The tears in my eyes immediately grasped the attention of my children, and frankly I was surprised by this sudden rush of emotions too. I had just noticed that Amazon Prime was now streaming the latest Torchlighters biographical animated video, and as I sat the kids on the couch and briefly introduced Ann and Adoniram Judson, I told them a story about an encounter we had this April on a visit to Atlanta that was most likely linked to these missionaries from the early 19th century. I wanted to share that story, and a little bit of the Judsons' story, in hopes of encouraging you like it encouraged me.
This spring, we visited Stone Mountain, a geological wonder: it's a 1,686 ft. mountain in a relatively flat area, and it's comprised completely of rock. Stone Mountain is extremely fun to hike, but we also enjoy ascending or descending it by riding the park's Summit Skyride cable car. Stone Mountain is a very multi-cultural tourist attraction, so we enjoyed sharing our descending ride in the cable car on this particular day with a very large family consisting of multiple generations. They were quite caught up in taking selfie after selfie, recording video of every moment, and laughing together in a language I didn't recognize. I asked one of the English-speaking family members where they were from.
"Myanmar," he replied kindly. With his accent I initially didn't understand, so he clarified by the name by which his nation is better known: "Burma." Oh, Burma! I knew a little bit about Burma! As we continued talking, I learned that this man lived here in the Atlanta area, and his family had come to visit from Burma to celebrate their uncle's birthday. (The uncle was the happy old man in their group who was featured in the most selfies.) I asked what brought him to the States, and he said he's a pastor of a Burmese church here.
A pastor? From Burma?? I couldn't believe my ears. In the early 1800's when the Judsons arrived, Christianity was virtually non-existent there. Anyone who believed in Christ would be killed. Even now, persecution remains high for all minority religions.
Ann and Adoniram arrived in Burma in 1813 and it was six years before anyone converted to Christianity. Ann and Adoniram studied Burmese fiercely, and Adoniram wrote a grammar book called Grammatical Notices of the Burman Language; he also compiled the first Burmese-English dictionary. Though these were great gifts to the people of Burma, Adoniram and Ann's top priority, of course, was translating the Bible into Burmese. Before this, there was no Bible. There were no Christians. In this violent and war-torn nation, there was no eternal hope.
After they had been there about a decade, Adoniram was imprisoned under brutal conditions for twenty months. Nearly all the prisoners with him died during this time because the conditions were so harsh. Ann, a translator herself who was pregnant and eventually nursing their newborn baby, visited the prison often to bribe the jailers and soften the conditions as much as she could. She reportedly even smuggled in some of the translation work through a pillow so Adoniram could keep working. Ann repeatedly pleaded with the officials for the freedom of her husband and the other prisoners, but it was to no avail until Adoniram was released so he could serve as an interpreter for the government. Shortly after, Ann succombed to smallpox and died; her baby, Maria, passed away six months later.
By the time of Adoniram's death, Christianity had grown immensely. There were now thousands of believers. Even today, Christianity comprises 6% of the population; half are Baptists like the Judsons. Of course we can't help but wonder what would have happened if Adoniram and Ann wouldn't have gone, if they wouldn't have endured for the sake of the good news of Jesus reaching ears that had never heard. Their translation of the Bible is still in use today! Their legacy almost certainly touched the life of the man I met on the skyride, and it touches mine---and now my children's lives---as well.
Bottom line? It's worth it to have a hard life. So much of Ann and Adoniram's story is so sad---Ann died at only 35 years of age, and none of their three children survived past infancy. I absolutely cannot imagine living there for six years before seeing any real change in anyone. Six. Years. They didn't endure all this perfectly or with a cheery attitude; when Ann and Maria died, Adoniram became depressed, wrestled deeply with God, and even dug his own grave as he contemplated death and the shortness of life.
But God helped him persevere. And now, all the way over here in the United States, I met a man who heard about Jesus from someone who heard about Jesus from someone who heard about Jesus from someone who probably heard about Jesus from Adoniram and Ann Judson. He most likely uses a Bible that was translated by this couple.
As I sit here in my 21st-century, middle-class American comfort, the story of Ann and Adoniram makes my fears, complaints, and difficulties feel so small, and I'm able to see the great sovereignty of their God---and mine---as more like it really is. He helps His people. He uses His people. I can only see one day at a time, but He sees all eternity. And He who invited Adoniram and Ann Judson to take the painful path of love that Jesus walked invites you and I to joyfully do the same. Difficulty is not the worst thing that can happen to me.
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 5, 3, 1, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
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Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today