Cross-Cultural Worker Marriage Issues: What about Dorothy?
Replying to some of his critics, Paul said, “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?” (1 Corinthians 9:5). As this indicates, some early Christian workers may have taken their spouses to other cultures as they served there. However, we do not have any actual examples in Scripture where this was done.
To find a well-documented account of a married couple serving cross-culturally, we have to move forward in time about 1700 years to the beginning of the modern cross-cultural worker movement. We also have to move several thousand miles from the Middle East to central England.
Wife of a Shoemaker
Dorothy was born into a farming family in England in 1756. Her family attended a small country church, and it was there that Dorothy met William who was apprenticed to the village shoemaker. Like most young women in her day, Dorothy could not read or write; however William read continually and became a prolific writer as well. All seemed to be going well when they married on June 10, 1781, as the war with the thirteen colonies in America was coming to a close. Two and a half years later William and Dorothy inherited the shoemaking business when the shoemaker died, and their marriage seemed to be off to a good start. They were two Christian young people who grew up in Christian families, attended the same church, married, and set out to serve Christ in business in their village.
Wife of a Pastor
However, things changed within a few years when William began preaching in village churches. Four years later (1785) they moved to Moulton where he became an ordained minister. Four years later (1789) they moved to Leicester so he could teach school during the day, work as a shoemaker, and preach seven times every two weeks. Still the family struggled financially, at times coming close to starving. During this time they had six children, and two of those died at the age of two. Up to this point they were a rather “typical” struggling pastoral family.
However, William became more and more burdened for the “heathen” overseas as the years passed. In 1792 he published a pamphlet about the obligations of Christians to convert “heathens” in the different nations of the world. Later that year he became a central figure in the formation of a new cross-cultural worker sending agency. Soon William volunteered to go to India as a cross-cultural worker, and he wanted to take Dorothy and their children with him. Here are events during the first half of 1793:
Andrew also concluded that God had prevented the departure so that William’s family might accompany him so that “all reproaches on that score might be prevented.”
John was pleased. William’s heart was happy. Andrew, the agency, and supporters were satisfied.
What about Dorothy?
Wife of a Cross-cultural worker
The couple thought they barely had time to catch the ship, but it was more than two weeks late. June 13, 1793, they sailed from England with four children under the age of eight, one of them only six weeks old. They sailed for nearly five months without a single stop in a port and arrived in India on November 11, 1793. During the few days remaining in that year they lived in two places, first in Calcutta where Dorothy and Felix became ill with dysentery (which lasted a full year) and then in the Portuguese community of Bandel.
1794 was a year of moving, loss, and stress. In January they lived in Manicktullo which Wiliam thought was too civilized. In February-April they began to build a home in the Sunderbunds which was characterized as a “malarious uncultivated district” in which tigers had killed 12 men during the previous year. In May they began a three-week river trip to their next home, but Dorothy’s sister remained to marry a man she met there. June-July they lived with acquaintances in Malda, and William commuted to Mudnabatti to work. In August the whole family moved again to be near William’s work. Their son Peter (age 5) died there in October. Following are quotes from William’s letters and journals during the next 12 years.
What about Dorothy?
During their years in India the family moved from one site to another. They had little or no contact with other Europeans during that time. They had no Indian converts in the first seven years, though some expatriates from other countries were converted. They were often in danger from flooding rivers, tigers, jackals and other things. They repeatedly had many diseases including dysentery, malaria, and other parasites. Several times they actually thought they were going to die.
On December 12, 1807, William wrote a colleague that “…it pleased God to remove my wife by death. She had been in a state of the most distressing derangement for these last twelve years…” Dorothy, the woman who had expected the life of a wife of a shoemaker in England, died at the age of 51 after 14 miserable years in India.
Dorothy was the wife of William Carey, widely acclaimed to be the “father of modern cross-cultural workers.” No one can question the commitment, dedication, effectiveness, and discipline of William Carey—but what about Dorothy? What about their marriage relationship? How did this marriage of the “father of modern cross-cultural workers” influence those of cross-cultural workers that followed? Did William learn anything from this sad ending? Did sending agencies learn anything from it?
We will return to this story repeatedly in future chapters as we consider cross-cultural worker marriage issues. (To find out immediately what the people involved learned, read the “What about Charlotte?” brochure, the conclusion to this series.)
Ronald Koteskey is
Mental Health Resources
for Cross Cultural Workers