Born AUGUST 9, 1788When the guards opened the door of the Burmese prison, Adoniram hoped it meant his freedom from the sights, sounds, smells, and physical discomfort of the place. So far, he’d endured eleven months of torturous treatment. The guards commanded the prisoners into the sunlight. They told them to march to another prison eight miles away.
A PROMISING FUTURE
Adoniram’s life in Massachusetts began well. His parents were devout Christians. His father pastored a Congregational church. They noticed their son’s mental aptitude early. He learned to read at age three.
He eventually applied his keen mind at Providence (Brown) College. However, while there, a classmate’s influence drew him away from his spiritual upbringing. Adoniram accepted the deist view, rejecting belief in a personal God. In 1807, at age nineteen, he graduated as class valedictorian. Then the young deist wandered.
One night in an inn, he heard horrible moaning throughout the night from the next room. The following morning, he learned the man had died. Sadder yet was the dead man’s identity– the college friend who’d persuaded him to embrace deism. Shaken, Adoniram returned to his parent’s home in Plymouth and attended his father’s church. He eventually accepted Jesus as his Savior.Adoniram continued his education; he enrolled in and graduated from Andover Theological seminary. Two years later, in a two-week period in 1812, he married Anne Hasseltine, was ordained a Congregational missionary, and, with other newly appointed missionaries, set sail from Salem Harbor to Calcutta. The United States had never before sent a missionary to a foreign country.
Adoniram was to meet missionary William Carey in India. The newly appointed American missionary planned, when he met the English Baptist, to debate baptism with him. How-ever, during the four-month journey across the Atlantic, Adoniram and Ann both had a change of heart. By the end of the voyage a prayerful study of scripture had led them to accept baptism by immersion.
They met William Carey and were rebaptized. They switched their denominational allegiance to Baptist. Forbidden by the East India Company to minister in Calcutta, the Judsons boarded a ship to Rangoon, Burma (Myanmar since 1989). Back in the United States, a Baptist missions board was started to support Adoniram.
BUDDHISTS TURNED BAPTISTSBurma was Buddhist. The government opposed conversions to other religions. But the people of Burma liked to read. Adoniram set a lofty goal: translate the Bible into the Burmese language. First the Judsons had to learn Burmese.
Two years later Adoniram had written and published a gospel tract. He erected a building called a zayat and invited in passersby to rest and talk. Inside the open-air hut, Adoniram handed out and discussed his tract, “A View of the Christian Religion.” Adoniram knew the seed of God’s word would take root in people’s hearts. He stated his convictions, “The future is as bright as the promises of God.” It took time. He and Ann saw their first convert after working and praying for six years.
WAR AND DEATHIn 1822, Ann returned to United States for a while to recover her health. While there, she wrote a book about their trials and triumphs. Another introduction to their ministry was letters she sent home detailing their adventurous lives. Her letters were included in Baptist publications. Their story spread to other denominations.
They kept winning and baptizing converts. But since the government refused to sanction any religion but Buddhism, all new Christians lived under the constant threat of government per-secution.
Adoniram continued translating the Bible. He completed the New Testament in 1823. That same year, he established a mission in the capital city, Ava. He wanted to be near the emperor so he could petition him to legalize non-Buddhist religions. However, mounting tensions between the emperor and England put Adoniram’s plans on hold.Suddenly, all English-speaking foreigners were considered spies. Adoniram and others were thrown into prison. The horrid conditions included torture. In the march they were commanded to make to another prison, one of them died.
During the entire seventeen months of Adoniram’s captivity, Ann tirelessly brought her husband food and pleaded with the guards and government officials to treat him fairly.
English troops marched toward Ava. The emperor backed down. Due to Adoniram’s language skills, he was chosen to interpret for the emperor during negotiations. Peace resulted. Adoniram was freed.
The Judsons eventually relocated to a new English settlement in Burma. There, Ann gave birth to their third child, a daughter (Their two previous children had died). Ann had endured so much through the years but didn’t survive long after the birth. Ann Judson, America’s first female foreign missionary, died in 1826. The baby girl lived only a few months longer.Burma finally permitted religious diversity. Other Baptist missionaries arrived, including George and Sarah Boardman. They and Adoniram started a church in southern Burma. There they met the former murderer named Ko Tha Byu.
The Burma native hailed from the wild (non-Buddhist) Karen people. Adoniram looked beyond Ko Tha Byu’s fits of rage to teach him the Christian way. George Boardman baptized Ko. The new convert became a powerful evangelist to his own people.
George Boardman died in 1831. Three years later, his wife Sarah became Adoniram’s second wife. They would have eight children together. Five would live to adulthood.
The same year he remarried, Adoniram completed translating the Old Testament (eleven years after the New Testament). He revised the Old Testament until 1840.
Sarah’s health eventually weakened. Adoniram and Sarah (and three of their children) boarded a ship to America. Sarah would not live to the end of the journey. In late 1845, Adoniram and the children arrived in Boston.
He’d been gone from America for thirty-three years. Because Ann’s writings had informed America so well of his accomplishments, churches treated Adoniram like a celebrity. One of the people he met was an author of fiction named Emily Chubbock. At first, he request-ed she write the story of his late wife, Sarah. He ended up asking her to marry him.The newlyweds returned to Burma. Adoniram worked the rest of his life on the English/Burmese dictionary. He finished only half of it before his death.
Burma’s pioneer missionary died at sea on April 12, 1850. He’d served a pivotal role in world missions as well as in Burma’s history. He endured every difficulty because he lived by words he once wrote: “In spite of sorrow, loss, and pain, our course be onward still; we sow on Burma’s barren plain, we reap on Zion’s hill.”
Upon Adoniram’s death Burma had 100 churches, an estimated 8,000 believers, and the Bible in their own language. In the years since 1850, Christianity has swung in and out of favor in Burma. Yet, around two million Christians live there today.
—Press Bible Translation on the category cloud to read about two other missionaries who translated the Bible—
LET ME KNOW: How has Adoniram’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
- “Adoniram and Ann Judson.” Christian History & Biography. No. 90, 2006.
- Larsen, Timothy, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
Learn more about Adoniram’s life from the following resources————-
Books (these among others elaborate on the Judsons)-
- Hunt, Rosalie. Bless God and Take Courage: The Jusdon History and Legacy. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2005.
- Hambrick, Sharon. Adoniram Judson: God’s Man in Burma. Greenville, SC: JourneyForth, 2001.
- James, Sharon. My Heart in His Hands: Ann Judson of Burma. Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 1999.
- Anderson, Courtney. To the Golden Shore. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1987.
- You’ll find various biographical articles here-http://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/biorpjudson.html
- “Adoniram Judson Story” youtube video, 14:36. Posted by mlelejd on February 6, 2011-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPtVne_ajbk.