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Pioneer Missionaries: Adoniram Judson

by Jessie Brown Pounds

Adoniram JudsonPeople often sneer about "minister's sons," and try to make out that they fall below the average of human nature. A great number of the world's best men have been the sons of preachers. One of these was Adoniram Judson.

Judson was born in Malden, Massachusetts, [United States], and educated at Brown University and Andover Theological Seminary. On his graduation he was offered the pastorate of a cultured church in the City of Boston. To one of his refined tastes this offer must have been a tempting one; but his conscience called him elsewhere.

The work of Carey and those who labored with him was calling the attention of Christian people to the needs of the heathen world. Judson and three of his fellow-students offered their lives to the cause of world-wide missions. They were Congregationalists, and the Congregational churches, in order to undertake the support of these young men, organized a foreign missionary board.

As his companion in work, Judson chose the lovely Ann Hasseltine, who became his wife in 1812 and sailed with him for India.

The Judsons looked forward with great interest to meeting Carey in India. They greatly admired this pioneer missionary, but thought him all wrong in teaching that baptism is by immersion only. Judson thought he would study the subject of baptism for himself, so that he might be able to discuss it with Carey on his arrival in India. So, on the voyage, Mr. and Mrs. Judson examined carefully the Scriptures bearing on the subject, and to their great surprise, they found that the Bible plainly teaches immersion. If they should unite with the Baptists they would be cut off from all means of support, but they did not hesitate. On their arrival in India they were baptized by Carey.

The Baptists in America rallied to their support, but their trials had only just begun. The East India Company drove them out of India, and tried to compel their return to America. They escaped to Burmah and undertook work there. For seven years they worked without a convert — the same length of time that Carey waited for the first results of his labor. At length a little church was gathered together in Rangoon, and the missionaries had the great joy of sitting down to the communion table, with fellow Christians whom they had rescued from heathenism.

In the midst of this happiness a new trial came. The war with England broke out, and the American and English missionaries became objects of suspicion. Judson, who had been called to Ava, the capital, as interpreter, was thrown into prison, and for twenty-one months he suffered the most cruel tortures and privations. For nine months he wore three pairs of handcuffs, for two months five pairs, and for six months one pair. His courage would have failed but for his faith in God and for the heroism of his noble wife, whose support never once failed him.

She hid his translation of the New Testament so that it was preserved to the Burman church. Every day she visited the prison, and her sweet face and presence so won the hearts of the people that she was called the angel of the prison. It is said of her, as of Florence Nightingale, that her shadow was kissed in reverent love by those to whom she ministered. Once Judson was moved from one prison to another, and the next day she found him by following the bloody footprints in the sand.

After the war was over Judson was released and sent back to Rangoon, but another trial awaited him. The mission house had been destroyed and the little church scattered.

Severe as was this blow, a worse one came later. Mrs. Judson died after a brief illness. Her husband was away from home at the time, and she had only such care as the native women could give her. When he came home the natives pointed out his vacant house and the new-made grave.

He found relief in his work, and after several years his translation of the whole Bible was brought out. Soon after this he married Mrs. Sarah Boardman, a noble missionary, who, since the death of her husband, had been carrying on work alone in the Karen jungles.

Brighter days came now to the Christian workers in Burmah. The devoted lives and pure teaching of the missionaries began to count. The natives turned to Christ by hundreds. Said Judson, "I eat the rice and fruit cooked by Christian hands, look on the fields of Christians, and see no dwellings but those of Christian families." This was to him a rich reward for all his work.

At length, on account of his own ill-health and that of his wife, he started for America, after an absence of thirty-three years. On the journey his wife died, and he buried her on the island of St. Helena.

On his return to America, Judson received a welcome which, no doubt, surprised him greatly. He thought so modestly of his own work that he had never once supposed himself a hero in the eyes of Americans. Great crowds flocked to hear him, and his visit greatly strengthened the interest of Christian people here in the cause of missions.

He met here Miss Emily Chubbuck, a talented woman, who was known in the literary world as "Fanny Forrester." In 1846 they were married, and Judson returned with his wife to Burmah.

The closing years of his life were spent in arranging a dictionary of the Burmese language. His health was failing, but his faith grew stronger day by day. Toward the end he seemed to be in a perfect transport of joy, and the other world was more real to him than this.

He died at sea, having undertaken the voyage for the sake of his health. His body was buried in the ocean, within sight of the mountains of Burmah. The Burman church is his monument, and he needs no other.

From Pioneer Missionaries: Short Sketches of the Lives of the Pioneers in Missionary Work in Many Lands by Jessie Brown Pounds. Indianapolis, Ind.: The Young People's Department of the Christian Woman's Board of Missions, 1907.

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