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A Dohnavur Story

Elisabeth Elliot: Before dawn, the children start on their own caroling rounds, stopping here and there at a house to sing with gusto, eagerly watching for signs of life from within.

Lisa Barry: Such descriptions conjure up an innocent picture in my mind of cherub-like youngsters, all caught up in the awe and wonder of Christmas. But had it not been for the Dohnavur Fellowship, these children would have been singing a much different tune. These are all children who were brought into this world to be prostitutes in a corrupt system of idolatry and self-gratification, but who were rescued by the missionaries of Dohnavur. Amy Carmichael began this work years ago and is one of Elisabeth Elliot's spiritual mothers. We'll hear more about the work in India, and specifically their Christmas celebration. That's coming up next on Gateway To Joy. Here's Elisabeth.

Elisabeth Elliot: "You are loved with an everlasting love." That's what the Bible says. "And underneath are the everlasting arms." This is your friend Elisabeth Elliot, telling a Christmas story today. This is a true Christmas story.

You've heard me talk about Amy Carmichael. She was an Irish missionary who went to India way back in the 1890's. She founded a very remarkable work in a place called Dohnavur, where she rescued little children-little girls and boys, very often infants-who otherwise would be committed to the Hindu temples to be used for purposes of prostitution. It was a terrible underground traffic that had been going on for centuries. When Amy discovered it, she prayed that the Lord would enable her to rescue some of these children from that wicked life.

Well, Amy Carmichael wrote, I used to say, about 40 books. I think it's closer to 60 books. I have about 40 of them. But she has been a spiritual mother to me. I have often tried to urge my listeners to quit reading Elisabeth Elliot and start reading Amy Carmichael. Fourteen of her books are still in print, and they can be had through your Christian bookstore, who can order them from the CHRISTIAN LITERATURE CRUSADE in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. There are fourteen of Amy Carmichael's books still available there.

Her work still goes on in a very out-of-the-way place in South India. There are still about 450 children there, all girls now. They can't take little boys anymore, because they cannot find the men who will make the kind of sacrifices that are necessary to take care of small children. So it's young single women who take care of these 450 little girls, from tiny babies to old retired folks.

In 1984, my husband and I were there in Dohnavur. My purpose was to write a biography of Amy Carmichael, and that biography is entitled A CHANCE TO DIE. But there is still a letter that goes out from Dohnavur several times a year that's just called "Dust of Gold." It's a letter just telling what's going on in Dohnavur to this day.

Here is one of the stories, entitled "Expressions of Joy" by Margaret Holland, who is one of the workers there.

"When does Christmas begin? Here in Dohnavur, it is definitely at 5 a.m. on December 1. From the top of the clock tower, the first sounds of Christmas gently float through the dark early morning air.

It's the sound everyone has been waiting for, for a month or more, and sends a thrill through every expectant heart. It's the sound of the joy bells, the beautiful mellow notes from the holly spherical bells suspended on a wooden frame and played with a leather hammer. They are heard only at Christmastime. The rest of the year they are carefully shrouded in protective covers. This rarity of appearance adds magic and excitement to the beginning of the family's favorite month of the year. Soon the joy bells are joined by the electronic keyboard, a violin and a flute. 'Joy to the world!' they proclaim. The music is glorious to our overjoyed uncritical ears.

But in this less than perfect world, we have to share air space. Our gentle welcome to the Christmas season is dissected and fragmented by bursts of music from the village church tower, which boasts eight amplifiers, three of which are directed over our compound. Yes, it's hard to hush the grumbling spirit on that first precious morning of the joyous month, as our melodious offering of worship is drowned out.

But there are other joys to come. Today is the day when the first large shining star must be hung up in every bungalow. The choir practices that began in October continue throughout the weeks leading up to Christmas. Not just one choir, but three-the most junior of which is made up of the two to four-year-olds, who take it all very seriously, for they have to master some English as well as Tamil carols.

It's time, too, to get out the rest of those multi-colored, light-catching decorations for the Christmas tree and to see if any repairs need to be done. The Christmas room has been hard at work since August. The present family numbers about 465, and then there will be 80 to 90 extra ones, as other members and guests join us.

Mid-December, and the old girls"-that means girls who grew up in Dohnavur but have gone away to work or to be married-"they begin to arrive to spend this special holiday 'at home.' There will be so much news to catch up on and a lending hand to give here and there.

Now only a week to go. Married old girls and boys are arriving with their families. The guesthouses are filling up fast. In the Christmas room, they are anxious, lest they forget someone and there is no present wrapped up and labeled, ready for present-giving time.

The Sunday before Christmas. Now we can join together in singing carols at our English service, and at 10:30 a.m. it is the children's own special Christmas service. The spirit of expectancy is almost too much for them to bear.

With only three days to go, tonight and tomorrow night the official choir tours our vast compound, singing by lantern light. The red-shaded lanterns are carried aloft by the children, a train of bobbing, glowing lights, their bearers hidden in the darkness. Trees and verandas are hung with shining stars and lanterns, whose shades depict manger scenes, flowers and animals.

This week the Christmas tree was erected in the center of the House of Prayer, a mighty 29' high, a beautiful spruce type of tree with dainty, feathery branches of a light grayish-green. It takes an army of volunteers to decorate it. The children hover in the area outside the House of Prayer, straining to try and see into the darkness of the interior, longing to catch a glimpse of the tree.

At last their impatience is rewarded. It is Christmas Eve. Everyone who can possibly get there comes to the carol service, which starts at 7:00. Some of the children will also be sharing the occasion with us, because they can't make the very long journey during this short holiday break." So these are the children that are day school children. "They come to join us on Christmas Eve.

The smallest of our little ones can hardly believe the transformation before their eyes as they enter the building with its lights dimmed and shaded and see the great towering Christmas tree, its tinsel decorations glinting and shimmering as they reflect the dozens of colored lights. They sit in concentric circles around it; their little faces upturned to gaze and gaze upon this most amazing sight. They're not the only ones to sense that this is a very special time-a time when the Dohnavur family comes together to enjoy this wonderful Christmas season.

Christmas morning, only just. But at 2:30 in the morning, already it's time for the choir to rise, and their lantern bearers, and to set out to take the tidings of great joy into every nook and corner. Their voices rise and fall; now in Tamil, now in English. All over the compound, people awake to the news that a Savior has been born.

Before dawn, the children start on their own caroling rounds, stopping here and there at a house to sing with gusto, eagerly watching for signs of life from within to be sure they are not singing unheard. Close on their heels comes choir number three, a little less fluent perhaps, but no less enthusiastic. Those are the two to four-year-olds. Their joys this Christmas morning are many, not least to be muffled up in a bright and colorful assortment of jumpers." In English "English," jumper means sweaters. "And wooly hats against the chill of the night air.

This is just the start of our marathon Christmas program. By 8:30 in the morning, all must be in their places over at the dairy farm amongst the cattle and the mangers filled with straw." These are real cattle and real mangers. "For that is where the Savior was born. So we read and sing His story, joined by the ambulant patients from our hospital and people from nearby villages.

And then we move off down the road to the working bulls' farm, once again to sing and to listen as one of our brothers speaks of Christ's coming to earth. The House of Prayer is so crowded for the Christmas service that there is scarcely room for one more. Although the message this morning is broken up with an occasional song, if the truth be told, some small heads are nodding and one or two are quite definitely sound asleep.

But a little siesta after lunch puts new life into the weariest, ready for our next gathering-this time on the field where those long tables covered with red and blue sheets bulge so promisingly, and keep many eyes riveted, waiting for the moment when the cloths are whisked off and the house and compound names are announced over the loudspeaker. Then what a running to and fro ensues! What excitement!

What oohs and aahs as the drawstrings of bright flowery bags are pulled undone to reveal the contents where parcels are unwrapped. In half an hour, it's all over, except for the prayer of thanksgiving and remembrance of the prayer friends who have made it all possible, and the final thanks to Him whose birthday we celebrate as we sing, 'Praise God from whom all blessings flow!'

It's a tired but happy family that gathers one more time to sing carols around the tree in the House of Prayer on Christmas night to close this day as it began-with expressions of joy."

Lisa Barry: No matter how many times I hear about the work at Dohnavur, I'm so thrilled that a ministry like that still exists today. Although Amy Carmichael began that work many years ago, her legacy lives on today through Dohnavur and through the many books she penned.

And I'm happy to say that we can provide you with a number of Amy Carmichael books through a special gift packet we've put together. It's called THE AMY CARMICHAEL PACKET. It puts five of her books at your fingertips that are guaranteed to inspire your daily walk.

The cost for this packet is $30. You can order it by calling, writing, or by accessing our Web site. When you contact us, don't forget to ask for information on how to purchase the book called GATEWAY TO JOY. It would make a perfect Christmas gift. Here is our address: Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, Nebraska, 68501. Our toll-free number is 1-800-759-4JOY. Our Web address is gatewaytojoy.org.

Gateway To Joy is a listener-supported ministry of Back to the Bible. Tomorrow Elisabeth reads a Christmas story called "The Feast of the Invited and the Uninvited". That's next time on Gateway to Joy.

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