March 11, 1812 – Serampore, India: The fire started in the print shop in the late afternoon and the staff was only able to save a few financial records. The shop was a total loss. The fire destroyed many Indian Bible translations, dictionaries in several Indian dialects and thousands of reams of essential documents. All total, 15 years of missionary work went up in flames.
At the time of the fire, William Carey, who built the print shop, had been 20 miles away in Calcutta. The next morning when his assistant told him the news, Carey sat down and did not speak for several minutes. “The loss is heavy,” Carey resolved, “but as traveling a road the second time is usually done with greater ease and certainty than the first time, I trust the work will lose nothing of real value. We begin again.”
Born in England in 1761, William Carey was a struggling shoemaker turned Baptist preacher. Gifted at learning languages, he taught himself Hebrew and Greek, and could read seven languages. At age 28, he became pastor of his first church, Harvey Lane Baptist, in Leicester.
Over the years, Carey became a strong advocate of The Great Commission, believing it was a command for every Christian. In 1792, at a Baptist ministers meeting, Carey submitted a proposal that the local churches partner and send missionaries to Africa and Asia. A senior pastor admonished him, “Sit down, young man! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he’ll do it without consulting you or me.”
Undaunted and burdened for “the heathen,” in October 1792 Carey organized the Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Amongst the Heathen and 12 preachers signed the partnership agreement. A year later Carey, along with his wife and four children, arrived in Calcutta, India – the first missionaries from the organization and the first ever in India.
Carey discovered there were many different languages and dialects spoken across the country of 200 million people. To reach the nation with the gospel, he would need to translate Bibles. Carey brought the first printing press to India and began to assemble a team who helped him translate the Bible into the different languages.
Living in India proved much more challenging than Carey expected. A son died of dysentery and his wife suffered from mental illness and later had to be confined to an asylum. Carey didn’t baptize his first believer, Krishna Pal, a Hindu, until seven years after arriving.
After the fire, Carey returned to Serampore. He was thankful that the printing presses were in an adjacent building had not been damaged. Within six weeks, Carey was printing copies of the Bible in two languages. The disaster proved to be a blessing. When news of the fire reached England donations poured in and other missionaries came to India to help Carey rebuild the print shop. Over the years, the mission started 25 churches, 125 schools, medical facilities and Serampore College to train ministers.
William Carey served the people of India for 41 years until his death in 1834 and during that time he never took a single leave back to England. Carey and his team printed all or part of the Bible in 44 Indian languages and dialects. Of his life, he reflected, “If He (God) gives me credit for being a plodder, He will describe me justly. I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”
Today, almost 230 years later, William Carey is known as the Father of Modern Missions. The organization he started, the Baptist Missionary Society World Mission, is headquartered in Didcot, England. It supports missionaries in some of the toughest places on earth across Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East, focusing on church planting, health, education and disaster relief.
“I’m not afraid of failure; I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” William Carey