The groans of a dying man kept him awake in the little inn outside New York. But he was hardened to the cries because a college friend at Brown University, named Jacob Eames, had persuaded him to become a skeptic deist.
The next morning, when inquiring of the innkeeper, he learned that the man who had died in the night was none other than Jacob Eames, his college friend.
This rude awakening led Adoniram Judson to not only reaffirm his Christian faith, but inspired him to become America’s first foreign missionary to Burma – modern day Myanmar.
Adoniram Judson was born in Massachusetts, Aug. 9, 1788. He fell in love with Ann Hasseltine, also known as Nancy. Adoniram wrote to Ann’s father: “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 for a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a 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 a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”
A Second Great Awakening Revival began to sweep America, resulting in missionaries being sent to the Caribbean, Hawaii and around the world.
At age 23, Adoniram, and his wife Ann, age 22, sailed from New England on Feb. 19, 1812, for Calcutta, India. They were forced by the British East India Company to Rangoon, Burma. The Judsons translated Scriptures, preached in Burmese, and started schools. When war broke out between the British and Burma, Burmese officers burst into the Judson’s home. They threw Adoniram on the ground in front of his pregnant wife and tied him up with torture thongs. Accusing him of being a spy for the British, they dragged him away and threw him into the infamous Ava death prison. After 12 months, Judson was marched with other prisoners, ill and barefoot, to a primitive village near Mandalay. All but one of the other prisoners died.
While Adoniram was in prison, his wife Ann, who was alone as the only western woman in the entire country, lived in a shack outside the gate. She brought him meager food and continually lobbied the authorities for his release. After 20 months of brutal treatment, being in irons and even suspended by his mangled feet, Adoniram was finally released. The British then pressed him into serving as an interpreter between the British and Burmese, where he gained respect from both sides.
Adoniram Judson compiled an English-Burmese Dictionary and translated the Bible. Then, in 1826, Adoniram Judson’s wife, Ann, died. Adoniram sank into severe depression. He was joined by missionaries George Boardman and his wife.
The first Christian convert from the Karen people was Ko Tha Byu. He had been a murderer with a diabolical temper. He had been captured and sold into slavery, when Adoniram Judson and George Boardman began witnessing to him. Ko Tha Byu converted to Christianity and was baptized on May 16, 1828. For the rest of his life he was a tireless evangelist to the Karen people.
The Karen people had been a hunted minority scattered in the jungles. Astonishingly, their ancient Karen people beliefs were that there was an all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth who made a man, then took one of the man’s ribs and formed a woman. The Karen people believed that as a result of temptation by a devil, the man and woman fell, but there was a promise that someday a messiah would come to their rescue. The Karen people lived in expectation of a prophecy that white foreigners would bring them a sacred parchment roll.
Ko Tha Byu was put into the ministry by Adoniram Judson. After 12 years, 1828-1840, he helped the Karen Baptist Churches grow to 1270 members. Ko Tha Byu served as the first native Burmese pastor, refounding the church at Rangoon. A mission worker described him: “Ko Tha Byu was an ignorant man; yet he did more good than all of us, for God was with him.”
Adoniram Judson died in April 12, 1850. His life’s work resulted in Burma having 100 churches, 123 ministers and over 8,000 baptized Christians.
The leader of the Myanmar Evangelical Fellowship stated in 1993: “Today, there are 6 million Christians in Myanmar, and every one of us trace our spiritual heritage to one man – the Reverend Adoniram Judson.”
Each July, Baptist churches in Myanmar celebrate “Judson Day.”
In the United States, no less than 36 Baptist churches are named after Adoniram Judson, as well as Judson University in Illinois and the town of Judsonia, Arkansas. His wife, Ann Judson, is the namesake of Judson College in Alabama, as well as a dormitory at Maranatha Baptist University. At Brown University there is a house named after Adoniram Judson, owned by Christian Union.
The Judson Baptist Association is a vibrant union of 21 local churches in the area of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
A U.S. Liberty Ship stationed in the Philippines during World War II was named the SS Adoniram Judson. Surviving 56 air raids attacks day and night for six days, the ship’s captain said “It was miraculous that the bombs did not hit the ship.”
Expressing his conviction, Adoniram Judson wrote: “How do Christians discharge this trust committed to them? They let three-fourths of the world sleep the sleep of death, ignorant of the simple truth that a Savior died for them.”
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