In the School of Joyful Endurance  - Part 2     (See Part 1)

"In joy or pain, our course is onward still"

Adoniram Judson - Pioneer Missionary to Burma (1788-1850)

"For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.

He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress;

I shall not be shaken." Psalm 62:5-7

Adoniram Judson had good reasons to trust God. His father was a pastor, and his mother taught him to read the Bible at age three. By the time he reached ten, he was learning Greek and Latin. Six years later, he began his studies at Providence College (Brown University) and graduated as a proud valedictorian in 1807.

By then, he had traded his childhood faith for humanistic Deism. He would soon see himself a free-thinking atheist -- a product of the anti-Christian ideology of the "enlightened" Age of Reason.[1]

His best friend was a fellow-atheist whom God would soon use to draw Judson to Himself. While riding his horse home from New York where the two had been living "a wild, reckless life,"[2] Judson stopped for the night at a small country inn. The landlord warned him that the only bed left was in a room divided by a mere curtain. On the other side of that curtain was a bed occupied by a very sick young man.

Judson didn't mind. "Death has no terrors for me," he explained. "I'm an atheist."[2]

During the night he kept hearing agonizing groans, screams and curses. Then came silence. In the morning, he questioned the innkeeper and learned that the man had died. Hearing his name, Judson was stunned. That was his best friend -- his partner in debauchery! What a horrible end!

The despairing Judson had come face to face with the cold reality of death and the likelihood of his own eternal judgment. He, too, was "lost" in that terrifying darkness of deception and decadence.

Called to Burma

"...he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles.... For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Acts 9:15-16

After three months of soul-searching, prayer and Christian guidance, Judson was a transformed man. He had humbly accepted God's gift of grace, forgiveness and new life in Christ. He longed to serve God and share the Light of Truth in the world's dark places. He expected hardships, but He trusted God to provide the needed strength.

"Go ye into all the world..." With this commission imprinted on his mind, Judson began his studies at Andover Theological Seminary. He found a like-minded friend in Ann Hasseltine[3] and wrote her father this letter:

“I now 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... to her exposure to the danger of the oceans... to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution and perhaps even violent death.

"Can you consent to all of this, for the sake of He who left His heavenly throne and died for her and for you; for the sake of all perishing, immortal souls... and the glory of God? Can you consent to all of this in hope of soon meeting your daughter once again in the world of glory...? ”[4]

Her father gave his consent, and in February, 1812, the young couple boarded a ship headed for India with a small team of fellow-missionaries. When British administrators in India turned them away, God provided a boat sailing straight to Burma (Myanmar).

Five months after leaving America, they reached Rangoon. Immersed in its humid tropical climate, they began their language study and Bible translations -- and their gruelling tests in God's personal "school of endurance."

Their first child was stillborn. Two years later, Ann gave birth to a son, but their joy was short-lived: he died two months later. Ann wrote in her diary,

“When I consider my young son and what we possessed, the wound opens in my heart and I bleed afresh each time… yet I would still say, Thy will be done.”

At the end of their first six years, only one man had turned from idols to Christ. But giving up was not an option. When Judson received a letter from the Mission Board in America questioning the fruit of his ministry, he answered, "The prospects are as bright as the promise of God."[2]

"I will not leave Burma," he declared, "until the cross is planted here forever!"[5]

Prison, Torture and agonizing Loss

"...we... endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ." 1 Corinthians 9:12

By 1823, Judson had translated the New Testament, finished a Burmese dictionary, trained Burmese pastors, and established a growing church. With Ann's help, he was moving ahead with the Old Testament translations. But new battles were brewing.

The Burmese king feared foreigners and had little tolerance for Christian missionaries. Accused of being a British spy, Judson was thrown in prison -- a crowded, sweltering, windowless "death camp." The floor was covered with human waste, and their food consisted of maggot-infested animals (including decaying rats) hardly fit for humans.

To prevent night-time escapes, the guards would sometimes chain the prisoners to a rack and elevate their feet, resting their heads and shoulders in the rat-infested sewage below. The pain, heat and the stench of death was nearly unbearable.

Yet, those seventeen deadly months didn't stop Judson from working on translations. He kept his notes hidden in a hard, dirty pillow and pulled them out whenever possible. Ann, weak and sick herself, would befriend the guards and try to bring more edible food. They didn't know that she also brought the needed pens and paper. 

A biography by Eugene Myers Harrison describes the horrors and blessings of that time of testing:

"Surely he would have fallen and perished under the weight of his cross, except for the tender, persistent, beautiful ministrations of Ann. As often as possible she bribed the jailer and then, under cover of darkness, crept to the door of Judson's den, bringing food and whispering words of hope and consolation. Finally for three long weeks she did not appear; but, upon her return, she bore in her arms a newborn baby [daughter, Maria] to explain her absence.

"An epidemic of smallpox was raging unchecked through the city and little Maria was smitten with the dread disease. Due to the double strain of concern for her imprisoned husband and the suffering baby, Ann found herself unable to nurse the little one. Tormented by its pitiful cries, Ann [pleaded for help]: 'You women who have babies, have mercy on my baby and nurse her!'

"Near the prison gate was a caged lion, whose fearful bellowings had told all that he was being starved against the day when he would be turned loose upon some of the prisoners. But the lion died.... Thereupon, plucky Mrs. Judson cleaned out the cage and secured permission for her husband to stay there for a few weeks, since he was critically ill with a fever.

"...when Judson was finally released, [he] returned to the mission house seeking Ann, who again had failed to visit him for some weeks. As he ambled down the street as fast as his maimed ankles would permit, the tormenting question kept repeating itself, 'Is Ann still alive?'"[6]

When he reached their simple home, he first saw a Burmese woman--

"holding a baby so begrimed with dirt that it did not occur to him that it could be his own. Across the foot of the bed... lay a human object that, at the first glance, was no more recognizable than his child. The face was of a ghastly paleness and the body shrunken to the last degree of emaciation.... There lay the faithful and devoted wife who had followed him so unwearily..."[6]

Ann and their little daughter revived, but both died of spotted fever [or smallpox] before the year's end. Heartbroken, Judson "withdrew into seclusion into the interior," to finish the Old Testament and share God's love in distant places.

Triumphant outreach

"...we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken..." (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)

By 1828, he had befriended the tribal Karens scattered in the remote villages, jungles and mountain ranges of Eastern Burma. The first convert was Ko Tha Byu, a slave and a murderer. But a pastor had bought him at a village slave market, shared the gospel with him, and brought him to Judson. By God's grace, the man was transformed! He learned to read the Burmese Bible and eagerly set out to evangelize his people, most of whom were animist. God had prepared their hearts, and His Word spread through the region -- and never stopped..

Apparently there are now more than two million believers in the land. That includes forty percent of the Karen people.[7] But persecution is intensifying, and these precious Christians need our prayers. A recent article titled "Burma: Not in my backyard" (January 2010) describes their suffering: 

"The Burmese army is carrying out a massive killing campaign against its people. ...more than 500,000 people have been killed in Burma (Myanmar) in the last 30 years... and thousands of children have lost parents from brutal attacks by Burmese soldiers...

"...the genocide... has a specifically anti-Christian agenda. When the head of a monastery asked soldiers if he should warn Buddhist monks to leave a conflict area, the soldier replied, 'No, we are not going to harm the Buddhists. We are only against the Christians.' 

"A Burmese official boldly stated recently, 'Soon there will be no Christians in this nation. You will only be able to see a Karen person in a picture in a museum.'

"In the midst of this horror, God is at work.... One of the believers [said], 'Without this genocide, maybe this worship would not be happening, and people would not be coming to Christ.'"

"...an enthusiastic worship service by a group of 86 orphans [was described by a pastor:] 'We had a worship service from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m. Then at 10 p.m., the kids came back and asked if we could go on worshiping! They have little happiness in their lives, but what they do have is the joy of the Lord.'”

Did you catch the joy in the midst of the terrors? Those children were familiar with pain and loss, but they had been shielded from the corrupt  entertainment of our western culture. They had reasons to fear, but the horrible dangers they faced made the nearness of Jesus all the more precious! Eternally safe in Him, they loved to celebrate His victory together!

The final triumph and the joy of the Lord

"...we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory..." (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Eight years after Ann's death, Judson married Sarah Boardman, the widow of a fellow missionary. They were been blessed with eight children but three died early. Tropical diseases were endemic in their hot, damp climate and missionaries were not immune. Concerned about Sarah's health, Judson thought it best to return to America for a season, but God took her home while they were still at sea.

After his return to Burma,[9] Judson's pulmonary problems made speaking difficult. But God had raised up a whole new flock of faithful messengers to continue the work the Judsons had begun 37 years earlier.

On April 1850, his weeping converts carried him on board a ship, hoping that the fresh ocean air would strengthen their critically ill leader. Yet they knew well that their next celebration together would most likely be in heaven. Nine days later, God called him home. He was 61 years old.

Was the fruit worth the painful struggle? Yes, indeed! Ponder these words  from the heart of God's faithful servant:[7]

In joy or pain, our course is onward still;

We sow on Burma's barren plain,

We reap on Zion's Hill.


1. Age of Reason: "Man began to embrace an exaggerated belief in the perfection of humanity.... Reason, rationality and enlightenment became the new ‘gods.’... The Age of Reason was fraught with attacks on basic Christian beliefs, rejection of God and denial of miracles. In an attempt to divorce himself from the mysticism of the Middle Ages, man during the Age of Reason, applauded intellect and disdained spirit. God was believed to be unknowable, if He existed at all, and certainly there was no need for divine communication or revelation. Nature was revelation enough, showing all that needed to be known of God. Man was now free to postulate his own theories of existence and ideas about earth and its relation to the sun." www.allabouthistory.org/age-of-reason.htm

2. Eugene Myers Harrison, "Adoniram Judson: Apostle of the Love of Christ in Burma," Giants of the Missionary Trail, www.wholesomewords.org/missions/giants/biojudson2.html

3. "Ann [spelled Anne in some biographies] Hasseltine Judson... was a teacher from graduation until marriage. Her father, John Hasseltine, was a deacon at the church that hosted the gathering that founded the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and according to Ann's sister Ann and her family first met her husband Adoniram Judson at that time. ... During [Adoniram's imprisonment], Ann wrote stories of life on the mission field and ...tragic descriptions of child marriages, female infanticide, and the trials of the Burmese women.... She wrote a catechism in Burmese, and translated the books of Daniel and Jonah into Burmese. She was the first Protestant to translate any of the scriptures into Thai when in 1819 she translated the Gospel of Matthew. Her letters home were published in periodicals such as American Baptists Magazine and republished after her death as devotional writings, making both her and Adoniram celebrities in America." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Hasseltine_Judson

4. Adoniram Judson, http://rosebank.org/sermons/2007/02/adoniram-judson-part-2/

5.  http://lilyvalley-karen.blogspot.com/2010/04/thankful-for-bible-translators.html

6. Eugene Myers Harrison, Adoniram Judson: Apostle of the Love of Christ in Burma, http://www.reformedreader.org/rbb/judson/ajbio.htm

7. E. Michael and Sharon Rusten, The One Year Book of Christian History (Tyndale House, 2003), p. 316.  As in China, it's impossible to actually count the number to true Christians.

8. http://www.persecutionblog.com/2010/01/burma-not-my-backyard.html

9. Much information has been left out -- including  the story of Judson's third wife, Emily Chubbuck, who eagerly read the reports sent home by Ann Judson decades earlier. Emily served with him the last four years of his life. I'm sorry we didn't have space for her encouraging story here.

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