Posted in theology

“If” then, and “If” now

By Elizabeth Prata

Amy Carmichael was a missionary to India, arriving in 1895 to Dohnavur, just 30 miles from India’s southern tip. Once in South India she began evangelizing women and learning the difficult Tamil language. She developed a special burden for the many children who were dedicated by their parents to temple life, which included prostitution, and committed herself to rescuing them. She would travel long distances on hot, dusty roads just to save one child. Over her years there she saved over 1000 children from a dissipated, amoral, and spiritually barren life.

She retired from active missionary life in 1931 due to ill health, but remained in country, writing, helping incoming female missionaries, and encouraging those around her until her death in 1951. Amy wrote nearly 40 books, and penned hymns and songs, too. She died in 1951, having expended her life in sacrificial love for her Savior and through her work with missions in a difficult, dusty, hot country. She served there for 55 years, without furlough. Above, Amy with children, source Wikimedia.

While serving in India, Amy received a letter from a young lady who was considering life as a missionary. She asked Amy, “What is missionary life like?” Amy wrote back saying simply, “Missionary life is simply a chance to die.”

Dohnavur, India. Photo source

One of her writings was a short book about Calvary love in common life. Based on 1st Corinthians 13, it’s simply titled, If. It’s a little book with a huge understanding of what Calvary love means in our everyday lives. The book is a beloved classic, and quite powerful. The book is based on a series of If – Then statements. Here are a few excerpts:

Amy Carmichael’s If – Then statements encapsulating her life’s aim–

If I love to be loved more than to love, to be served more than to serve, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If a sudden jar can cause me to speak an impatient unloving word, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If souls can suffer alongside, and I hardly know it, because the spirit of discernment is not in me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I belittle those whom I am called to serve, talk of their weak points in contrast perhaps with what I think of as my strong points; if I adopt a superior attitude, forgetting, “Who made thee to differ? And what hast thou that thou has not received?” then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I can easily discuss the shortcomings of any; if I can speak in a casual way of a child’s misdoings, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I rebuke without a pang, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I find myself taking lapses for granted, “Oh, that’s what they always do,” “Oh, of course she talks like that, he acts like that,” then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I can enjoy a joke at the expense of another; if I can in any way slight another in conversation, or even in thought, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I can write an unkind letter, speak an unkind word, think an unkind thought without grief and shame, then I know nothing of Calvary love.


Cut to 80 years later. There is a different sort of woman now, the women who create ministries apart from any church. Whose aim is to raise up women to lead (not to serve? Not to die?). Who delight in promoting their ministry with softened photos of feminine tables on manicured lawns, laid with china and fresh cut flowers.

This is a different sort of woman from Amy Carmichael, whose life among the dusty-hot roads of Tamil Nadu meant hardship and sacrifice. These are more modern evangelical-ish women, laughing joyfully as they skip through shallow Bible studies and look forward to being the next generation of leaders. These women have an If-Then statement too. Here it is.

If God is real…then what?

I wonder what Amy would have thought about their IF-Then statement. Perhaps she had women like these in mind when she wrote:

We [Protestants] have had some who have gone back to the early ideal, and lived it out. But they have had to press through the solid weight of modern Christianity, a sort of piled up decorousness, comfortableness, utter negation of the Cross as lived, shocked surprise at the bare thought of that.

It’s good to look back and see where we were and look at now and see where we are. The incremental creep away from biblical living and Calvary loving is hard to detect unless one deliberately shocks the system with cold, hard facts like this comparison between Amy Carmichael’s If-Then statements of Calvary love, and the foundational premise of a ministry based on doubting that God is even real.

Paul wrote, Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1). We all have a choice in who to imitate.

A South India street, circa 1900, from book Things as They Are, by Amy Wilson-Carmichael