Just finished To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson, a deeply moving biography. The last time a biography impacted me this much was twenty years ago when I read the biography of Girolamo Savonarola, A Crown of Fire, by Pierre Van Passen.
Judson and his wife, Nancy, were some of the first foreign missionaries from American soil. They left New England for Burma in 1812. Over the next 40 years thousands followed to remote locations like India, Pakistan, Africa, and South America.
Several aspects of Judson’s life impacted me. First, his dedication, his perseverance in the face of enormous obstacles, and his willingness to suffer. Judson and his wife modeled what it meant when Jesus told us that a grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die before it can bear much fruit. They died and much fruit followed. Jesus modeled this principle. Paul did also. If we live, it is because someone else has died.
Judson and Nancy arrived in Burma in 1813. It was a superstitiouis nation, completely isolated from the outside world. Only a handful of foreigners lived there, and they were persecuted. The government was despotic. It methodically oppressed the native people, who enjoyed no civil rights. Anyone could be imprisoned at any time for any or no reason. Torture was routine, life expectancy was short, disease was rampant, and the people were illiterate.
Progress for the Judsons was slow. It was six years before Adoniram and Nancy gained their first convert. That is because the Burmese were deeply enslaved by a rigid form of Buddhism. However, soon after the first convert a slow trickle of other baptisms began to occur. All the while, Judson gave himself relentlessly to translating the Bible into the Burmese language.
In the meantime death stalked his little family. Their first child was still born. The second lived 6 months. The third died at 24 months. In 1822-24 Adoniram was incarcerated in the Burmese Death Prison for 17 months. This prison was a literal Hell on earth. Nancy kept him alive by bringing food and provision. The effort exhausted her to such an extent that she died a few months after Judson’s release. At her death he descended into a deep depression that lasted for three years.
Slowly he began to recover. He married his second wife, Sarah. the widow of a fellow missionary whose who had died of Tuberculosis. She proved to be a delightful companion and help-mate. She gave Adoniram eight children of which five survived.
To find out how God used his suffering, his impact on the missonary movement, and the triumph of his last years, you will need to buy and read this book. I couldn’t put it down. One night I laid in bed reading until 12:30. I haven’t done that since reading the Tolkien’s Trilogy in the 1980s. To the Golden Shores both humbled and encouraged me.