A FATHER’S FAITH
Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) remains one of the most powerful examples of a life fully devoted to the spread of the gospel. When asked to provide advice to missionary candidates, Judson’s first words of guidance were to “let it be a missionary life,” rather than just a short-term endeavor. Across many seasons of suffering and success, he demonstrated just such a lifelong and steadfast commitment to the work of a missionary as he sought to reach the people of Burma. Enduring spiritual, physical, and emotional trials, Judson blazed the trail for American foreign missions and left a legacy for Baptists and all Christians that persists to this day.
Judson was consumed with a passion for reaching the lost, and expended his life in that pursuit. The sorrows he experienced along that journey are difficult to imagine: long, difficult sea voyages; war, imprisonment, and torture; the exhausting labor of learning language and translation; countless rejections; debilitating sickness; endless separations from his wife and children; the deaths of his first and second wives and seven of his thirteen children. But what he sowed in tears and anguish has yielded an amazing harvest. At the time of his death, he had translated the entire Bible into Burmese and authored numerous tracts, as well as a grammar and dictionary. There were 63 churches with more than seven thousand native Christians. Beyond his direct impact on the people of Burma, Judson played a leading role in the American foreign missions movement by calling for the establishment of the first foreign mission board in America, creating the need for the first national Baptist association, and serving as the first Baptist foreign missionary.
An integral and often overlooked partner in establishing Adoniram’s ministry was his wife, Ann. In seeking her father’s permission to initially court Ann, Judson offered the following sober request:
“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 is 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 righteous, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”
Despite the candor of Judson’s letter, Ann’s father left the decision to her, and after solemn deliberation, she embraced the prospect of leaving behind all acquaintances and comforts for the sake of the gospel.
As we approach Father’s Day, I am reminded of—and especially challenged by—the example of Ann’s father. Ann’s willingness to go and make disciples, and eventually die doing so, is a testament to how her parents raised her to love the Lord above all else. As a father, though, I am even more inspired and convicted that her father was prepared to part with his dear child for the sake of the Lord and the lost. May the Lord grant us such a clear vision of His glory that we would likewise seek to love Him more than anything or anyone else in this world.