Adoniram fell almost instantly in love with his first wife, Ann (known as Nancy). Two weeks after their wedding, they set sail, arriving four months later in Calcutta. However, their teaching was not welcome there, so they headed to Burma. Nancy lost their first child on board ship.
It took three years of diligent study, 12 hours per day, to learn the Burmese language. Seven years after they left home, he baptized his first convert.
Sickness, heat, difficult circumstances abounded; they paled in comparison to the grief they endured with the loss of their second child, Robert, at 8 months of age.
"Our hearts were bound up with this child; we felt he was our earthly all, our only source of innocent recreation in this heathen land. But God saw it was necessary to remind us of our error, and to strip us of our only little all. O, may it not be vain that he has done it. May we so improve it that he will stay his hand and say 'It is enough'."
My heart resonates with Ann's. I know what it is to bind one's heart up with one's child. See the tenderness with which she writes "to strip us of our only little all". Her statement, "May we so improve it" meant "May we take the lesson God is teaching us to heart, learning wisdom so well that He does not have to repeat the lesson". I am sure Ann understood that God gives trials to His loved children so they can learn more of Him, of His character, of His grace, and so they can in turn impart those lessons to other suffering Christians.
Adoniram kept on preaching and translating the Scriptures into the Burmese language, and after 17 years of work, he reported 10 Burmese converts.
Then war broke out between Britain and Burma. Adooniram was arrested, because he spoke English so was suspected of being a spy. Half-starved, fettered in irons, sometimes suspended by his mangled feet with only his head and shoulders touching the ground, he took courage when his wife, nursing a tiny baby (Maria) visited him and pled with officials for his release.
Only a few months after his release, his wife died, followed six months later by his daughter.
He entered a deep, dark depression, wondering if he had become a missionary for all the wrong reasons. He retreated from people, then to live in isolation in the jungle. It took nearly two years for Adoniram to begin to climb out of the darkness. God would not let him go.
He married a second wife, Sarah, who bore him eight children, five of whom survived to adulthood. When she grew ill they set sail for America, hoping that a change of climate would restore her health. Alas, she died on board ship.
He married a third wife, Emily, and they had four very happy years together. When Adoniram fell ill, their only hope was to send him on a voyage. He was miserable, vomiting, experiencing much pain. He was heard to say, "How few there are who die so hard!"
Adoniram laboured 37 years as a missionary, with only one trip home. He had set a goal of translating the Bible and founding a church of 100 members. When he died, he left the Bible, 100 churches, and over 8,000 believers.
His legacy continues to this day. Officials in Burma (now Myanmar) have stated that Judson's English-Burmese dictionary is very clear, and that there is no need for revision. There is a large number of Baptists in Myanmar due in part to Judson's influence.
Churches, universities, and a ship was named in his honour. Even Ann, his first wife, had a college named in her honour, and her letters about their mission inspired many Americans to become or support Christian missionaries.
John Piper wrote a sermon based on the Judsons. He demonstrated that God purposes to spread the gospel to all peoples, and that He uses suffering to accomplish this purpose.
Adoniram Judson's life illustrates that truth.
Adoniram once wrote, "Remember, a large proportion of those who come out on a mission to the East die within five years of leaving their native land. Walk softly, therefore; death is narrowly watching your steps."
Read John Piper's sermon here:
We do well when we study these great men and women. We do well to emulate them.