The Amazing Story of India’s Unlikely Hero

The Amazing Story of India’s Unlikely Hero

Stories sometimes inspire—sometimes instruct. But, the stories that stick with you are the ones that amaze. You won’t easily forget this true story of the “Father of Modern Missions.”

Willie was a stuttering plodder.  The only job he could manage to get was as a shoemaker’s apprentice.  The only girl who would marry him was Dorothy, who suffered from mental illness.  But everything changed for Willie when he read a runaway bestseller.  Most folks who read Captain Cook’s Journal were captivated by the exploits of a daring explorer.  But Willie saw vast human needs in faraway places.  So he fashioned a crude globe from leather scraps, and stared at it day after day.  Finally, he sobbed, “Here am I, Lord.  Send me!”

Yet, Protestants were not sending foreign missionaries in the 1700s.  When Willie stammered out his vision at a meeting of Calvinistic Baptists, an old pastor angrily shouted, “Young man, sit down! When God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without you or me!”  Others tried to dissuade Willie by reminding him that he was a shoemaker saddled with a crazy wife.  Someone said, “Face it, William, you’re unfit.”  He stuttered, “B-b-but I c-c-can p-p-plod!”

For the next eleven years, Willie plodded until he could read the Bible in Latin, Greek, Dutch, and French.  He was finally licensed to preach.  When he wasn’t in the pulpit of his tiny church, he rode across England, stuttering a single message: “Expect great things from God.  Attempt great things for God.” Fortified by that credo, he gathered like-minded pastors to establish the Baptist Mission Society. Yet, he was so poor that he was unable to contribute a single penny to his new venture.

Somehow he managed to collect a handful of missionaries and pitiful resources to go to India.  In 1793 they might as well have been going to the moon.  His wife sat on the dock, refusing to leave.  Twice Willie had to get on his knees and beg her to board the ship.  When the missionaries arrived in India, Hindu radicals tried to kill them.  The British East Indies Company refused to let them travel inland.  Willie’s five-year-old son died, and Dorothy completely lost her mind.

Willie labored seven years before he saw his first conversion.  After twenty years, he had only a handful of converts.  His first wife died, and then his second.  But he continued to plod.  When he died in 1834, at age seventy-three, he had translated the Bible into thirty-four languages, founded India’s first college, established forty-five teaching centers, alleviated famine by teaching new agricultural methods, and labored tirelessly to free Indian women from the cruelest sorts of bondage.

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If you visit India today, you can find Willie’s statue near the nation’s parliament building.  Even Hindus celebrate him as one of their country’s greatest heroes. History recalls Willie by his proper name:  William Carey.  He has been dubbed the Father of Modern Missions.  But he would be more impressed to know that some 27 million Indians embrace Christ, and that there are five times more Evangelicals in India than in England.  Maybe you are just a plodder like Willie, or in a place as small as a village cobbler’s shop.  Yet, as long as you can plod, you can do so much more, if only you do what he did:

Expect great things from God.  Attempt great things for God.

William Cary’s is just another of so many amazing stories from history.  History is really His Story—God’s story.  It’s also your story.  I have spent my life collecting stories that have nourished my soul.  I am delighted that Tyndale has given me the chance to share some of them with you in The Book of Amazing Stories.

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The individuals in these stories come from various ages and from every walk of life.  Each has left deeply embedded footprints in our world, often in ways that astound.  Whether a particular story ignites your imagination, catches you by surprise, or unfolds an amazing secret that you never knew, it is my hope that you see God’s hand at work in the most unexpected ways and places.  Mostly, I hope that each story will inspire and encourage you to triumph over life’s challenges.  Maybe, as you read this unique devotional, you will discover that the great Storyteller is weaving together a wonderful story in your own life as well.

If he did all this for a plodding shoemaker, surely he can do it for you too!

For more stories like this, look for Robert Petterson’s book, The Book of Amazing Stories. Find out more about Bob Petterson at This article was originally posted on The Arc.