"While he labored in the distant land of India, back in England, William Carey had a sister whom he affectionately called Polly – Polly was bedridden and almost completely paralyzed for 52 years. William wrote to Polly all about the details of his struggle to create primers and dictionaries in the various Indian dialects, as well as the difficulty of figuring out how to get these books typed and printed. And with every letter from William that she received, Polly lifted these needs up before the Throne. Every day for 52 years, she faithfully prayed for her brother.
"Now I don’t have to tell you that really inspired me. There she is Polly for all intents and purposes a quadriplegic, unable to walk or use her hands. But that didn’t paralyze her prayer life. And, oh, were William Carey’s efforts blessed by God – not only was India reached for Christ, but what he did became a model for modern missionaries even to this day… all because a paralyzed woman prayed.
"A lot of people know about the work of William Carey, but not many people know about the sister behind the scenes whose prayers guaranteed the success of his efforts. Polly’s testimony tells me that the life of any Christian can have huge repercussions for the kingdom. Think of it: if God can use bedridden quadriplegics to open doors to the Gospel around the world, what can He do through your prayers?! Little wonder the Bible says, 'Pray without ceasing.' … for God knows what great things are accomplished when people pray."
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Teaching on Women in Missions
I need to brush up on this topic in preparation for teaching Perspectives classes this spring. One of the lessons I regularly teach is built around four men who are held us as "pioneers" of new ways of doing mission: William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Cameron Townsend, and Donald McGavran. Since all four men were married (Carey had three wives and Taylor and Townsend each had two), it's a cinch to fold in content about the eight women, and hard to resist adding in a few more women who were a significant part of their ministry teams.
I think it's important not to wave the "girl power" flag too briskly. It's too easy to send out a male-bashing message, and we certainly need more men who are willing to serve in missions even though they long been outnumbered by the women. Yet mission history is still typically written and taught with a focus on men, and the women's stories ought to be told as well.
For anyone who teaches this lesson and wants some ideas, here are a few of the women whose contributions I highlight. I've also blogged about some of them here, it's easy to find more material online, and I'm happy to share my teaching notes.
- William Carey: wives Dorothy, Charlotte, and Grace; teammate Hannah Marshman
- Hudson Taylor: mother Amelia, wives Maria and Jennie, teammate Emily, sister Amelia
- Cameron Townsend: wives Elvira and Elaine, niece Evelyn, the anonymous woman who told him he'd be a coward for going to war and leaving the women to carry out missions, and the teams of single women he sent out like Loretta Anderson and Doris Cox.
- Others: If there's time I usually fold in stories about Mary Livingstone, Mary Slessor, Ann Judson, Isabel Kuhn, Lottie Moon (and her sister who was a physician in the Middle East), and the women's societies formed to support missionaries and send out single women.