On March 11, 1812, William Carey was teaching a class in Calcutta when a messenger from his home base in Serampore rushed into the classroom with devastating news. The evening before a fire had broke out in the large print shop where Carey supervised 20 Bible translators who were working on many Indian languages and dialects. The building was central to Carey’s missionary efforts. It measured two hundred feet by fifty feet, and housed all the paper, typesets, printing presses and other equipment that kept the translators, typesetters, compositors, pressmen, binders and writers busy.
Additionally, Carey’s entire library, his completed Sanskrit dictionary, part of his Bengal dictionary, two grammar books, and ten translations of the Bible went up in flames. The valuable paper that had just arrived from England, priceless dictionaries, important account books, and deeds were lost as the building burned to the ground.
When Carey rushed back to Serampore and surveyed the scene he broke down and cried. Then collecting himself he said, “In one short evening the labours of years are consumed. How unsearchable are the ways of God. I had lately brought some things to utmost perfection of which they seemed capable, and contemplated the missionary establishment with perhaps too much self-congratulation. The Lord has laid me low, that I may look more simply to him.”
Contrary to how some would respond, Carey did not let this seemingly insurmountable setback affect his resolve to fulfill his mission for Christ and India. He did not quit. He did not go home. He did not throw in the towel and give up on Bible translations. He did not fall into a debilitating depression. To the contrary, he sifted through the ashes, salvaging what little could be used and began re-establishing the printing house. Within months he set up shop in a warehouse. Friends and supporters in England and Scotland, upon hearing news of the destruction, raised all the funds he needed to resupply all that had been lost. Twenty years later, by 1832, Carey’s rebuilt and expanded printing operation had published completed Bibles or portions of the Bible in forty-four languages and dialects.
William Carey was a versatile mission leader. In the face of adversity he did not retreat. He models for us some principles on resiliency that can help us rebound and move forward, even when we may feel discouraged and are tempted to call it quits.
- Carey saw the big picture. He did not allow a narrow view of his particular ministry cause him to loose sight of God’s sovereignty. Even if he was forced to start over, he knew that God had bigger and better plans. He was not so focused on the trees that he lost sight of the forest – God’s grand scheme for India. He wrote, “…my faith, fixed on the sure Word, would rise above all obstructions and overcome every trial. God’s cause will triumph.”
- Carey was fully invested in his ministry. He had already lost a young son and a wife in India, and those were painful sacrifices. He was not going to allow the lost of material possessions, tools, and accomplishments to deter him from his resolve to serve God with abandon. For him, the fulfillment of his call from Christ was of greater importance than self-fulfillment. This setback was not going to derail him from that commitment.
- Carey saw the setback as an opportunity for improvement. He resolved to trust God that from the embers would come better linguistics and more scholarly translations. And so they did. Many of his translations are still the best today.
- The Lord laid him low so that he would look more simply to Him.
- In spite of the loss Carey never despaired but continued to move forward. He wrote, “There are grave difficulties on every hand, and more are looming ahead. Therefore we must go forward.”
Who among us has not been tempted to throw in the towel and just give up? The challenges, trials and setbacks in missions in general and mission leadership in particular, especially bring pressure to do so. Many mission leaders give up far too easily. Instead of staying the course, they divert to some other place. Instead of sticking it out, they bail out. Instead of moving forward, they move on.
Shortly before sailing for India, Carey penned a letter to his father in which he voiced his resolve to go forward in his calling no matter what challenge he would face. He wrote, “I hope, dear father, you may be enabled to surrender me up to the Lord for the most arduous, honorable, and important work that ever any of the sons of men were called to engage in. I have many sacrifices to make…but I have set my hand to the plough.”