England in the 1790s was in the grip of a mixture of fear and excitement: fear, because just across the Channel in France a revolution had not only overthrown the monarchy, but seemed bent on destroying the Christian religion as well; mounting excitement, because Christians felt nonetheless that these upheavals might herald great events. Reports from France and later from Italy suggested that the days of the Roman Catholic Church - the Roman 'Babylon' to English Protestants - might be numbered. Further afield. Captain James Cook's voyages had made Englishmen aware of exotic lands scarcely known before.

In England itself, Christians were praying. Starting in 1784, first Baptists and then other nonconformists throughout the Midlands had been meeting for one hour on the first Monday of every month to pray for a revival which would lead to the spread of the gospel 'to the most distant parts of the habitable globe'. Confronted by political upheaval, widening geographical horizons and the new currents of spiritual life brought by the Evangelical Awakening, committed Christians began to suspect that God was about to do something radically new. Was the day prophesied in the Bible drawing near, the day ol Christ's return? A young Northamptonshire shoemaker named William Carey believed that it was, if only God's people persevered in their new commitment to prayer and began to translate that commitment into action.

Carey had few obvious qualifications for the role he was about to fulfil. He was born in 1761 to a poor weaver in the villageof Paulerspury. Largely self-educated, Carey became an apprentice shoemaker and, under the influence of a fellow apprentice, abandoned his Anglican family background to identify himself with the nonconformists. ...

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