Recently the Cashlings and I read the biography of William Carey.
William Carey is known as the father of modern missions.
He was a visionary and a very hard worker. He and his family moved from England to India in 1778. On a ship. They took the LONG way around the world. Indeed.
(This is an interesting travel route to study in the same weeks I reserve plane tickets to take us halfway around the world in less than 24 hours. The Carey family traveled by ship for 7 months to reach India. We’ve come a long way, baby.)
Mr. Carey has listed among his vast accomplishments in India the translation of the entire Bible from English into Bengali. He preached, studied, taught in Universities, ran indigo dye plantations, translated many words and advocated for the practice of sati to be made illegal. His story is in many, many ways inspiring and directly influential to my adult life choices.
But one part of his biography has troubled me so very much.
Her name was Dolly.
William met Dolly at church in England. Dolly’s father was the leader of a dissenter church that William attended. Dolly was the middle child of three girls. Shy and quiet, she did not know how to read or write. (William would later teach her these skills.) William was six years younger than Dolly.
Dolly fell in love with William Carey, a shoemaker.
They married and settled into life in a tiny cramped cottage. They were thrilled to soon welcome a baby girl to their family. Her name was Ann.
Dolly loved and cared for Ann in a their damp, cold home. William made very little money. It is documented that Dolly, William and Ann lived on oatmeal and water for many days at a time. They did not even have proper bed covers to keep them warm.
William continued making shoes and took many opportunities to preach at dissenter churches. He was not paid for his preaching but was highly praised for it.
No one in their families knew how poor William and Dolly were.
When Ann was eighteen months old, she became extremely sick. William fell ill at the same time. Dolly did her best to care for them both.
Ann would not recover. She left the world and Dolly buried her alone. William was too ill to attend the funeral.
Dolly plunged into a deep grief. William’s mother came to help them for a time and William did recover from his illness. Dolly would eventually participate in caring for her home again, but life seemed to have evaporated from her and the depression, though sometimes concealed by the activities of life, was ever present.
God gave the Careys three more children. All boys. Dolly welcomed each one and cared for them while William pursued a life in ministry.
William pastored churches, taught school and began to develop a strong passion for
sharing the gospel on foreign soil.
Dolly lived her life, now as a pastor’s wife, with little say in William’s growing passion. He met with others interested in missionary work, wrote books and started committees. But this did not change much for Dolly. She lived in the poor, crowded pastor’s cottage and cared for their children.
Dolly bore another child for their family, a girl. They named her Lucy. She was a delight, and reminded them poignantly of Ann.
When Lucy was eighteen months old, she fell ill and did not recover. Dolly buried another baby girl.
Dolly tumbled headlong into a deeper grief that paralyzed her. William grieved deeply as well but jumped back into work to cope with the oppressive weight of loss. Dolly’s sister, Kitty, joined their family to care for the boys. Dolly was often unable to work or move.
Some time passed and Dolly became pregnant again. (The woman was broken and grieving but continued to get pregnant. I believe that is notable.)
As her abdomen swelled, William’s dreams did too. His professional pursuits encroached dramatically on Dolly’s shattered world.
William wanted to move to India. In fact in a room full of other men of like mind, he had already committed to the move and service in India before speaking to Dolly.
Maybe he wondered what she would think. Or maybe he was in denial of what he already knew.
Dolly was cautious and fearful. Nervous. Grieving and broken. And had never lived more than 30 miles from her birthplace.
And yet, William had agreed that he and his family would make this gigantic step across the continent.
From Dolly’s broken and tattered state, she spoke up. And refused.
“No!” Dolly would say to her husband.
“I do not want to go! I will not go!”
She is described as difficult, stubborn and unwilling.
I wish the biographers had just called her, Honest.
Honest was, perhaps, the most courageous thing this broken woman had.
Dolly was afraid of sickness. (Standing over the graves of two children lost to sickness will do that to a person.)
Initially, they decided that William would take one of their sons and go without Dolly and the others.
This decision was heartbreaking for William and for Dolly. They did not want to be apart. They also did not agree on where to live together.
William and their young son, Felix, depart and while they journey, Dolly delivers another baby (their sixth) and names him Jabez (sorrow).
The ship carrying William and young Felix is docked quickly after their official departure, which ultimately leads them back home to beg Dolly to reconsider, again.
When Dolly’s sister Kitty acceded to William’s pleas for help, Dolly is coerced by every person in her little world to accompany her husband on his mission.
She did get on board the ship. But things were going to become more difficult, not less.
She would face storm at sea, poverty, the death of another child, horrible sickness, the birth of another child and a completely foreign culture full of unknowns that incapacitated her.
One description of Dolly on a boat in India affected me deeply.
Dolly, along with several other members of the Carey family, developed horrible dysentery as their bodies tried to adjust to the new culture and cuisine of India. During one of their relocations within India, the Carey’s were suffering through a long boat ride in India’s terribly hot climate. Dolly and Felix were so sick with stomach ailments, they lay under the only shade in the middle of the boat for the several day trip.
Where were the toilets?
Dysentery is an awful sickness and accompanied by it’s constant companion, dehydration, can be completely debilitating. It is also, humiliating. Especially on a small boat that you cannot disembark, surrounded by all your family and the Indian boatmen who are moving you along the water.
Humiliating illness. Hunger. Depression. Massive culture shock. Alienation and loneliness.
Her ‘experience’ of foreign missionary work was oppressive and took many things from her, including her very mind.
But she would stay.
She really didn’t have any other choice.
William did have a choice. It is documented that Dolly was a “problem” to him and that he was encouraged by many to have her committed.
He outright refused.
Dolly and William lived in India, together, her confined to her bedroom and William working very hard to serve and to teach until Dolly died in December of 1807.
Each description of Dolly’s mental state feels like a personal blow to me.
I feel the often one-sided approach to this story very deep in my own psyche.
Is there room in our production focused/ results oriented reckoning to allow the broken to be heroes too?
I long for mercy, for this woman who paid an exorbitant price for her husband’s calling.
In this tiny corner of writing space that I have.
I will join my voice with others who may offer an understanding empathy to the suffering of Dolly Carey.
I acknowledge what she endured and was subjected to.
With kind regard, I esteem her for feeling alone. For enduring sickness. And insanity. For burying her children time and time again. For leaving and never seeing again the place of her birth.
For being forced to do what she didn’t feel called to do.
In recognizing her suffering and loss, I openly value her very important part of this missionary story.
I humbly suggest, that despite her documented weakness, she could be a hero too.
This venue of service bears high cost in many hidden ways.
Dolly Carey, I will honor your life when I speak of you.
*William Carey Obliged to Go by Janet & Geoff Benge; YWAM Publishing 1998.*Life of William Carey, Shoemaker & Missionary by George Smith C.I.E., LL. D.; First issue of this edition 1909 Reprinted...1913, 1922