Monday, October 04, 2010

Women in Missions History: Dorothy Carey and Hannah Marshman

My organization's headquarters are located on a street they had built for the purpose and named "William Carey Drive." Having studied the life of William Carey I find the reference a bit ambiguous. Maybe appropriately so. Missions history is full of dubious, dangerous stories, and William Carey's life had more than a few of them.

I'm sure some of my colleagues around the world sometimes wonder if they are living a William Carey story. It might also be apt to see the Member Care department located on a side street called Dorothy Carey Lane...

Dorothy Carey

While William was an amazing pioneer, committed to working towards an invisible end, faithful in the face of adversity, brilliant, and loving towards those around him, his wife Dorothy did not do so well. She was among the sizable population of missionaries who go out ill equipped and poorly supported, and, like some of them, cracked under the strain. Following the death of a son she basically lost her mind. They didn't do much for her, just tried to keep her quiet. She was a huge burden on those around her.

After Dorothy's death, William remarried in what may have appeared unseemly haste. This time he was blessed with a woman who had proven she could handle life in India. I don't know much about Charlotte, or about wife #3, Grace - both widows - but neither experienced the tragic existence Dorothy did.


Like many of our missionaries today, William owes much of his success to a strong team. He worked more or less alone in the early years, and in the later ones he encountered irreconcilable differences, resigned from the mission he had founded, and set off by himself again. But for a fairly long season he was sustained by a community of faith that gathered around what went down in history as the Serampore Trio (William Carey, Joshua Marshman, and William Ward).

Hannah Marshman

Hannah Marshman, Joshua's wife, picked up so much of the slack that in a different time or place she would have been esteemed alongside the three men. She bore 12 children, raising the six survivors (!) as well as the Careys' boys - otherwise well on their way to hooliganism. She was largely responsible for setting up and running a ministry/business that did much to support the whole operation (a school for the mixed-race children of India-based Brits).

Like Dorothy, Hannah had begun marriage with no plans to be a missionary - in fact, making it a condition of her engagement that her future husband never require her to leave her homeland. (He had ideas about immigrating to America.) Yet the book Eminent Missionary Women (published by the Student Volunteer Movement in 1900) has this to say about Hannah:
“The first missionary to the women of India, and indeed, the first of all women missionaries in modern times, was Hannah Marshman. Born in England, she spent 47 years of a happy married life and a short widowhood in the Baptist brotherhood formed by her husband, Joshua Marshman, with Carey and Ward, in Serampore, Bengal…”

“She supplied to the brotherhood all the domestic comfort and much of the loving harmony without which her husband and Carey and their associates could not have accomplished half of what the Holy Spirit enabled them to do…”

“Never was there such a Martha and Mary in one as her letters prove her to be, always listening to the voice of the Master, yet always doing the many things he entrusted to her without feeling cumbered or irritable or envious.”
Can You Relate?

Hannah was quite a woman, eh? Myself, I find it easier to identify with Dorothy – pioneering in that way I’d probably just go nuts. Dorothy Carey does not get a chapter in Eminent Missionary Women! Few mission agencies today would have sent the Carey family to the field, or failed to bring them home after Dorothy's breakdown. What would you do?

1 comment:

Audrey Yu said...

In Carey's time, the Bible has not yet been translated to many languages, now we have online Bibles in virtually all languages in the world. In Carey's time, it was considered normal for Indian women to be burned at their husbands' death, now no government would condone such brutal abuse of human rights. In short, the presence of missionaries who were willing to sacrifice their lives no matter what the cost was much more necessary in Carey's time. Faced with the daily sight of injustice, cruelty, oppression and darkness, William Carey might have felt compelled to stay on to give light and hope to such a dark world, even after the death of his son and his wife's derangement. I doubt that mission conditions today would necessitate such sacrifice.