A young man wrote to his bride-to-be’s father:
“I have now to ask whether you can consent to… her departure to a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life… to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death?”
Little did Ann and Adoniram Judson know how true these words about their future suffering and sacrifice would be!
But facing imprisonment, illness, and even the death of their children led many to Christ in Burma and left an eternal legacy.
Adoniram and Ann both came to faith in Christ at a young age, and both of them faced crises of faith.
Adoniram strayed from Christianity in his younger years but was eventually restored, while Ann struggled with renouncing her life of plenty and accepting Christ’s call to sacrifice.
The two young Christians met at a dinner hosted by Ann’s family, and quickly discovered they shared a strong passion for missionary work. The pair was engaged a month later, after Adoniram penned that letter to Ann’s father describing his vision for their life together.
The couple was quickly married and set sail for Burma — now known as Myanmar — in February of 1812.
The Judsons landed in India in June of 1812, but they didn’t reach Burma until three years later, after facing famine, dangerous sea voyages, and the death of their first child.
Their hearts were heavy, but their work had only just begun. The process of culture and language learning took three more long years, during which Adoniram and Ann saw very little interest in Christ from their Burmese community.
After burying their second child in Burma, Adoniram and Ann felt profoundly alone. They had no community of believers or support from other missionaries, and the Burmese natives around them appeared indifferent toward the Gospel.
But it was in this time that the Judsons learned to find strength and comfort in God.
In joy or in pain
Our course be onward still
We sow on Burma’s barren plain
We reap on Zion’s hill
Adoniram’s words reflected on their desire to continue sacrificing for the advancement of God’s kingdom.
Though the couple faced intense pressure and possible persecution from the Burmese government, they pressed on with their work, translating portions of the Bible into Burmese and inviting their neighbors to attend evangelistic meetings.
Finally, their sacrifices began to bear fruit.
In 1819, a lumber worker named Moung Nau became the first Burmese convert to Christianity and two others quickly followed his lead. Encouraged, the Judsons started a church, which grew to ten members within the next few years.
Another trial soon came to the Judsons, however. Ann grew desperately ill and the couple realized she needed to return to America for medical treatment.
Adoniram didn’t want his wife to make the long and perilous journey alone, but Ann knew that the young Burmese church wouldn’t survive if they both left the country. So she returned to America alone, leaving Adoniram behind to continue his translation and evangelism.
Both missionaries faced intense loneliness during the next two years. While Ann was recuperating in America, Adoniram finished translating the New Testament into Burmese and began working on translating the Old Testament as well.
When Ann finally returned to Burma, the couple believed that their sacrifices were paying off. The small church was growing, and some of the Burmese in the capital city of Ava seemed especially receptive to the Gospel.
But another setback came when Adoniram was arrested by government police and taken to a Burmese death prison. He was imprisoned, interrogated, starved, and tortured along with other political prisoners.
Ann’s faith stayed strong throughout her husband’s imprisonment and the couple did their utmost to use this trial for kingdom work. The other prisoners were amazed by the Judsons’ love and selflessness.
When Adoniram was released from prison, it seemed as though the couple’s missionary work might continue. Before long, however, Ann’s illness returned and she passed away. She was quickly followed by the couple’s third child, Maria.
Adoniram was alone. He remarried soon and continued his work of spreading the Gospel throughout Burma, but he eventually died a lonely death at sea while sailing to Europe for much-needed medical attention.
At first glance, it may seem that the Judsons sacrificed everything—their family, their home, their comfort and possessions, and even their lives—for a relatively small return.
But they left behind an incredible legacy of suffering that led to glory. Christianity is now the second largest faith in Burma (now Myanmar), and close to 8% of the population professes Christianity.
In an area that’s significantly hostile to any faith besides Buddhism and Islam, this is an overwhelming victory for God’s kingdom.
And it’s due in large part to the groundwork laid by Adoniram and Ann Judson!
This incredible missionary couple, who called themselves “devoted for life” to the Gospel of Christ, set an example for Christians all over the world through their sacrifice and suffering.
They can indeed celebrate in heaven, knowing that their lives led to “acclamations of praise” to their Savior.
Praise God for the work of Adoniram and Ann Judson!
Let’s pray that sacrifice becomes a way of life for us as well.