Guest Post

God, My All-Sufficient Portion: How William Carey Found Strength to Plod

William Carey’s heart raced as he leaned against the railing of the Kron Princess Maria. The winds and tides had finally allowed the Danish ship to enter the Bay of Bengal on November 11, 1793. In the distance, Carey caught his first glimpse of the shores of India. He hoped it would not be his last. Beside Carey, Dr. John Thomas fidgeted. On his last stint in India, Thomas had incurred outstanding debts—debts he had failed to mention to his new coworkers. Soon, a flotilla of smaller boats surrounded the ship, their onboard hawkers clamoring to sell fish and other goods to the foreigners.

As the ship entered the Hooghly River on its way upstream to Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), thirty-two-year-old Carey, his wife Dorothy, his children, his sister-in-law, and Dr. Thomas kept alert. Before reaching the dock and the required inspection, they slipped into a smaller boat which whisked them away. The British East India Company patrolled the harbor and sought to turn away any foreigners who could potentially interfere with their profit. Soon, the new arrivals mingled with the locals in a bustling market. The first missionaries of a new era had arrived on their field.

Alone and in Need

Though safely past the watchful eye of the British East India Company, Carey’s difficulties had just begun. Almost immediately, he discovered that daily expenses would far exceed their estimates. Then, his coworker, Dr. Thomas, panicked as creditors learned of his return to Kolkata. Thomas took the team’s remaining money and used it to set up a medical practice for European colonials to pay off his debts. In a letter that would not reach his supporters in England for many months, Carey wrote, “I am in a strange land alone, with no Christian friend, a large family, and nothing to supply their wants [needs].” [1] The outlook seemed bleak.

For the next seven years, Carey and his family moved from one location to another as he tried to make ends meet, learn Bengali, translate the New Testament, and preach the gospel to anyone who would listen. Dorothy Carey and her sister, who accompanied the family to India, hated their new life. To make matters worse, Dorothy and their son Peter fell ill with severe dysentery. Peter soon died, and Dorothy began her descent into insanity. 

Solace in the Promises of God

As trial after trial rocked his life, Carey kept his eyes on the goal: “What is there in all this world worth living for, but the presence and service of God? I feel a burning desire that all the world may know this God, and serve Him.” [2] Every morning, Carey sought the presence of God. Every day, he strove to serve His Savior.

On January 17, 1794, Carey wrote in his journal: 

Went to Calcutta to Mr. T [Thomas] for money but to no purpose—Was very much dejected all day. Have no relish for anything of the world, yet am swallowed up in its cares—Towards Evening had a pleasant View of the all-sufficiency of God, and the stability of his promises which much relieved my mind—and as I walked home in the Night, was enabled to roll my Soul, and all my Cares in some measure on God; on my coming home I found all much more calm that I expected; for which I bless God—and pray that he may direct us into the patient waiting for Christ. [3]

Despite his abysmal circumstances and lack of key resources, Carey found his sufficiency in God.

Encouragement in the Character of God

In desperation to feed and house his family, Carey moved east of Kolkata and took up farming in Debhatta near the border of modern-day Bangladesh. All the while, his wife’s mental condition deteriorated. On April 14, 1794, though struggling with discouragement, Carey again commented in his journal on God’s all-sufficiency: 

Still a time of Enjoyment of God; I feel that it is good to commit my Soul, my Body, and my All into the hands of God. Then the World appears little, the Promises great, and God an all-sufficient Portion. [4]

The next day, despite the tigers that roamed the fields and jungles of Debhatta, Carey ventured outdoors to spend time with God: “Bless God, that His presence is not departed. This evening, during the approach of a violent storm of thunder, I walked alone, and had very sweet converse with God in prayer.” [5] The power to plod came from his consistent walk with God. . . . [6]

Experience of the Faithfulness of God

The barren years would end in late 1799, not long after the arrival of teammates William Ward and Joshua Marshman. However, Carey would never forget what God taught him while he struggled alone those first seven years. By December 1800, Krishna Pal would come to Christ, the first of hundreds of Indians who would convert to Christianity during Carey’s lifetime. [7]

Furthermore, Carey’s example would revolutionize Christianity’s approach to missions. In the decade after the establishment of Carey’s Baptist Missionary Society, his work in India would inspire the establishment of no less than five new mission boards in the United Kingdom and the first missionary society in the United States. [8] By obeying the Great Commission and relying on God, this former shoemaker launched a gospel movement that would spread around the world. 

God, My All-Sufficient Portion

In times of distress, God is our all-sufficient portion. In his journal, Carey repeatedly claimed this promise as he depended on God. The psalmist Asaph testifies in Psalm 73:26: “My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Jeremiah concurs in Lamentations 3:24: “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!” In the Old Testament, God chose the tribe of Levi to serve Him. Unlike the other eleven tribes, the Levites received no portion of land to cultivate for their livelihood. Instead, the Lord told them, “I am your portion and your inheritance” (Numbers 18:20). God promised to care for Levites as they worked for Him.

Is God Your Portion?

Today, when you say the Lord is your portion, you are saying that, even if you lack in other areas, just having God is enough. Trust Him to supply your needs. Look to Him to sustain you through trials. Labor for Him, not for temporal possessions or earthly success. As your all-sufficient portion, God is worthy of your dependence on Him.

This post is an excerpt from Day 1 of Daring Dependence, our new missions devotional by M. R. Conrad. The book highlights thirty other snapshots of missionaries from the past, including Gladys Aylward, Samuel Zwemer, Hudson Taylor, Ann Judson, Oswald Chambers, and Jim Elliot. 

[1] John Clark Marshman, The Life and Times of Carey, Marshman, and Ward, vol. 1 (London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts, 1859), 65.

[2] Brief Narrative of the Baptist Mission in India (London: Button and Son, 1810), 14.

[3] William Carey, The Journal and Selected Letters of William Carey, Terry G. Carter, ed. (Macon, GA: Smyth and Helwys, 2000), 9.

[4] Eustace Carey, Memoir of William Carey (Boston: Gould, Kendall and Lincoln, 1836), 113.

[5] Ibid.

[6] On June 12, 1806, Carey described the beginning of his typical day: “I rose this day at a quarter before six, read a chapter in the Hebrew Bible, and spent the time till seven in private addresses [in prayer] to God and then attended family prayer with the servants in Bengalee.” Letter to John Ryland quoted in Timothy George, Faithful Witness: The Life and Mission of William Carey (Birmingham, AL: Christian History Institute, 1998), 147.

[7] Marshman, 89.

[8] The mission societies inspired by Carey’s work included the London Missionary Society (1795), the Scottish and Glasgow Missionary Societies (1796), the Church Missionary Society (1799), the Religious Tract Society (1799), and the British and Foreign Bible Society (1804). Across the Atlantic, Samuel Mills would push for the founding of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (1810) which soon thereafter sent out Adoniram Judson, the first American sent as a foreign missionary.