Adoniram Judson was America’s first foreign missionary, born in Massachusetts on August 9, 1788. While preparing for his departure for India and Burma (called Myanmar today) in 1810, he fell in love with Ann (Nancy) Hasseltine.
As the prize teenage daughter of a socially prominent family, she was a fun-loving young woman before being born again at age 15. Now she was devoted to the Lord. But Judson could not marry her without her father’s consent.
Listen to the remarkable letter that he wrote to John Hasseltine, himself a relatively new believer:
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 a 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 righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?
Amazingly, her father left the choice to her.
Soon she wrote to a friend:
I have about come to the determination to give up all my comforts and enjoyments here, sacrifice my affection to relatives and friends, and go where God, in his providence, shall see fit to place me.
In spite of some fears, she knew she could rest in the faithfulness of God, although, as she said, “no female has, to my knowledge, ever left the shores of America to spend her life among the heathen; nor do I yet know, that I shall have a single female companion. But God is my witness, that I have not dared to decline the offer that has been made me, though so many are ready to call it ‘a wild and romantic undertaking.’”
The Judsons labored for almost seven years before winning their first convert. After nine years they had baptized only 18. Several of their fellow missionaries died. Others left the work.
Their first baby was stillborn during their initial voyage from Calcutta to Burma. Their second baby Roger died before reaching his ninth month.
Adoniram himself was brutally imprisoned for 17 months during a crackdown against all foreigners, barely surviving the horribly inhuman treatment. One night, while his raw and bleeding feet were hanging in elevated stocks, swarms of mosquitoes settled on his bare soles, producing excruciating torture.
Then, not long after his release from prison, Adoniram’s beloved wife Nancy died. Her constant life of sacrifice and service had finally taken its toll. Just a few weeks later little Maria, their third baby, was suddenly taken from this world. Judson was left utterly alone in a hostile Buddhist land, almost shattered with pain and grief.
Before him lay the prospect of tiger infested jungles, bat infested houses and a fever infested climate – for life. Behind him lay an almost unimaginable trail of hardship and loss. But he did not leave off from his work. He did not abandon his Bible translating or his preaching and teaching labors.
How could he? Eternal souls were at stake. Who else could reach the Burmese as well as he?
So he remained for over 20 more years, returning to America only once – and that by necessity, not by choice.
For Judson, missions was a lifetime commitment, and he had no place for those who wanted to come to the mission field on a short-term basis only.
They come out for a few years, with the view of acquiring a stock of credit on which they may vegetate the rest of their days, in the congenial climate of their native land … The motto of every missionary, whether preacher, printer, or schoolmaster, ought to be “Devoted for life.”
Adoniram Judson’s devotion for life was not in vain.
On one occasion, during the great annual festival held at the towering golden Buddhist pagoda in Rangoon, he recorded that he had distributed “nearly 10,000 tracts, giving to none but those who ask …
Some two or three months’ journey from the borders of Siam and China — ‘Sir, we hear that there is an eternal hell. We are afraid of it. Do give us a writing that will tell us how to escape it.’ … Others come from the interior of the country, where the name of Jesus Christ is a little known — ‘Are you Jesus Christ’s man? Give us a writing that tells about Jesus Christ.’”
For Judson, it was worth it all. Today there are more than two million Burmese believers.
Excerpted from Michael L. Brown, How Saved Are We?, with permission.