Following Jesus to Unlikely Places

I never thought I would write a book. At least not until I was old and retired and had actually “done something with my life.” But then a few years ago, a conversation with my parents spurred me on to start writing—and I wrote my first book, Beyond Our Walls: Finding Jesus in the Slums of Jakarta.

And somehow, in writing that book, I found my voice in a new way. Even as I wrote down those first stories about a decade living and serving in a slum in Indonesia, I knew that I had something else to share, too. I knew that I was not done writing.

I have been obsessed with Amy Carmichael for the past seven years or so. Have you ever heard of Amy Carmichael? Don’t feel bad if you never had—I never had either until listening to a recording of a seminar about the untold story of women in missions. Something about Amy’s story captured my attention, and I began buying book after book written by her.

Amy Carmichael was born in what is now Northern Ireland in 1867, but she spent most of her life serving at the southern tip of India. Initially, she was an “itinerating” missionary—travelling around with a group of other believers, preaching and teaching wherever they could get an audience. But her life began to change when she became aware of the practice of temple prostitution throughout India. Young girls were dedicated to the gods from infancy and raised by temple women to serve in the temples. As Amy’s heart was broken, learning about the traumas and injustices these girls faced, she found God calling her to a new work: rescuing children and providing a home for them.

Amy was a prolific writer, penning more than thirty books throughout her fifty-plus years in India. Her writing is beautiful, and I find her words written a century ago still have a profound relevancy in my own life. I decided that these gifts that I was gleaning from Amy’s writings were too precious to keep to myself.

In my new book, Downward Discipleship: How Amy Carmichael Gave Me Courage to Serve in a Slum, I share seven lessons that I have learned from the life and legacy of Amy Carmichael. Interwoven with these lessons from Amy, I share more stories from my life in a slum in Jakarta.

Amy’s life and books are a call to radical discipleship, to following Christ into unlikely places. She testifies to the profound joy of listening to and obeying Jesus’ call, even when it calls us to go “against the flow” or to do something unpopular. As Amy and her team fought against the injustices and evils being done to children in India, they learned that it was a lonely journey. Many people did not support the work—in fact, many other missionaries at the time did not approve of Amy. She wore Indian clothes, worked “too closely” with Indian co-workers, and was challenging systems of evil that many people did not even want to acknowledge existed.

One of the most inspirational parts of Amy’s story for me is her profound theology of suffering. She learned that when one follows Christ, there is pain and loss. But she also continued to trust in her savior—and to believe that one day God would, indeed, have the final victory. When Amy was in her sixties, she had an accident that essentially left her bedridden for the rest of her life. But during her twenty years in her sickbed in India, she wrote some of her most powerful books.

And while my short time in Indonesia is nothing compared to Amy’s five decades in India, Amy’s writing encourages me on. She invites her readers to move beyond self to surrender, beyond guilt to gratitude, beyond grasping for control to living lives of compassion. She invites us all to a journey of downward discipleship, following Jesus into difficult places—to fight injustices with God’s love and hope. And while the journey will not be easy, Amy promises that it will be a journey we will not regret. If we are walking with our savior, He will sustain us even in the darkest valley.

My prayer is that Downward Discipleship would be a gift for readers, too. That my humble attempts at sharing some of Amy’s story would serve as an encouragement for all of us as we follow Christ.

Amy and her community in Dohnavur prayed this beautiful prayer whenever a book was published. I offer it now as a prayer for Downward Discipleship, too:

“Take this book in Thy wounded Hand,
Jesus, Lord of Calvary;
Let it go forth at Thy command;
Use it as it pleases Thee.

“Dust of earth, but Thy dust, Lord,
Blade of grass in Thy hand a sword–
Nothing, nothing unless it be
Purged and quickened, O Lord, by Thee.
Unless Thou touch it graciously
It will do less than naught.

“O touch, inspire and purify,
We lay it at Thy feet,
Let all of earth about it die,
Turn it to corn of wheat.

“O blessed be the love that takes
This that we offer Thee,
And out of our poor nothing makes
Seed for Eternity.”[1]


[1] Amy Carmichael. Gold Cord: The Story of a Fellowship. Fort Washington: CLC, 2002. First published 1932 by SPCK (London), 28.

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Anita Rahma

Anita's high school years were spent as an American TCK in the Philippines. For over the past decade, Anita and her husband and two boys have lived and served in a slum in Indonesia. She enjoys learning piano, playing in the rain, and devouring Amy Carmichael books. She is the author of Beyond Our Walls: Finding Jesus in the Slums of Jakarta. You can learn more about the organization they serve with at servantsasia.org.

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