Soon after the baptism of Moung Nau two other converts came forward, and on November 10, 1819, Judson joyfully wrote: "This evening is to be marked as the date of the first Burman prayer-meeting that was ever held. None present but myself and the three converts. Two of them made a little beginning—such as must be expected from the first essay of converted heathens."
Many other Burmans were inquiring into the new religion, among them a teacher, who brought some of his followers to the zayat. This was displeasing to the viceroy of Rangoon, and he gave the order,
These words sound harmless enough, but they instantly scattered the group of inquirers. They knew that "inquire further" might mean loss of property, imprisonment, being trampled by elephants—any form of torture. Its effect was felt at once by the missionaries themselves. When they rode out one morning to a tank where they were accustomed to take a bath, they were met by an official and forbidden to ride that way again, on pain of being beaten. The new converts proved their genuineness by standing firm, but hope of future success in Rangoon was over for the present.
What did the pioneer do in this emergency? "He determined to beard the lion in his lair." That is, he resolved to go to Ava, the Golden City, the capital of Burma, and lay the whole matter at the Golden Feet; to try to get permission from the emperor himself to teach the Christian religion in Burma. If he succeeded, no viceroy could molest him; if he failed, conditions would be no worse.
Mr. Judson applied to the viceroy for a pass to "go up to the Golden Feet, and lift our eyes to the Golden Face." It was granted in very polite terms, and on December 21, 1819, Mr. Judson and Mr. Colman, one of the new missionaries, who had considerable knowledge of medicine, started up the Irawadi in a boat six feet wide and forty feet long, with a crew of sixteen, and the trusty Moung Nau as steward, and an Englishman, who had charge of the guns and blunderbusses, to ward off the river pirates. With some knowledge of the elaborate system of Burman graft, they took fine pieces of cloth and other valuable articles as presents to officials, and for the emperor a Bible, bound in gold, in six volumes, and each volume enclosed in a rich wrapper.
About the twenty-fifth of January, 1820, they arrived near Ava, four hundred miles above Rangoon. By means of presents to public ministers and other officers, they had managed to get word of their arrival to the emperor, and he was pleased to say
"Let them be introduced."
So they went to the royal palace. At the outer gate they were detained a long time. When they were allowed to enter, they deposited a present for the private minister of state, and were ushered into his apartments in the palace yard. They showed him the books and petition which they had brought, told him they were teachers of religion, and desired to present the books and petition to the emperor. He began to talk with them about their religion, when suddenly a voice announced,
"The Golden Foot will advance."
That meant the emperor's reception would soon be over. The minister sprang up, began to put on his robes of state, and exclaimed,
"How can you propagate religion in this empire? But come along!"
The hearts of the missionaries sank at these words. But they followed the minister into a spacious hall, with a lofty dome, supported by many pillars, the whole covered with gold, and presenting a most imposing spectacle.
The emperor entered the hall with the proud gait and majesty of an Eastern monarch. Every head except those of the missionaries was bent upon the ground. When he drew near the kneeling Judson and Colman he stopped, partly turned toward them, and spoke,
"Who are these?"
"The teachers, great king," replied Judson.
"What, you speak Burman!—are you the priests I heard of last night?" "Are you teachers of religion?" "Are you married?" "Why do you dress so?" the emperor went on questioning them.
When he appeared to be pleased, the petition was read and the prime minister crawled forward and presented it to him. He read it carefully.
Then came the critical moment, when the tract on "A View of the Christian Religion" was handed the emperor. "O God, have mercy on Burma! Have mercy on her king!" Judson prayed in his heart.
But the time was not yet come.
The emperor took the tract, without saying a word, and read the sentences: "There is one Being who exists eternally; who is exempt from sickness, old age, and death; who was, is, and will be, without beginning and without end. Besides this, the true God, there is no other God." Then, with an air of indifference, a sneer of disdain, he cast the tract to the ground.
That was enough. The purpose of the missionaries was defeated, and they knew it. "His majesty has no use for your sacred books; take them away," announced the prime minister, and they were hurried out of the palace a good deal more swiftly than they came into it.
Nothing was left for them now but to return to Rangoon, and even that was no easy matter. They had to have a passport, and now that the king had not received them favorably, everybody felt free to treat them harshly. It took a good many "handsome presents" to secure the passport, but at last it came. Sent the people with a quantity of silver. This did the business. Late in the evening I had the pleasure of taking into my hand the pointed palm-leaf," Judson wrote in his journal, February 5, 1820, and the next day, "Pushed off the beach. I could moralize half an hour on the apt resemblance between the state of our feelings and the sandy, barren surface of this miserable beach. But 'tis idle all. Let the beach and our sorrow go together. Something better will turn up to-morrow."
Thus they returned to Rangoon in utter failure, and Judson had it in his mind to transfer the mission to Chittagong, where he could preach to Burmans under the protection of the British flag.
Then was revealed the power of the gospel of Christ to make heroes out of heathen. When Judson gathered the little company of converts and inquirers together, and pictured the sufferings Burmans would have to endure if he continued to teach them after his failure at Ava, they all besought him to stay on. "We will suffer persecution, and even death," they declared, "rather than give up Christ. Stay with us, beloved teacher, till a little church is gathered, and then if you must go, we will not say nay. This religion will spread. The emperor cannot stop it."
So the heroism of the disciples prevailed to keep the teacher in Rangoon. It was thought best for Mr. Colman to go to Chittagong, and again Mr. and Mrs. Judson were left alone at the mission. But when the shadow of persecution was darkest and nearest, seven Burmans, one after another, were converted and baptized, among them Mah Men La, the first woman convert, and Moung Shwa Gnong, a learned skeptic, who declared that the thing which convinced him most of all of the divine origin of Christianity was the genuine affection which the converts showed one to another.
But in the midst of this prosperity Mr. and Mrs. Judson were obliged to leave Rangoon on account of the serious illness of Mrs. Judson. They embarked for Calcutta July 19, 1820. The sense of absolute devotion which Judson had for his work is revealed in the explanation—almost an apology—which he sent to the society: "I felt that the strictest devotedness to the mission did not forbid my leaving the station for a time, in order to facilitate the recovery of one who had been my faithful coadjutor in missionary privation and toil for many years." Unlimited love for the mission and for his dear wife are hidden under the big words which were then so commonly used by educated people.
Three months they spent in Serampore, near Calcutta, resting, gaining in health and strength, and enjoying companionship of the English missionaries there and of the affectionate family of Mr. Hough, the missionary printer. Then they returned to Rangoon, welcomed joyously by the little band of native Christians, assembled on the wharf to meet them, and eagerly entered into their missionary work once more.
In his dealings with men from day to day, Adoniram Judson was a good deal like the Master whom he so devotedly followed—very tender with the genuine seeker, but a bit sharp with the scribes and Pharisees. There came to him one day one Moung Long, a very wily skeptic, scarcely believing in his own existence. At first he was all humility and respect, but soon he put in his sophistry: "You say that in the beginning God created a man and a woman. I do not understand (begging your lordship's pardon) what a man is, and why he is called a man."
That was a good deal like starting the works of a machine-gun. "My eyes were opened in an instant to his real character; and I had the happiness to be enabled, for about twenty minutes, to lay blow after blow upon his skeptical head, with such effect that he kept falling and falling; and though he made several desperate attempts to get up, he found himself at last prostrate on the ground, unable to stir."
In the summer of 1821, Mr. and Mrs. Judson were both taken ill again, and Mrs. Judson's case became so serious that there was no chance of her recovery in Burma. Her only hope was to go to America, and she left Rangoon August 21, 1821.
The only reason why Mr. Judson did not go to America with his wife was—he was a pioneer. To-day the missionary would be granted a furlough, with some one to take his place. But there was no one to take Judson's place. Ann wrote about this separation: "Duty to God, to ourselves, to the Board of Missions, and to the perishing Burmans, compelled us to this course of procedure, though agonizing to all the natural feelings of our hearts."
For four months after Mrs. Judson left, Mr. Judson was alone—and lonesome, as his letters show—at Rangoon. But he kept steadily at work, and on December 13, 1821, Dr. Jonathan Price, a medical missionary, joined the mission.
This was the beginning of great changes. The emperor heard of Doctor Price's skill as a physician, especially in performing operations for cataracts, and the doctor was invited—indeed, summoned—to appear at the royal court at Ava.
"Here is our chance," said Judson, undismayed by his former experiences at Ava. "I'll try again, and perhaps we may even be permitted to start a mission in the royal city.
This time his patience and courage were rewarded. Judson and Price were received with royal favor, and princes and princesses and persons of rank inquired of Judson about the new religion; and finally the emperor gave him a piece of land, and told him he could build a house there; which he did before returning to Rangoon.
Thus the way was opened for establishing a mission at Ava, and Judson thought that he ought to enter the open door, not knowing the house of sorrow into which it would lead him. Indeed, Judson always looked upon afflictions as a part of the day's work, especially of a pioneer.
All he waited for now was Ann's return. She arrived at Rangoon December 5, 1823, and with her were two new missionaries, Mr. and Mrs. Wade. Eight days later, December 13, 1823, the Judsons set out for Ava, leaving the little Christian band at Rangoon, now increased to eighteen members, to be cared for by the new missionaries and Mr. Hough.
At first the prospects looked favorable. They had been invited to live in the royal city by the king himself; Doctor Price had won golden opinions by his medical skill; they had a cosy dwelling-house; Mr. Judson was preaching, while Mrs. Judson started a little school for girls. Soon after their arrival they were invited to a magnificent festival, when the king entered the Golden City in glorious estate, to take possession of a splendid new palace. All the viceroys and other high officials were assembled, dressed in their robes of state. The white elephant, richly adorned with gold and jewels, was one of the most beautiful objects in the procession. All the riches and glory of the empire were on this day exhibited to view; multitudes of horses, hordes of elephants of immense size, and vehicles of all descriptions. The king and queen alone were unadorned, dressed in the simple garb of the country. Hand in hand they entered the garden where the guests were seated, and where the royal banquet was prepared.
Into these happy scenes, on May 23, 1824, came the startling news that Rangoon had been taken by the British. England and Burma were at war!
Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Judson the Pioneer by J. Mervin Hall. Philadelphia, Boston: American Baptist Publication Society, 1913. Chapter 10.
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