You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. (2 Timothy 2:3, N.K.J.V.)
Adoniram Judson had been formally appointed as a missionary to India by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, and he was all set to spend the rest of his life as a missionary in that foreign land. That board of missions had been founded a couple of years earlier at a gathering held at a certain local church. One of the deacons of that church was a man named John Hasseltine who had a daughter named Ann.
Adoniram and Ann had first met at that gathering and had fallen in love. Since this was during the days when a young man was expected to ask his potential fiance’s father for her hand in marriage, Adoniram was prepared to do that. However, he knew that Ann marrying him would probably mean that her family would never see her again once she and Adoniram left for the mission field. Even worse, he also knew that he and Ann could both be killed or die premature deaths as a result of their efforts to take the gospel into India.
After a good deal of praying and thinking about the matter, Adoniram decided to write Mr. Hasseltine a letter in which he would ask for permission to marry Ann. The relevant section of the letter 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, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of 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 the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”
In the end, Mr. Hasseltine left the decision up to Ann herself, and she agreed to marry Adoniram and join him in his missionary work. The couple was married on February 5, 1812, and set sail for India two weeks later on February 19, 1812. They arrived in Calcutta, India, four months later on June 17, 1812, and planned to remain in India for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, however, neither the local Hindu authorities nor the local British authorities thought it was a good idea for Americans to attempt to evangelize Hindus, and so the couple was expelled from Calcutta just a little more than a year later. They then made the decision to devote their missionary endeavors to Burma in Southeast Asia, and on July 13, 1813, they sailed from Calcutta with that destination in mind.
It took a full year for the couple to arrive in Burma, and along the way Ann miscarried their first child. Upon their arrival in Burma, the couple was immediately faced with yet another daunting problem. Whereas India had been dominated by Hinduism, Burma was dominated by Buddhism, and the Burmese language was incredibly difficult to master.
It took Adoniram and Ann more than three full years to learn the language despite the fact that they hired a tutor and studied for twelve hours each day. Sadly, their second child, Roger William Judson, who was born in 1815, died before reaching eight months of age. Despite this devastating setback, however, putting in the time and work to learn the language proved to be a wise move because over the course of his lifetime Adoniram would go on to translate the Bible into Burmese and complete half of a Burmese-English dictionary.
Some four years after arriving in Burma, and after finally mastering the Burmese language, Adoniram held his first evangelistic service there. History records that he would ultimately found more than 100 churches in Burma and win more than 8,000 converts to Christianity. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the work moved exceedingly slow at first, with the first decade producing just 18 converts under incredibly challenging conditions.
Shall I continue describing the hardships that Adoniram and Ann faced on the mission field in Burma? In 1822, liver problems forced Ann to return home for a brief stay. She arrived back in Burma in 1823, but she had been reunited with Adoniram for only a few months before his work got caught up in the middle of the Anglo-Burmese War and he was arrested by the British army. He was imprisoned for two years under conditions so bad that only he and one other prisoner survived, and to make those years worse the imprisonment left Ann to care for the couple’s third child, Maria, who was born while Adoniram was in prison. Adoniram was finally released in 1826, much to Ann’s delight, but she died from smallpox that same year on October 24, 1826, at the age of 36. Six months later the infant daughter Maria died.
All of this certainly sounds like Adoniram didn’t exaggerate what he wrote in that letter, did he? Such testimonies help me keep in proper perspective the minor problems and inconveniences that I have to deal with as the pastor of a Baptist church here in America. Anytime I start feeling persecuted, all I have to do is read about Adoniram and Ann Judson and other famous missionaries to realize that my little gripes and grumbles come off as sounding incredibly petty when considered in light of what others have faced for the cause of Christ. Like Paul told Timothy, enduring a certain amount of hardship inevitably comes with being a soldier in Christ’s army. All I can say is that we would all do well to endure it as faithfully as Adoniram and Ann Judson did.