Every missionary has to have dedication and has to be willing to make sacrifices, even in our day. But the amount of dedication and sacrifice and willingness to step into the unknown displayed by Adoniram and his wife and the small group who stepped out with them just amazes me. His wife, Ann Hassletine (also called Nancy) is one of the bravest women I have ever read of, going into the great unknown as she did and facing all that she did in later years. The letter Adoniram wrote to ask her father for her hand in marriage in July of 1810 is an atypical proposal, but frank:
I have not 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 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 His 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?
He was not being melodramatic: he was being realistic. It says a lot about Nancy that she accepted such a proposal, especially as it was written only a month after they had met. It took her two months to respond.
Adoniram and Ann were among the first missionaries that we know of that America sent out. I wrote about Adoniram’s biography, To the Golden Shore, last year, but this time I want to focus on Ann.
Ann had come to saving faith in Christ as a teenager, and since that time had developed a strong sense of reverence and dedication to God and a desire to be useful in His service. She would not have taken such an offer as Adoniram’s lightly. She consented and married him more than a year later.
Theirs is one of the most fascinating and, in many ways, heartbreaking stories in Christendom. They sailed for India with a few others. They left as Congregationalists, but during their months at sea their study of baptism in Scripture led them to become Baptists. This step of what they felt was obedience was also a step of faith, as it meant they would no longer be supported by the Congregationalists. Whatever your feelings about modes of baptism and denominations, it says a lot about their character that they would follow through with what they believed to be right as a matter of conscience even though it would cost them in many ways.
Through a variety of circumstances too long to tell here, they ended up in Burma (now known as Myanmar) rather than India. During they voyage Ann had delivered a baby which died and was buried at sea. They labored for six years without a convert and worked on translating the Bible into the native language. Within a year after that first convert, they had baptized 18 Christians. Ann opened a school for women and children. Another son was born and died.
Adoniram was imprisoned for a year and a half due to circumstances too long and detailed to go into here, but involved the Burmese misunderstanding of Adoniram’s banking situation, and they thought they money he was receiving for support from the British, with whom they were at war, meant he was a spy. Ann faithfully visited, bribed the guard so she could see Adoniram, brought him food and encouragement, smuggled his Bible translation work to him a hard pillow, repeatedly appealed for his release, and did what she could to relieve the suffering of the other prisoners as well. When Adoniram and other prisoners were forced to walk barefoot 8 miles to another prison, Ann took her baby daughter and followed. She wrote to her brother around this time, “But the consolation of religion, in these trying circumstances, were neither ‘ few nor small!’ It taught me to look beyond this world, to that rest, . . . where Jesus reigns and oppression never enters.” She fell severely ill with smallpox and spotted fever, and Adoniram was able to nurse her back to health when he got out, though she remained weak. Some time later she contracted another fever she could not fight off. She died at the age of 36, and her baby daughter died soon after.
She had wanted to be “useful,” and God certainly did use her throughout her life and since. After her death God worked through a book she had written about the early mission work in Burma to inspire interest in missions. He works through her biographies today to encourage us to a closer walk with God and closer dedication to Him. To the Golden Shore naturally has much about her as well as Adoniram, and My Heart In His Hands: Ann Judson of Burma by Sharon James tells Ann’s life story primarily through her journals and letters. Unfortunately it is not in print, but used copies can be found for just a few dollars (somebody needs to work on getting some of these books on Kindle!) Some years ago I read The Three Mrs. Judsons by Cecil Hartley, but I don’t remember much about it. It is available online here. In looking for that one I came across Lives of the Three Mrs. Judsons by Arabella Stuart that is free for the Kindle: I haven’t read it but just ordered it. It is also available online here.
The title from Sharon’s book comes from a journal entry of Ann’s after she accepted Mr. Judson’s proposal:
If nothing in providence appears to prevent, I must spend my days in a heathen land. I am a creature of God, and he has an undoubted right to do with me, as seems good in his sight… He has my heart in his hands, and when I am called to face danger, to pass through scenes of terror and distress, he can inspire me with fortitude, and enable me to trust in him. Jesus is faithful; his promises are precious. Were it not for these considerations, I should sink down with despair…But whether I send my days in India or America, I desire to spend them in the service of God, and be prepared to spend an eternity in his presence. O Jesus, make me to live to thee, and I desire no more.