Access, Affirmation, Action
It’s my birthday on the 17th August. I mention this not because I look forward to a flood of birthday wishes but because I have the privilege of sharing that day (but not the year!) with someone far more significant - William Carey who was born on 17th August 1761. I am well aware I have spoken and written about Carey before, but there is so much about him that warrants a further look.
He was born in a Northamptonshire village less than 10 miles from where I was born. He was apprenticed as a shoemaker but later made his way in the world as a lowly shoe repairer. Fast forward, and he became a young part-time Baptist minister, also working as a village schoolmaster and mending shoes. Remarkably for that time, he was self-taught in Botany and also language skills in both Greek and Latin. Together they proved an invaluable toolkit when later on he became the Baptist Missionary Society’s (BMS) first missionary to India. While still teaching, Carey had drawn his own wall map of the known 18th-century world for educating his pupils. This map was important later in forming his ideas of where he should travel. Were he to be deciding where he should travel today we might do well to think on where he might see the biggest need and so elect to go – could it be somewhere in this country for instance?
One of his early sermons, given in Nottingham in 1792 before he travelled to India, encouraged his Baptist colleagues to support him in the missionary enterprise with the words: "Expect great things; attempt great things".
Carey spent 40 years in India, teaching, preaching, translating the Bible, and setting up businesses, schools and a college. For 22 of these years a faithful secretary of the BMS, Andrew Fuller corresponded with Carey. In 1792 Carey had met with the four leaders of the BMS, including Andrew Fuller. Those men promised Carey that, “as he went forth in the Society’s name and their Master’s, they should never cease till death to stand by him.”
Andrew Fuller later described the occasion with an analogy. He said that the mission to India seemed like a few men who considered going into a deep, unexplored mine. It was as if Carey said, “Well, I will go down, if you will hold the rope.” The meeting, in Fuller’s mind, was as if he and the others gave their word that “whilst we lived, we should never let go the rope.”
There are three strands to that rope that remain true today. Mission organisations play an important role in providing Access for those with the appropriate skills to serve in an increasingly complex and dangerous world complete with new technical challenges for today’s missionaries too.
As a church we continue to Affirm those we support, not just financially but our engaging at a deeper and personal level is vital to them feeling secure in often challenging situations.
The third strand is Action. We should not be passive partners but seek out opportunities for one-to-one engagement and learning directly from those that serve elsewhere. In doing so we are encouraging opportunities for future mission workers to develop their skills and explore their calling.
As we slowly emerge from these difficult years in which Covid has dominated all our lives we do so into a world that has changed. However, those same strands of faith remain true for us as individuals and as a church and we can still "Expect great things; attempt great things," for God. When we do, even if we are not called or able to be on the front line ourselves we can still “hold the rope” complete with its access, affirmation and action strands for our mission workers, whether they serve overseas or much nearer home, and doing so is a vital part of their mission and ours.