Adoniram Judson

I’m amazed at the story of Adoniram Judson. He was an American missionary to Burma in the early 1800’s.

Here are a few facts about his life after he arrived in Burma:

-During the voyage to Rangoon, Nancy (his first wife) suffered a stillbirth and had to be carried off the ship to their new land.

-He and his wife spent twelve hours a day studying the Burmese language.

-They had great difficulties sharing the Gospel as the Burmese people had no concept of an eternal God who cared about mankind.

-They slowly built a church up to about ten people by the summer of 1820. These believers began to evangelize to their own people even when the Judson’s were not around to supervise. One started a new school, one became an assistant pastor, and the others began distributing tracts.

-Their six month old son died from fever a year and a half after their arrival in Rangoon.

-In 1822 Nancy made the trip back home to the United States to recover from illness. While she was away Adoniram completed translating the New Testament into the Burmese language.

-In 1824 Nancy returned to join her husband. Their reunion was brief. War broke out between Burma and England, and all foreigners were suspected of being spies. Adoniram was arrested and confined in a death prison where he awaited execution.

-Life in the prison was very difficult. His ankles were bound with fetters. At night his ankle fetters were hoisted up on a pole so that only his shoulders touched the ground, and this is how he slept. Each day executions were carried out and no one knew who was to be next.

-In 1825 Nancy gave birth to their new daughter, Maria, while her husband was still in prison.

-At one point Nancy’s health became so deteriorated that she could no longer nurse their young daughter. Only at the mercy of the guards was the baby kept alive–they allowed Adoniram out of the prison twice daily so that he could carry the baby around the village so that she could suckle from Burmese nursing mothers.

-Near the end of 1825 Adoniram was released from prison so that he could work as an interpreter in the peace negotiations between the British and Burmese.

-Adoniram was able to spend a brief relaxing time with his family before he had to return to help with the negotiations. Before he was able to return to his wife again she died of fever. Several months after that, baby Maria died also.

-Adoniram buried his sorrow in his work. But soon his grief overpowered him and he became extremely depressed. He stopped socializing with the other missionaries and moved out into the jungle alone, where he built a small hut for himself. At one point he dug his own grave and sat in it for days on end filling his mind with morbid thoughts of death.

-Adoniram was able to break out of depression due to his solid faith in God, and from the love and support of his fellow missionaries and native Christians.

-Adoniram became greatly encouraged as he traveled around Burma and found many more people turning to Christ. With this new excitement for his work he spent the next several years completing the translation of the Bible into Burmese. In 1840 he completed his task of translating the entire Bible into Burmese.

-In 1834 he remarried a missionary widow named Sarah Boardman.

-During the first ten years of their marriage Sarah gave birth to eight children. The strain was too much for her. While she and Adoniram (and three of their children) were on their way home to the States for a medical leave, she died.

-By this time Adoniram had not been home to the States for thirty-three years.

-As Adoniram traveled around the States speaking to people about his work he met another woman named Emily Chubbock. They were married in 1846 and returned to Burma together (without the three children, who remained in the States with family) one month later.

-Upon their return to Burma, Emily became the mother to Adoniram’s other children (which at this point was only two, as the others had already died). She enthusiastically immersed herself into the work.

-The new couple served in Burma for three years together and had one child together as well.

-In the spring 1850, while Emily was pregnant with their second child, Adoniram became very ill and left on a sea voyage hoping to recover. He did not, and was buried at sea.

-Ten days later Emily underwent a stillbirth. She did not hear of her husband’s death until the following August.

-The following January Emily, along with the remaining children, set sail for the States. She died three years later at the age of thirty-six.

All of these facts, and most of them word for word, were taken straight out of the book “From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya” by Ruth Tucker, pages 121-131. This book is a must-read for all those interested in the history of missions.

Whenever I’m tempted to complain about my work in Cambodia I just need to think about the life of Adoniram Judson.

Our joy, hope, purpose, and meaning in life is not rooted in our circumstances. These things are rooted in Jesus.

Click here to download a free eBook about Judson written by John Piper.

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