper Victorian hat who wore shawls over their heads) to her meeting at church. While others considered this improper, Amy commented, “Maybe my mother believed in an angel guard.”
Her next opportunity to release her daughter came when a dear family fiend, Robert Wilson, invited Amy to live with him and his sons as his surrogate daughter. Amy was in her early twenties at this time and Wilson’s own daughter had died when she was Amy’s age. Catherine was so close to her firstborn and still needed Amy’s help, but out of sacrificial love she allowed her to go live with their dear friend. For three years God used Catherine’s sacrifice to provide Robert with a daughter’s love, to provide Amy with fatherly love, and to be spiritually mentored from this godly man, which was to prepare her for what would lie ahead.
But Catherine’s greatest act of motherly love was when she completely released her daughter to God when Amy heard His call to the mission field. With much prayer and soul-searching, Amy wrote a letter to her mother asking for her mother’s permission to follow God wherever He called. Catherine’s reply? Did she express shock at the news? Reluctance? Fear? Uncertainty? No. Catherine gifted Amy with a parental blessing. She wholeheartedly and unreservedly released her child to God. “Yes, dearest Amy, He has lent you to me all these years….my heart unfailingly says, Go ye.”
Catherine Carmichael was a mother who trained up Amy in the way she should go…then she lovingly let her go into God’s hands. And the world was changed.
Excerpt from “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Rules!”, by Patricia Chadwick, P.C. Publications, 2003. To purchase a copy of the ebook visit https://historyswomen.com/product/the-hand-that-rocks-rules/.