When my kids were little, a friend introduced me to the writings of Amy Carmichael. Carmichael’s young adult life was full of adventure as she traveled across the world and was part of a growing evangelism ministry in India. Then she started to shelter and raise young girls who were abandoned by their parents.
Carmichael remembered an Indian proverb “Children bind the mother’s feet,” and as the number of children grew, she wondered if it was right for missionaries like her to abandon blossoming public ministry to “become just nursemaids.”
In the end, she concluded, “If by doing some work which the undiscerning consider ‘not spiritual work,’ I can best serve others, and I inwardly rebel, thinking it is the spiritual for which I crave, when in truth it is the interesting and exciting, then I know nothing of Calvary love.” Her writings about the beauty of everyday faithfulness, especially in caring for children, were profoundly encouraging to me as I raised my own kids.
Church History, a new book by Simonetta Carr, tells dozens of stories about lives like Carmichael’s. It’s primarily a textbook for young readers, with lots of maps, illustrations, timelines, and helpful information about how the church grew. But it will inspire children and adults alike to serve God faithfully and live by his strength in their varied life circumstances.
Church History is a fascinating guide that shows young readers (and even not-so-young readers) how God has preserved His church from AD 30 to the beginning of the twenty-first century. Travel through time and all over the world as you meet the people, learn about the ideas, and understand the challenges that have shaped the history of the church. Maps, time lines, and colorful pictures on every page show you the important people, places, and events of church history.
Faith in Extraordinary Circumstances
Some of the people who influenced the church moved in the topmost tiers of society; some were born or raised to be emperors or popes. But most of the people Carr covers in Church History were ordinary people who followed God faithfully as he led them through extraordinary circumstances.
Most in the book were ordinary people who followed God faithfully as he led them through extraordinary circumstances.
In the mid-1700s, for example, a young boy was kidnapped from his home in Africa and sold into slavery. He became a Christian and eventually purchased his freedom. The faith he found amid these tragedies was sincere. He studied the Bible and evangelized people who crossed his path during his work as a merchant and consultant. Olaudah Equiano later wrote an autobiography of his life and faith that contributed to ending the slave trade in the British Empire.
During the Second World War, a music teacher at a Christian school in Korea heard that people in her area were being arrested for refusing to bow to the Japanese sun goddess. Esther Ahn Kim began memorizing Bible verses and then whole chapters of the Bible to prepare for the possibility she could go to jail if she was asked to bow. She ended up memorizing over 100 chapters of the Bible before she was arrested. She spent six years in prison, where she showed God’s love to her guards and fellow prisoners. After she was released, she came to the United States, went to seminary, married, and wrote a book called If I Perish about her experiences.
In these Church History stories and many others, the people involved didn’t seek, desire, or anticipate extraordinary lives. Their circumstances were upended, and the ways they responded to those circumstances provided opportunities to know God’s love and to live it out. God worked through their faithfulness in ways that influenced their times and continue to inspire readers like me to seek the Lord today.
Faith in Ordinary Circumstances
While stories about people who lived unexpectedly extraordinary lives are exciting, the many stories of people who served God faithfully in their mostly ordinary lives are equally compelling and inspiring. These are the stories of mothers, pastors, children, doctors, teachers, athletes, businessmen, and women who, like Amy Carmichael, did the inglorious work people around them didn’t want to do or asked the questions people around them didn’t want to ask.
For example, Macrina was engaged to be married in the fourth century, but her fiancé tragically died before their wedding. She decided to devote the rest of her life to caring for her family and for the poor, and along the way she freed her family’s slaves. Her actions greatly influenced the careers and writings of two of her brothers—Basil of Caesarea, who founded a hospital where Roman lepers, orphans, and the elderly could get free treatment, and Gregory of Nyssa, who was the first-known pastor to speak out publicly against slavery.
God worked through their faithfulness in ways that continue to inspire readers like me to seek him today.
Anne Bradstreet was a Puritan mother of eight children. She thought deeply about faith, marriage, motherhood, and being a grandmother; she also wrote poetry. She became the first published poet in America when her brother-in-law showed a manuscript of her work to an English publisher. Her poetry about godly life in the home is some of the loveliest I’ve ever read.
These people in Church History were willing to speak against scandals in the church at times when it was unpopular, even dangerous, to do so. They cared for plague victims in Venice and orphans in India. They ran Bible studies for factory girls in Wales and hosted teas for society women in Korea. These brothers and sisters sought to follow the Lord through everyday actions in whatever circumstances he gave them—loving their families, caring for people around them, encouraging their brothers and sisters, and persevering.
‘You’re Lifted Up’
Tim Keller once said he had a profound spiritual experience like the “joy” C. S. Lewis spoke of: a combination of thrill and longing. Keller’s joy came from an unexpected source:
When I started, of all things, reading church history, . . . I found I would come across passages that were just astounding to me. But more than astounding—they didn’t just surprise me—the same thing would happen. You’re lifted up. There’s an indescribable intensity, and it’s gone.
What Keller said sounds like my experience of reading about Amy Carmichael’s life as a young mother. Each of us plays a role in the story of Christ’s kingdom, and we can’t always see where that story will lead us or what it will require of us.
Church History inspires us, like the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews, to remember that God has been faithful in the past, and whatever circumstances we’re living in today, we can trust him with the future.