GOD IS AT WORK
I don’t think you would be surprised to find out that there are more Baptists in the United States than in any other country in the world, with estimates ranging anywhere from 35-50 million. The next few countries with the largest population of Baptists might surprise you though. They are primarily found in Asia and Africa, in places like India, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, and Myanmar, which used to be called Burma. Surprisingly, Myanmar, of all places, continues to have one of the highest percentages of Baptists by population of any country today and has had for over 100 years. Humanly speaking, the reason for that is one man, Adoniram Judson, and his trust that God was at work through Jesus Christ and his gospel to bring about the kingdom of God.
Judson was saved when he was twenty years old, and he quickly sensed that God was calling him to vocational missions, spending his life sharing the gospel with people overseas. He became convinced that he needed to go to Asia because there were so many people there who weren’t Christians. He arrived in Calcutta, India in 1812, along with his wife Ann, to join a Christian work started by William Carey. Two things happened almost immediately that probably would have deterred most of us.
Less than a year after they got to India they were forced to leave because the British didn’t want Americans there; the War of 1812 between the USA and Britain had begun. Instead of leaving for home, they set sail for what was then called Burma, but right before they got there they had a miscarriage with their first child. Instead of leaving though, they settled into the country. It took another year before they finally found a place they could permanently live and minister. Burma was a completely Buddhist nation at the time, and they were the only known Christians there. Adoniram and Ann went to work learning the language, which is so different from English and other Western languages that it took them over three years to learn it.
Four years passed after they moved to Burma before Judson dared to hold even a semi-public service, with little success. The idea of an all-powerful, Creator God who came to save humanity in the person of Jesus Christ was completely foreign to the Buddhist mindset and culture of Burma. Making it even more difficult was the law that forbade religious conversion from Buddhism, punishable by death. Finally, in June of 1819, six years into their stay, Judson baptized his first Burmese convert. In 1820 he got an audience with the Emperor of Burma and attempted to witness to him and convince him to allow conversion from Buddhism to other religions, but the Emperor refused and threw him out. By 1823 though, when they had been there for ten years, there were 18 believers meeting together in a little church in Burma, and Judson had finally translated the entire New Testament into the Burmese language.
Try to put yourself in Hudson’s place at this point. In the grand scheme of things, when you consider the billions of people who have lived on this planet throughout history, 18 people and one translated New Testament doesn’t sound like all that much, especially after 10 years of hard work and suffering. How many of us would have stayed? Why would Judson? It was because he was convinced of a truth we too must be convinced of if we are going to live for God: God is at work through the gospel of Jesus Christ to build the church and bring about the kingdom, and the results will be beyond compare.
Unfortunately, Judson’s church didn’t live happily ever after. In 1824, Burma and Britain went to war, making all English-speakers threats, and Judson was arrested, spending 20 months as a prisoner of war. He was arrested in front of his wife, marched across the country, and tortured throughout his sentence, often hung upside down in prison. A few years after that experience Judson’s wife, Ann, died, as did their infant child. Judson knew that God had called him to this place however, that God is faithful, so he stayed faithful, sowing the Word. By 1832, 19 years after moving there, he had started a new work. This time that new work grew rapidly. One of his indigenous disciples began a fruitful ministry himself. When Judson died in 1850 after 37 years in Burma, he left behind over 100 churches and 8000 believers, as well as the entire Bible, translated into the Burmese language. He was also instrumental in beginning the first Baptist mission organization in the United States, which led to the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845.
We must remember and trust that God is at work. If you come to him, he is at work in your life, changing you through his Word. He is at work in our church. He is at work using our witness in our community, in your home, at your workplace, at your school, and in our country. We may never well know how he will use us. What we do know is that if we hear Jesus, receive his Word, bear his fruit, depend on him, and remain faithful, he will work in us and through us to bring in a harvest we could never begin to reap on our own.