The Life and Lessons of America's First Missionary
If you were a young man, how would you seek the blessing of your future father-in-law, to marry his treasured daughter? I still remember asking Paula's father for his daughter's hand. I was terrified! Let's step back in time and read the correspondence of a young man in that very situation ...
His name is Adoniram Judson (a forename we no longer give our baby boys). Years ago, I read Courtney Anderson's excellent biography of Judson's life, To the Golden Shore. I've read many missionary biographies, and this is one of the best. Here are some data points from Judson's life:
- Judson entered his mission field (Burma, present day Myanmar) in 1813, at age 24, and labored there for 38 years. He returned home to America just once, after 33 years abroad.
- Burma/Myanmar was then an unreached nation for the Gospel. Today, ~1.5 million residents of Myanmar (primarily from the Karen ethnicity) trace their Christian faith directly to Judson.
- His wife, Ann, accompanied him to Burma and had three children – all of whom died in the early years of life. Such heartache for Ann and Adoniram. Ann died after 13 difficult years overseas.
- Judson's main legacy is the translation of a Bible and dictionary into Burmese, which were of great use to the people and subsequent missionaries.
- After sailing from America, Judson never saw his father or mother again.
- The first convert to Christianity among the Burmese occurred six years after their arrival. 12 additional years passed before there was a significant harvest of souls.
- Judson endured a torturous, 17-month imprisonment in Burma for being a Christian missionary (the government thought he was a British spy, despite being from America). The account of the cruelties he endured is difficult to read.
But of all the heroics of Adoniram and Ann Judson, the most consequential (to me) occurred before they ever set sail from America. In 1812, young Adoniram Judson penned a letter to Ann's father, asking for his daughter's hand in marriage. It reads as follows:
“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 to a heathen land, 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 a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from [lost souls] saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”
First, that is a stunning letter. People don't write like that anymore, do they? And, we're the poorer for it.
Second, did you notice Judson's repeated plea?
"Can you consent to ... ?"
He asks his future father-in-law this question, five times. And you know what? The father's stunning answer was, "Yes, I can consent." Today, I have one daughter (Lauren) who is married and has a daughter of her own. If my son-in-law (Adam) had written this letter to me, how would I have responded? To never see my treasured Lauren again (in this life)? By God's grace, I'd like to say that I, too, would have said, "Yes, I consent." Why? "For the sake of Jesus who left His heavenly home and died for her and for me; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of the glory of God."
By the way, Judson's sober words turned out to be prophetic. Ann died in Burma, having never seen her father again ... until glory! Imagine the reunion that was!
Judson's words are deeply challenging, but they're necessary for us to ponder. Is Jesus worth all this? Worth a difficult life? Worth heartache and inexplicable sorrow? Worth the loss of the most precious people we love?
May we be among the growing family who answer, "Yes, Jesus is worth it." Life is short here, but long there. May we, like Adoniram and Ann Judson, give our brief lives to Jesus, for His renown ... and our surprising joy.