Carmichael, Amy

1867 - 1951
Missionary, Writer

Amy Beatrice- Wilson Carmichael was an Irish missionary, lovingly known as amma, (mother) to the orphaned, abandoned, and rescued children of the Dohnavur Fellowship, which she founded, in India’s southern tip, in the state of Tamil Nadu in 1901.

Amy was born in a devout Christian home, on December 16, 1867, in Northern Ireland’s Millisle, County Down, to David and Catherine Carmichael. Amy’s father had inherited the largest flour mill in the region. Eldest of six siblings, Amy spent a playful childhood, bordering on the reckless. She was notoriously known for stuffing her two brothers through the skylight onto the sharply sloping slate roof of their house, before climbing on herself.

When Amy was fifteen, the family moved to Belfast. Amy attended the Wesleyan Methodist boarding school at Harrogate. In a teens camp conducted at school, while everyone sung `Jesus loves me, this I know’ Amy made a personal commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Amy’s playful childhood soon transformed to teenage years burdened by the weight of responsibility. David Carmichael suffered reverses in his business, from which he never recovered, and passed away at age – 54. The natural leader in Amy hastened to support her mother in looking after the large family. The spark of the spiritual experience which began in the teens camp continued wasn’t snuffed out, despite seeming setbacks. Amy initiated a weekly club to kindle an interest in the `things of God’, for her siblings and neighbourhood children.

One Sunday, on their way back from church Amy and her two brothers stopped to help a poor dishevelled old woman bending double under the weight of a sack. While her brother carried the load, Amy supported the old woman and held her by her frail arms. The Carmichael children in their Sunday best were a spectacle to the others.

As they passed a water fountain, Amy had a flash of an epiphany and “heard” a voice, “Gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it. Because it shall be declared by fire, and the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide, he shall receive a reward”. [1] No sooner did Amy “hear” the divine impression of 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, that the “voice” was gone. And though Amy later recalled that "the ordinary was all around us", this was far from ordinary. In her own words, “Something had happened that it changed life’s values. Nothing could ever matter again, but the things that were eternal”. [2]

Later that afternoon, Amy knelt by her bedside and prayed and settled once for all, her absolute surrender to the Master’s call. On Sundays she would go door to door and invite children home for a children’s meeting. Mondays were dedicated to teaching poor boys in an evening school. On other evenings Amy visited the slums with the Belfast city missions. She initiated a club, “Morning Watch”, to encourage children including her brothers to spend time in Bible study and prayer.

During that time Amy felt a particular burden for a group of girls called the “Shawlies”. These girls worked fourteen hours a day at the Belfast mills. The “Shawlies” were so poor that they could not afford hats to cover their heads and wrapped themselves in shawls. Amy invited them to church, much to the chagrin of the respectable middle-class congregation. As their numbers grew Amy sensed the lack of welcome and the need for a separate facility for the “Shawlies” to worship.

Amy began to pray. And shared her burden with a friend, Kate Mitchell, who suggested a facility called the Tin Tabernacle. Amy purchased it for 500 pounds and the re-named it the “Welcome Home”.  It was not just a Sunday worship centre. The young women could come, enjoy some recreation and learn skills. The Welcome Home is today, the Welcome Evangelical Church, on the corner of Cambrai Street and Heather Street in Belfast.[3]

In 1881, when Amy was 20 years old, the money left by her father vanished, because of the prevailing economic downturn.[4]

While the brothers moved to the US, Canada, and South Africa to make a new living, Amy and her mother moved to Manchester, in the UK. Typical of Amy, she found a mission in every situation. This time it was the slums in the textile city, that she took the gospel to. To be closer to the mill workers, Amy moved into a run-down apartment infested with cockroaches. Amy threw herself into the task at hand, but at the expense of her health. She soon developed a painful condition known as neuralgia. With mixed feelings, Amy left Manchester to convalesce at the home of a family friend, a Mr. Robert Wilson, who had lost his wife and daughter. Mr. Wilson played a key role in organising the Keswick convention and Amy was soon drawing on a multi-denominational experience which cemented her convictions for the years to come.

Amy spent a refreshing two years here, recovering and seeking the Lord in prayer. One day she heard an audible voice telling her, “Go yea”. Amy remembers, that the words were as clear as if her mother had said it. [5]

The next day Amy wrote her mother with a heavy heart - at the thought of leaving her and her father-figure, Mr. Wilson. Certain that this was the voice of the Lord, Amy still had an important part of the puzzle to solve – where? Because of Hudson Taylor’s close association with Mr. Wilson, Amy assumed it was China she had to go to. But after she made arrangements, the China Inland Mission refused to accept Amy, because of her health condition.

A perplexed Amy waited. Exactly one-year later she boarded a ship to Japan. Though it remains a mystery as to why the call didn’t have a location, Amy recalls that she learnt precious lessons on her detours to India. In Japan, Amy was witnessing to an old woman, who seemed to have caught onto the gospel message. But at a critical juncture in the conversation, just when Amy thought the woman would make a commitment, the woman passed a flattering comment on the gloves that Amy was wearing. The conversation never quite got back on track. And Amy made a decision. To always dress according to the local customs in order to not cause any distraction.

Fifteen fruitful months followed in Japan, where a kimono clad Amy was successful in sharing the message of the gospel. It was in Japan that Amy sought the Lord about her marriage. The story goes that it may have been in the light of a relationship. Convinced that the Lord wanted her to remain single, Amy surrendered her desire.

Amy’s health continued to be a concern. Determined to remain on the mission field, Amy opted for a change of scene to Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) and its warmer weather that would help her recuperate. Reluctant to return home to England for rest though, a letter informing that Mr. Wilson had suffered a stroke prompted Amy to rush back. But it was to be a short visit.

The indefatigable missionary knew she had to be on the field. This time it was India; commissioned by the Church of England’s Zenana mission. [6]

In 1895, Amy made a journey to India, never to return. Learning from her experience in Japan, Amy now changed attire to a sari and learnt Tamil. While most of her missionary compatriots dissuaded her sartorial style, a missionary couple, the Walkers (Rev.Thomas and his wife) shared her burden. They took her to the deep southern district of Tirunelveli.

As an itinerant missionary, Amy found considerable success. Women who faced persecutions, threats to their life and rejection from their families, on account of their new-found faith came to Amy and wanted to be with her. The group started going around in bullock carts and preaching the gospel. Amy had a name for them, the “Starry Cluster”, an epithet taken from Daniel 12:3. Ponnamal, [7]a widow whose in-laws had made her a slave after her husband’s death and Selamuthu, another woman who had lost her arm and was considered useless, were key figures in the “cluster”.

Amy’s open air preaching attracted children and teens to the gospel and some of them faced considerable opposition from parents and relatives. Arulai a young girl was among the first. Her cousin a young boy, Aruldasan was tied to a pole to get him to recant. Amy was labelled, a “child catcher”. But it was seven-year old Preena (pearl-eyes) who would change Amy’s life forever. Preena was offered to the temple as a devadasi (servant of God, a euphemism for a cult prostitute) by her mother in fulfilment of a vow. Preena had run away on more than one occasion but her mother always handed her back to the temple women who came after her.

This meant Preena was watched all the more closely. But Preena had heard of the woman with the “magic dust” (which she used to draw children’s hearts to her) and decided that probably that was a better option. She found another opportunity when the thick double-doors of the temple were open and made a dash for her freedom. Running through the coconut groves, she chanced upon a woman and asked her to take her to this foreign woman. In God’s sovereignty, Amy who was out preaching decided to return to the village that evening. Next day early in the morning while Amy sat in her verandah having breakfast, Preena climbed onto her knees and said, “I want to stay here always. I have come to stay”. [8]

Amy got to the bottom of the devadasi system. She coloured her skin with coffee, dressed in a sari and along with a few companion women visited the temple precincts. Amy wrote about her findings in a book, Things as they are; mission work in southern India. Soon she was convinced about having a refuge home for these children.

As her ministry grew teenage girls and women who wanted an escape from their situations also joined in. Meanwhile Amy acquired land in Dohnavur and work began on the facility. The name derives from Count Dohna, who initially funded German missionaries at the site in the early 19th century, on which the Rev. Thomas Walker then established a school.[9]

The home began taking in children from 1901. In the early days many children died because of tropical illnesses. And amma wanted to build a hospital. At the same time, Rev.Walker of the church, where Amy took the children and others for worship, suggested they build their own church as the growing community often crowded out the village folk. Debating between a hospital or a chapel, Amy was led to build a “House of Prayer”, a beautiful Chinese-Travancore- Gothic architecture chapel, which is today a chief attraction on the campus.[10]

In 1912, money and workers were available that helped fund a hospital. By 1913, the Dohnavur Fellowship housed 140 children, which soon grew to 900 in Amy’s lifetime. In 1918, Dohnavur added a home for young boys, many born to the former temple prostitutes. Meanwhile, in 1916 Amy formed a Protestant religious order called Sisterhood of the Common Life.[11]

One evening in 1931, Amy was inspecting a construction site in the cooler hills surrounding Dohnavur, where bungalows were being built to give the community respite from the blazing summer heat. The twilight hours with reduced visibility proved hazardous and Amy fell into a pit. A fall from which she never fully recovered.

The next twenty years were spent in her room, reading, praying and writing. Over the next twenty years she seldom left her room and wrote 13 of the nearly 40 books she has written.[12]

A missionary doctor Nancy Robbins, from Dohnavur remembers Amy confined to her room, suffering from arthritis, rheumatism, and a lack of appetite. Though Amy was self-effacing and didn’t want to talk about her ailments, she was worn out. On January 18, 1951, Amy Carmichael quietly passed away. Laid to rest in what she called “God’s Garden”; a bird fountain with an inscription, Amma marks Amy’s burial site.[13]

Dohnavur Fellowship continues Amy’s legacy. The 120 acre sprawling campus today houses homes for children at risk, a hospital, a house of prayer, dairy, and two schools.   


  1. ^ "Amy Carmichael: Mother to the Motherless" @Visionvideo, January 17, 2022, Video, 0:06:27,
  2. ^ "Amy Carmichael: Mother to the Motherless" Video, 0:07:15,
  3. ^ Wikipedia, 2023, "Amy Carmichael", Wikimedia Foundation, Last modified November 25, 2023,
  4. ^ Wikipedia, 2023, "Long Depression", Wikimedia Foundation, Last modified September 29, 2023,
  5. ^ "Amy Carmichael: Mother to the Motherless", Video, 0:13:20,
  6. ^ Wikipedia, 2023, "Amy Carmichael". 
  7. ^ Carmichael, Amy; 1918, Ponnamal: Her Story, 1st ed. London: Morgan & Scott. 
  8. ^ Carmichael, Amy; 1905, Things As They Are: Mission Work in South India, 161, 1st ed. London: Morgan & Scott.
  9. ^ Wikipedia, 2023, "Amy Carmichael”.
  10. ^ "The House of Prayer", @TheDohnavurfellowship, November 17, 2023, Video, 0:01:31,
  11. ^ Beaty, Katelyn; "Reading Amy Carmichael Today", Plough, March 2, 2020,
  12. ^ White, Lisa B; "Carmichael, Amy Beatrice (1867-1951)", BU School of Theology,
  13. ^ "Amy Carmichael: Mother to the Motherless", Video, 0:54:32,

Philip Malayil

The writer is the coordinator for the South Asia region for


Books authored: Digital texts

Carmichael, Amy. From the Fight. London: Church of England Zenana Missionary Society, 1887.

_____. From Sunrise Land: Letters from Japan. London: Marshall Brothers, 1895.

_____. Things as They Are; Mission Work in Southern India . London: Morgan and Scott, 1905.

_____. Overweights of Joy. London: Morgan and Scott, 1906.

_____. Lotus Buds. London: Morgan and Scott, 1910.

_____. The Continuation of a Story. London: Dohnavur Fellowship, [1914?].

_____. Walker of Tinnevelly. London: Morgan and Scott, 1916.

_____. [Thomas] Ragland, Pioneer. Madras: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge Depository, 1922.


Carmichael, Amy. Ponnamal, her Story. London: Morgan and Scott, 1918.

_____. Tables in the Wilderness. London: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, 1923.

_____. Raj, the Brigand’s Story. London: Seeley Service, 1927.

_____. The Widow of the Jewels. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1928.

_____. From the Forest. London: Oliphants, 1930.

_____. Gold Cord, the Story of a Fellowship. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1932.

_____. Rose from Brier. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1933.

_____. Gold by Moonlight. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1935

_____. Toward Jerusalem. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1936.

_____. Figures of the True. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1938.

_____. Edges of His Ways: Selections for Daily Reading; London: SPCK, 1957.

_____. Thou Givest, they Gather. Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1958.

_____. Mimosa, who was Charmed. Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1963.

_____. Candles in the Dark: Letters of Amy Carmichael. London: Triangle, 1981.

___. Whispers of His Power: Selections for Daily Reading. London: Triangle, 1982.


Elliot, Elisabeth. 2005. A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Revell.

"Amy Carmichael: Mother to the Motherless". @Visionvideo, January 17, 2022.

Beaty, Katelyn. "Reading Amy Carmichael Today". Plough, March 2, 2020.….

"The House of Prayer". @TheDohnavurfellowship, November 17, 2023.

White, Lisa B. "Carmichael, Amy Beatrice (1867-1951)". BU School of Theology.….

Wikipedia, 2023. "Amy Carmichael". Wikimedia Foundation. Last modified November 25, 2023.