And Then They Sang A Hymn
The following is taken from Amy Carmichael’s book, Things as They Are: Mission Work in Southern India. It is easy to see why it caused such an uproar in the western Christian world. For many in the early 1900s, missions was considered a distasteful necessity requiring careful discussion. Amy broke this delicate mold. A lot of her writings are about her struggles with the tension of doing actual mission work and convincing people back home to support her and get involved. Here she mentions ‘tom toms.’ When someone died, these drums beat all night. On one evening, the drums of death awakened her to the specter of millions perishing without Jesus:
“The tom-toms thumped straight on all night, and the darkness shuddered round me like a living, feeling thing. I could not go to sleep, so I lay awake and looked; and I saw, as it seemed, this:
That I stood on a grassy sward, and at my feet a precipice broke sheer down into infinite space. I looked, but saw no bottom; only cloud shapes, black and furiously coiled, and great shadow-shrouded hollows, and unfathomable depths. Back I drew, dizzy at the depth.
Then I saw forms of people moving single file along the grass. They were making for the edge. There was a woman with a baby in her arms and another little child holding on to her dress. She was on the very verge. Then I saw that she was blind. She lifted her foot for the next step…it trod air. She was over, and the children with her. Oh, the cry as they went over!
Then I saw more streams of people flowing from all quarters. All were blind, stone blind; all made straight for the precipice edge. There were shrieks, as they suddenly knew themselves falling, and a tossing up of helpless arms, catching, clutching at empty air.
Then I wondered, with a wonder that was simply agony, why no one stopped them at the edge. I could not. I was glued to the ground, and I could only call; though I strained and tried, only a whisper would come.
Then I saw that along the edge there were great sentries set at intervals. But the intervals were too great; there were wide, unguarded gaps between. And over these gaps the people fell in their blindness, quite unwarned; and the green grass seemed blood-red to me, and the gulf yawned like the mouth of hell.
Then I saw, like a little picture of peace, a group of people under some trees with their backs turned toward the gulf. They were making daisy chains. Sometimes when a piercing shriek cut the quiet air and reached them, it disturbed them, and they thought it a rather vulgar noise. And if one of their number started up and wanted to go and do something to help, then all the others would pull that one down. ‘Why should you get so excited about it? You must wait for a definite call to go! You haven’t finished your daisy chain yet. It would be really selfish,’ they said, ‘to leave us to finish the work alone.’
There was another group. It was made up of people whose great desire was to get more sentries out; but they found that very few wanted to go, and sometimes there were no sentries set for miles and miles of the edge.
Once a girl stood alone in her place, waving the people back but her mother and other relations called and reminded her that her furlough was due; she must not break the rules. And being tired and needing a change, she had to go and rest for a while; but no one was sent to guard her gap, and over and over the people fell, like a waterfall of souls.
Once a child caught at a tuft of grass that grew at the very brink of the gulf; it clung convulsively, and it called- but nobody seemed to hear. Then the roots of the grass gave way, and with a cry the child went over, its two little hands still holding tight to the torn-off bunch of grass. And the girl who longed to be back in her gap thought she heard the little one cry, and she sprang up and wanted to go; at which they reproved her, reminding her that no one is necessary anywhere; the gap would be well taken care of, they knew. And then they sang a hymn.
Then through the hymn came another sound like the pain of a million broken hearts wrung out in one full drop, or sob. And a horror of great darkness was upon me, for I knew what it was- the Cry of their Blood.
Then thundered a voice, the voice of the Lord. And He said ‘What hast thou done, the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.’
The tom-toms still beat heavily, the darkness still shuddered about me; I heard the yells of the devil-dancers and weird, wild shrieks of the devil-possessed just outside the gate.
But why does it have me upset? What does it matter after all? It has gone on for years; it will go on for years. Why make such a fuss about it?”