Adoniram Judson, First Missionary from the United States

Adoniram Judson, First Missionary from the United States

I sat by the fireplace after supper, poking a long stick into the crackling fire. Mother was clearing the table and little Mary cooed sweetly in her cradle--a wonderful sound to my ears after hearing her cry and cough so many nights lately.

Father lit his pipe. "I hear they call you Virgil at school now."

"Yes, Father. They all say I do the lessons too fast!"

"If you train your mind, son, you will become a great man one day," Father replied from the nearby rocker. "I'm going to enroll you in Captain Morton's School of Navigation. What do you think of that?"

I could have shouted! Father kept his word and enrolled me in the navigation school, a short distance from my home near Plymouth, Massachusetts. I learned how to chart the sun and stars and read marine maps. I dreamed of sailing to far away places some day.

Turning Away from God
On the evening of September 13, 1796, a knock came to my bedroom door. It was Father.

"It's Mary," he said. His face was pale as though he'd taken sick. "She's dead."
I felt as though Father had hit me in the stomach. Immediately I thought of Father's recent sermons saying that even little babies had to decide to become a Christian or they'd go to hell. His message didn't sound right to me then, but now, now it made me mad. I became so angry at father and his beliefs that I rejected God. I didn't want anything to do with the God my father described, who could send my innocent baby sister to hell.

Turning to Deism
When I was 16, I enrolled at Rhode Island College, where Jacob Eames became my best friend. He invited me to go with him to parties filled with rich and intellectual people. If my father had known, he would have brought me home and grounded me.

"Adoniram, do you really believe that God cares about people?" Jacob asked me one evening.

"I don't know," I answered honestly.

"I am a Deist," Jacob told me proudly. "I believe that God is out there somewhere, but he is not interested in us. What do we have to offer him?"

Many of my classmates in 1806 were Deists, always arguing that God existed, but didn't really care about us.

"I don't know," I answered. "Let's talk about something more interesting. What do you think you will become after graduation?"

"I'm going to be a United States senator and maybe even the president!" exclaimed Jacob. "But first I'm going to New York City to have some fun."

I laughed, admiring Jacob's love for life. He wasn't afraid to try anything.

As it turned out, I went home to Plymouth to teach after graduating. The tensions between my parents and me grew and grew. I finally told them that I had become a Deist. I felt bad about making my mother cry, but I argued into the night with my father.

Turning to Jesus
Against my parents' wishes, I left for New York City in search of some fun. I looked for my old friend Jacob, but couldn't find him. No one had ever heard of him. After a month of sleeping on hard floors and eating oatmeal three times a day, I'd had enough. I left New York City and rode my horse from town to town, wondering what had become of Jacob Eames.

One night I stopped at an inn, but was told there was no room. After begging the innkeeper for lodging of any kind, I was allowed to share a room with a dying man. The innkeeper had hung a sheet to divide the room in half, but all through the night I heard the loud groans of the dying man. He sounded like he was afraid to die.

The next morning, I asked the innkeeper, "How is the man in the next room?"
"Died early this morning," he replied.

"Who was he?" I asked.

"An intellectual young man, I hear," replied the innkeeper. "His name was Jacob Eames."

A chill ran down my spine as I gasped aloud. I'd looked all over New York City for Jacob. How could he die ten feet away from me behind a sheet?

Jacob's death not only made me sad, but it made me think. Was Jacob right? Was God distant and uncaring?

I knew I needed answers to these questions, so when I returned home I enrolled in Andover Seminary where I debated the facts of the Bible with my professors. I finally realized that the Bible was true and that there is a loving God who cares about people! I committed my life to serving Him! I still didn't share my father's belief that babies who die would be doomed, but I began to realize that father and I agreed on most things in the Bible.

A Call to Burma
One day I found a book in the seminary library that talked about a British officer who was sent to Burma in 1795. As I read about the land of Burma where people worshiped idols, I felt a strange fiery excitement inside.

I am staring at my future! I thought. I'll tell the Burmese people about Jesus!

On February 18, 1812, shortly after I was ordained as a missionary, my new wife Ann and I sailed away from our family and friends in America. Four of my friends became missionaries with us and, in fact, we became known as America's first missionaries. While our friends went to India, Ann and I followed our hearts to Burma, where we hoped to tell the Burmese about Jesus.

After we arrived in Burma, Ann and I learned the new language. It took me years to do it, but I translated the entire Bible into Burmese. Although we told them about Jesus all the time, it took six years before one person accepted Jesus as their Savior.

Postscript
Adoniram and Ann Judson went through many hard times in Burma. The poor food, unbearable heat, and widespread diseases made life difficult. Two of their babies died in the terrible climate, and both Ann and Adoniram were imprisoned during the war with Britain. But when Adoniram died in 1850, there were 7,000 baptized believers, 63 Christian congregations and 163 missionaries in Burma. To this day, over 150 years later, his Burmese Bible translation is still in use.

Make It Real! Questions to help you dig a little deeper and think a little harder.

  1. Judson told people about Jesus all the time, but it took six years until the first person accepted Jesus. Have you ever prayed for someone for years before you saw an answer? How did you feel?
  2. Do you know anyone who believes in God, but doesn't believe that God cares about them? How can you help them to understand that God does care?
  3. Considering all the difficulties the Judsons faced in Burma, would you say that God blessed their lives? How about when you consider that 7,000 believers were baptized into the family of God as a result of their work?
  4. II Corinthians 4:18 says, "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." How does this verse relate to the story of Adoniram Judson?
  5. How old do you think a child must be in order to understand the Gospel and become a Christian?
  • Suggested reading:
    • Adoniram Judson, Bound for Burma by Janet and Geoff Benge (Christian Heroes Then and Now, YWAM)
    • Adoniram Judson: A Grand Purpose by Renee Taft Meloche (Heroes for Young Readers, YWAM)
    • Imprisoned in the Golden City by Dave and Neta Jackson (Trailblazer Books, Bethany House)
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