William Carey was born in a forgotten village in the dullest period of the dullest of all centuries. His family was poor, and he was poorly educated. A skin affliction made him sensitive to outdoor work, so he apprenticed to a nearby shoemaker. When he didn’t do well at cobbling, he opened a school to supplement his income. That didn’t go well either. He married, but his marriage proved unhappy. A terrible disease took the life of his baby daughter and left Carey bald for life. He was called to pastor a small church, but he had trouble being ordained because of his boring sermons.

Not a likely prospect to become the “Father of Modern Missions.”

But when Carey borrowed a copy of Captain Cook’s Voyages, the famous sailor’s journals gripped him, and he started thinking of overseas evangelism. On the wall of his cobbler’s shop he hung a homemade map of the world, jotting down facts and figures beside the countries. And he began to feel that something should be done to reach the world for Christ.

Until then most Protestants believed the Great Commission had been given only to the original apostles. Carey insisted it was binding on all succeeding generations of Christians, an idea that brought scorn from many preachers. He was called a “miserable enthusiast,” and at one Baptist meeting Dr. John C. Ryland, the man who had baptized him, said, “Young man, sit down! When God pleases to convert the heathen, he’ll do it without consulting you or me.”

The rebuke moved Carey to write a book, published on May 12, 1792: An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians, to use means for the Conversion of the Heathens in which the Religious State of the Different Nations of the World, the Success of Former Undertakings, and the Practicability of Further Undertakings, are Considered.

Despite its unwieldy title, this 87-page book became a classic in Christian history that deserves a place alongside Luther’s Ninety-five Theses in its influence on subsequent church history. It led to the formation of a missionary society, funds being collected in a snuff box. The proceeds were used to send Carey to India, launching the modern era of missions.

Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to do everything I have told you. I will be with you always, even until the end of the world. (Matthew 28:18-20)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). May 12.

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