A Living Legacy:
Amy Carmichael and the Origin of the Dohnavur Fellowship
Amy Carmichael was born in Ireland in 1867. At the age of 26 she was sent to Japan as a missionary. Her stay in Japan was shortened as a result of poor health and she returned to Great Britain in just under two years. She never actually received a "call" to go to India. Rather, she was advised that the climate in Bangalore, India, would benefit her health. She was 28 when she arrived in Bangalore--and began her ministry by traveling with several Indian sisters to the surrounding villages, sharing the Gospel message of hope. In these early travels she was exposed to the horrors of temple prostitution that many beautiful girls were subjected to--whether because of a "sacred vow" by family members or for money.
It was 1901 and Amy had just returned from a year of ministry to the villages when she was greeted by a sweet, seven-year-old girl, Preena (or "Pearl Eyes"). She had escaped from the temple and looked to Amy for help. Displeased temple people came screaming and yelling--but slowly their anger subsided and the crowd dispersed. Amy was left with Preena. And so began the work of what would later be known as Dohnavur Fellowship.
That work continues to this day. And the children still come--perhaps a dozen a year and they are continually praying for more. Workers frequently venture out for up to five days at a time, taking bus and train to follow up on leads for needy children. Sometimes the disappointment is great, as it is not at all uncommon for the responsible person to refuse to give up the child. Temple prostitution was officially outlawed in India in 1948. While not eradicated, it is considerably less common today. Yet children are still exposed to terrible evils--destitute poverty, absolute neglect or abandonment.
While central to what Dohnavur does is the accepting of needy children, it is not an orphanage at all. Rather, it is a family. Individuals are taken in as life members. All take on the family name Carunia--Tamil for "lovingkindness." Today there are around 500 people at Dohnavur; about one-fifth of them are retired house mothers who may have raised 40 or more children over the years. At one point, the family swelled to over 1,000. The area is huge--some 400 acres--with a hospital, 16 nurseries and other compounds.
The high times of the year are the festivals, most notably the birthday of Amy (or Amma, meaning mother), the feast for lepers (when some 400 guests come), the Christmas Day celebrations (when gifts are given to all) and, the most important, the Meetings of Vision. These are held for three days at the end of the year for former patients or others who have been reached in the villages. The hospital is vacated as much as possible to make way for sleeping quarters and food preparation for those who come. Guests come from great distances to hear the Gospel message and re-catch the Vision. Some have met Christ during their time in the hospital but many still have not entered the new life in Christ.
Dohnavur is situated in Tamil Nadu, just 30 miles from the tip of India. Sixteen hours by train from Madras, it was a safe, secluded place when Amma and friends decided to live there. It was named after an Anglican Bishop who built a church there. Now, "the village of Dohna" is a city with a bustling population, Hindu temples and the like. Indeed, the world has found Dohnavur.
From 1918 to 1982 Dohnavur accepted both boys and girls, with a number of boys subjected to the same horrors as the girls. Now, they only take baby boys for a short period of time, who are then adopted out. In order to help the young ones gain sufficient preparation for a good occupation (and to comply with Indian requirements), the children are sent to boarding school as they near the sixth grade level. The graduation certificate that they obtain is critical for them to get a job.
Today, the Dohnavur Fellowship is led by a totally Indian staff: doctors, nurses, dentists, housemothers, etc. One would not find more gracious, Christ-centered leaders than Dohnavur's current co-leaders--Nesaruthina and Sura. Nesaruthina was Dohnavur's first child to be sent to the University. Amidst many other earnest prayers, they hope for more of their old family--now scattered across India--to return with a heart to sacrifice in service for the Lord there at Dohnavur.
Amy's heritage was to be totally abandoned to the Lord Jesus, not to lead a life of ease, but to give one's life for others.