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Amy Carmichael :: Ponnamal—Chapter VIII: Carry On

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Dates fly from me, and I do not incline to pursue them. They do not seem to me essential to the spirit of a picture, and a picture of Ponnamal is what I want to make. But for the sake of those who esteem them and cannot be happy unless facts are fixed by these neat nails, I give forthwith those few which stand out clearest.

Between 1897 and 1905 we itinerated together. In September, 1905, Ponnamal went to take charge of the Nursery opened in Neyoor. In March, 1908, she returned to Dohnavur. On March 28, 1913, she went to hospital, struck down by cancer. From that on till August 26, 1915, she suffered.

The years that followed our gradual abandoning of the work which before had been meat and drink to us, and our equally gradual embarking upon what eventually proved to be too absorbing to leave room for anything else, do not melt, as the years before them do, in a golden haze; nor do they appear in the least as jewels pleasant to the sight. Rather are they as curtains of tapestry, with figures of glad and of sorrowful countenance worked on a background of dull drab. The canvas is rough to the touch, and I am too near the curtains to get the proper effect. I see the texture and detail, not the result. But such talk is folly. Who ever does in this life see the true result of his doing? His glooms and his glories he knows as he lives through them; sometimes the one, sometimes the other makes his day. The pattern they are weaving is hidden in confusion. And oftentime he is conscious of neither, being too tired out for any feeling but one of thankfulness for having got through. Those were the years when we seldom knew what it was to have an unbroken night's sleep, for little injured children came who needed constant care. And in the tropics it is very hard to go on without enough sleep.

What made it so difficult was that there was a constraint laid upon us to keep the work pure. In India the care of young children is not considered honourable work, and the kind of women willing to do it are not of a desirable character.

Once we were all but at the end of our strength. Shall we stop praying that children may be saved? the question almost shaped itself in that day of physical exhaustion. Prayer for helpers of the right sort had been answered by the Pastors, to whom we had sent a circular letter beseeching them to find us women of the kind we needed. 'No such women exist in the Tamil Church,' had been their calm, and as we were to prove, perfectly true reply. What were we to do? Cease to use means for the salvation of the children? Push them across the narrow space that lay between, into the arms of the Temple women, who never say, Enough? Or lower our standard and take anyone as worker who could be drawn by pay to do such work?

I can see Ponnamal now, as she stood one day wearily leaning against the nursery door, a slim, tired figure, with hands that for the moment hung limply down by her side. Then she looked up; our eyes met; each saw what the other saw, even the faces of little perishing children swept down by a black flood of waters. No, we could not slacken. But as to help?-a lower type of help would suffice for at least part of the work? We could neither of us deny that we were getting too near breaking down. We turned from the temptation, for such it was-we knew it even then to be that; and we knew it by a clearer knowledge afterwards. 'Let us work till we fall,' said Ponnamal; 'but do not let us have women in as nurses who will spoil the whole work.'

The band had scattered now, but we had a few of our own girls, converts who had been trained to honour work, and think no form of it common or unclean; and a few of the right mettle, fruit of fellow‐missionaries' labours, had come in from outside. But there are close‐set limits to the strength of a girl, and even when our welcome English nurse came out to our great help, the difficulty was not over, for an English woman in India cannot do all she would. Nor is it over yet; even as I write we are up against the question which yet can only admit of one answer. What shall we do? Each willing worker in the nurseries has as much as she can do. How can we go on growing? But we do go on.

One day-it feels like yesterday, but it is more than a year ago-I was much cheered by a visit from a mission school‐master, who, after seeing all round the place, exclaimed: 'And I hear you are short of workers. I will dedicate my eldest daughter to this work!' I asked him if his daughter were keen to do such work, and he looked a little shy, and also I thought a little young; still, looks are deceptive, and it is never wise to press matters in the East, or to be in any sort of hurry; so I left it and felt grateful. Ponnamal was ill then, and we all saved up our cheers for her; as soon as I could I took this one to her. She was much delighted, for we welcome warmly any indication of sympathy from our Tamil friends. 'Perhaps the time will come when many will feel like that,' she remarked hopefully, and we ate our little crumb of comfort greedily. A few weeks later we heard, and it really was rather a blow, that our sympathetic friend was not yet married.

We had, while the halo of the New was still upon us, some interesting offers of service both English and Indian.

'My friend is at present connected with another missionary society, but would be pleased to join you. She is forty‐five, very evangelical, and she cycles and sings.' 'It is more and more borne upon me that I am to come to you and help you in your noble work of rescuing those precious children' "or darling children, perhaps it was". 'In moments of depression I will whisper in your ear, Courage, brave heart!'-these are two of the most fondly cherished. And often even now in hours of pressure we recall the rejected offer from the very evangelical lady who cycled and sung. Would she do both at the same time and all the time, or alternately? we wonder, and we rebuke ourselves for having coldly regarded an offer to provide us with so exhilarating a spectacle, not to mention the assistance such an exhibition of cheerful agility would be in the practical work of life. And we remember too the whisper to whose tender ministry I had not inclined my ear. One day I tried its effect on Ponnamal, who was hot, and busy, and exceedingly worried over some bungling of her subordinates: 'Courage, brave heart!' She stared, too astonished for words. I am afraid that Dohnavur is not at all sentimental.

India's contributions to our necessities were oftener considered; for truly we sorely needed help, and a good, capable, middle aged pair of hands with a kind, sensible heart to direct them would have been acceptable many a time. But invariably after a few days, or, at longest, months, the owner of the hands we had so hopefully welcomed, and the heart we had imagined, discovered that it would be well 'to go and do God's work,' by which was meant become a religious instructor-the mouth in India being the member whose use brings most honour, and least of the arduous. Thus our halo faded, and we became quite commonplace, and only noted for the vice of being given to hard work, and an inconsiderate standard of truthfulness; altogether impossible people, and undesirable.

The toils of those years included for Ponnamal long journeys in the interests of children in peril. She was never robust, and the heat and racket and crush of the crowded trains, especially through night journeys, tried her very much. She would come back looking shaken to pieces, and disheartened perhaps by reason of failure; but always, when the next call came, she was ready for it. And such calls came frequently, for she was by far the most suitable for the peculiarly difficult work of child‐rescue-a work which demands, and especially demanded in its early precarious days, before that invaluable thing, a precedent, was established, high courage, and wisdom. A false move then, and we should all have been plunged in tribulation; worse by far, the newly launched little boat of the new endeavour would have been wrecked on the rocks that were never very distant. A single moment's hesitation, and under certain frequent circumstances another child would have floated downstream. As it was, with all our care, we had to stand helplessly by and see many such pass us for ever.

There was one over whom she mourned with me, a little Brahman child‐widow who got speech with one of us: 'Save me! I have heard of your religion, the Christian religion. They are taking me to a Temple house; I do not want to go. Save me! Make a way of escape for me that I may reach a Christian house.' She was spirited away; from town to town we traced her, then lost her in a Temple house in a South Indian city where, as one of its own Temple women told us, children are constantly adopted 'for Temple purposes.'

There was another, a charming child of seven or eight, who looked trustfully up at us and told us she was learning to dance, so that the gods might be pleased. Ponnamal dared much to save her; this work is full of the call to dare. But the child passed out of reach downstream.

And babies' faces we saw, and I see now. In the flesh I saw them first, in their white cotton hammocks, swinging in the dim low rooms of the Temple houses known to us. In the spirit I see them always on the black waters that flow without ceasing day and night through the midst of this sun‐filled land. But few see them, for most eyes are full of other sights. Be it so. We may not insist upon everyone's seeing such things; but we have seen, and the effect of such seeing is to cause those who have seen to feel that no passing weariness of the flesh or spirit can ever for one moment count as against the eternal importance of getting children out of the grasp of the gods. That for us was the only thing that mattered. So we laid hold together on the word that declares that He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken our mortal bodies; and we took it that if, for the right doing of the work set before us, a certain quickening was required in these our present mortal bodies, that quickening would be wrought in us by Him Who is not bound by time's to‐day or to‐morrow, being King of eternity. And I think it was wrought in us, or we could not have continued.

But our God was very kind to us: He sent us splendid help. I remember how Ponnamal searched the faces of the 'Sitties,' who one after another came to us through the years that followed. She was looking for that which we required-endurance, courage, a capacity for happiness, love. When she found it she was satisfied. 'God has chosen them each one,' she said to me as she lay dying; 'they will stand fast by you. I am not afraid to leave you to them; the anointing of their God is upon them.' For this work which gives so much more than anyone not in it will ever know-asks much, even all.

Ponnamal—Chapter VII: ‘Why Mens Honours Woman?’ ← Prior Section
Ponnamal—Chapter IX: ‘Nous’ Next Section →

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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