Jesus Christ’s Man: The Life of Adoniram Judson

On the same day that Adoniram Judson presented himself for missionary service to East Asia, he met a young girl named Ann.  After knowing each other for just over a month, Judson wrote her father asking for his blessing:

“I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean, to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteous, brightened with the acclamation of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”

Adoniram and Ann Judson arrived in Rangoon, Burma on July 13, 1813. It would be six years before they baptized their first convert. They would spend an additional four years in the city of Rangoon before they moved to the capital, Ava. Soon after the move, the British attacked Rangoon and all Westerners were viewed as spies and arrested. While Ann remained free, Judson was imprisoned where he was strung up by his feet every night. Ann, pregnant and then with a newborn baby girl, would walk two miles to visit him. When her milk ran dry prematurely due to malnutrition, the guards showed mercy to Judson and allowed him to walk in the city, begging women to nurse his daughter, Maria.  Judson was released after seventeen months, but because of the massive mental and physical stress, Ann died a year later with Maria following six months after that. Depression and self-doubt ripped Judson apart. Judson and Ann had already lost two children – one died at birth, the other was only seventeen months old when he passed. He dove deep down into isolationism, even going so far as to build a hut in the jungle and moving in on the second anniversary of Ann’s death. He spent a forty day stint even deeper in the jungle, about which he would later write, “God is to me the Great Unknown. I believe in him, but I find him not.”

“The motto of every missionary, whether preacher, printer, or schoolmaster, ought to be ‘Devoted for life.'”

While death drove Judson down, death also was used to spur him onward in his work. When Judson had left America his brother, Elnathan, was lost. When Judson heard of his brother’s death in 1829, he was also informed that Elnathan had come to believe in the gospel. With the hope that God still saved the lost, Judson was reinvigorated towards Christ’s mission in Burma. In praise of God’s sovereignty, 1831 was a year of a great movement of the Spirit. Not only were Burmese natives beginning to ask questions, but even those from far away were coming and asking Judson, “Are you Jesus Christ’s man? Give us a writing that tells us about Jesus Christ.”

“Let me beg you, not to rest contented with the commonplace religion that is now so prevalent.”

He eventually remarried a missionary widow, Sarah Boardman, and had eight children, three of whom died before adulthood. Sarah became so sick that she and Judson had to leave Burma and sail back to America, leaving three of their children in Burma, one of whom would die there before Judson would see him again. Sarah would pass away while rounding the tip of Africa. Now with five children, Judson remarried for a final time. Emily Chubbuck, Judson’s third and final wife, said of the man who had borne so much grief and was now in his late fifties and again a father, “I never met with any man who could talk so well, day after day, on every subject, religious, literary, scientific, political, and—nice baby-talk.” I am encouraged thinking about this man who had seen so much pain and heartache still smiling and playing with his daughter because he knew good gifts from God when he saw them.

Jesus once said that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25). Adoniram Judson was a missionary to Burma for thirty eight years. By the time of his death, he had seen two wives and seven children pass out of this world. Judson would pass from this world apart from his family, on a ship in the south Pacific while he sought medical care.  His last recorded words were, “How few there are who die so hard.”

Today, Myanmar (present day Burma), has over 4600 Baptist congregations with over 1.6 million members.