When God Turns Tragedy into Triumph

When God Turns Tragedy into Triumph

From The One Year Book of Christian History by Michael and Sharon Rusten


William Carey, often called the “Father of Modern Missions”, dedicated his life to spreading the gospel in India. Serving as a missionary there from 1793 until his death in 1834, he never took a furlough.

Although he had little formal education, Carey was a gifted linguist who learned dozens of languages and dialects. His goal was to translate Scripture into as many Indian languages and dialects as possible. In order to meet this goal, Carey supervised the creation of India’s first printing press. He established a large print shop in the city of Serampore, where he did his Bible translation. The building was two hundred by fifty feet, and twenty translators worked there in addition to typesetters, compositors, pressmen, binders, and other writers.

On March 11, 1812, Carey was teaching in Calcutta. While he was gone, a fire started in the printing room. His associate, William Ward, smelled smoke and called for help. Despite many hours of exhaustive efforts to fight the fire, the building burned to the ground. Just five pieces of equipment were saved.

William Carey (1761-1834)

Carey’s entire library, his completed Sanskrit dictionary, part of his Bengal dictionary, two grammar books, and ten translations of the Bible were lost. Gone also were the type sets for printing fourteen different languages. Vast quantities of English paper, priceless dictionaries, deeds, and account books were all gone.

Another missionary interrupted Carey while he was teaching a class in Calcutta to inform him of the stunning and tragic events of the day before. When Carey returned to Serampore and surveyed the scene, he wept and said, “In one short evening the labours of years are consumed. How unsearchable are the ways of God. I had lately brought some things to the utmost perfection of which they seemed capable, and contemplated the missionary establishment with perhaps too much self-congratulation. The Lord has laid me low, that I may look more simply to him.”

Although he was heartbroken, he did not take much time to mourn. With great resiliency Carey wrote, “The loss is heavy, but as traveling a road the second time is usually done with greater ease than the first time, so I trust the work will lose nothing of real value. We are not discouraged; indeed the work is already begun again in every language. We are cast down but not in despair.”

Carey resolved to trust God that from the embers would come a better press and more scholarly translations. Within a few months Carey had set up shop in a warehouse.

Little did Carey know that the fire would bring him and his work to the attention of people all over Europe and America as well as India. In just fifty days in England and Scotland alone, about ten thousand pounds were raised for rebuilding Carey’s publishing enterprise. So much money was coming in that Andrew Fuller, Carey’s friend and a leader of his mission in England, told his committee when he returned from a fund-raising trip, “We must stop the contributions.” Many volunteers came to India to help as well. By 1832 Carey’s rebuilt and expanded printing operation had published complete Bibles or portions of the Bible in forty-four languages and dialects.

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