Young Love in a Cruel Land

The Wife Who Sailed with Adoniram Judson

On February 18, 1812, Ann and Adoniram Judson (ages 21 and 22) boarded the Caravan in the New England port of Salem. They had been married for less than two weeks, and set sail for Asia, expecting not to see America again.

They arrived in Burma (now Myanmar) to commence pioneer gospel work in July of 1813 — having already endured a four-month sea journey, a painful separation from their sending body and colleagues (due to their conscientious decision to be baptized as believers), the death of Ann’s friend Harriet, and the stillbirth of Ann’s first child.

The next thirteen years would be punctuated by serious illness, lengthy separations, and continual harassment. Ann’s second child, Roger Williams, died at eight months. She was pregnant with her third child when Adoniram was taken into the notorious Death Prison in Ava in June 1824. They would not know freedom together until February 1826. During that time, both suffered immensely; Ann daily risked her own life to care for Adoniram. These privations resulted in her death, at age 36, in October 1826. Little Maria Eliza would die six months later.

So much suffering. So many tears.

Yet Ann’s determination to serve Christ shone, undimmed, to the end. What fueled her resolve? To answer that question, we have to go back to her profound conversion, which resulted in a passionate concern for God’s glory and a powerful certainty in God’s promises.

Profound Conversion

Ann Hasseltine was born in 1789, in Bradford, New England. Popular and sociable, she would confide in her diary that she was “one of the happiest creatures on earth” (Ann Judson, 20). Ann attended church each Sunday, but her life revolved around friends and parties.

When she was 15, a teacher arrived at Bradford Academy who urged his pupils that repentance was urgent. Many were convicted of sin, including Ann. But she lurched, for months, between fear of judgment and terror of what friends would say if she became “serious.” Ultimately, God drew her to himself. At age 16, she wrote,

A view of [God’s] purity and holiness filled my soul with wonder and admiration. I felt a disposition to commit myself unreservedly into his hands, and leave it with him to save me or cast me off, for I felt I could not be unhappy, while allowed the privilege of contemplating and loving so glorious a Being. . . .

I felt myself to be a poor lost sinner, destitute of everything to recommend myself to the divine favour. [I knew] that it had been the mere sovereign, restraining mercy of God, not my own goodness, which had kept me from committing the most flagrant crimes. This view of myself humbled me in the dust, melted me into sorrow and contrition for my sins, induced me to lay my soul at the feet of Christ, and plead his merits alone, as the ground of my acceptance. (24–25)

Ann joined the Congregational Church in Bradford in September 1806. Her parents and siblings were also converted and joined the church. This is a vignette of what was taking place throughout America — a movement we now refer to as the Second Great Awakening.

“Christ did not issue the Great Commission on the condition that health, comfort, and safety could be assured.”

One outworking of revival was increased concern for those unreached with the gospel. Previously, American Protestants had sent missionaries to the North American Indians, but not overseas. Now, some young Christians were convinced that Christ’s command to go to all nations applied to them too.

Following her conversion, Ann began teaching in a small school. She wanted the children in her charge to follow Christ, but in her prayers she ranged across the globe, praying for the conversion of all nations:

My chief happiness now consisted in contemplating the moral perfections of the glorious God. I longed to have all intelligent creatures love him. (27)

Passionate Concern

Ann now knew that she was here on this earth to serve God. At 18, after reading the journal of David Brainerd, she wrote in her own journal of her passion to pray for all nations, and of her willingness to go wherever Christ would choose.

A year after that, in June 1810, four young students met with the General Association of Congregational ministers in Bradford. They were volunteering to take the gospel to the unreached people of Asia. One of them was Adoniram Judson. The brilliant son of a Congregational minister, he had been converted after a period of rebellion. Like Ann, his conversion resulted in a passionate concern that all nations should praise God.

That day, the would-be missionaries were given lunch at the home of the Hasseltines. Unsurprisingly, Adoniram set his heart upon Ann. One month later, he wrote to her father,

I have now 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 . . . 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? (37)

Mr. Hasseltine left the choice to Ann, who resolved to marry Adoniram and to leave all she knew for the unknown:

I rejoice, that I am in [God’s] hands — that he is everywhere present, and can protect me in one place as well as in another. 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. (40)

At this time, sea journeys were hazardous. Letters took months, and some never arrived. There was no established mission network to which these pioneers could go. Nothing was guaranteed: safety, health, toleration — least of all success. Many thought the idea insane.

But Christ did not issue the Great Commission on the condition that health, comfort, and safety could be assured.

Shortly after arrival in Burma, Ann’s journal records her desire that all should honor God, her concern for the plight of people deprived of gospel light, and her conviction that it was a privilege to have been called to sacrifice comfort for the kingdom:

If it may please the dear Redeemer to make me instrumental of leading some of the females of Burma to a saving acquaintance with him, my great object would be accomplished, my highest desires gratified: I shall rejoice to have relinquished my comforts, my country, and my home. . . . When shall cruel, idolatrous, avaricious Burma know, that thou art the God of the whole earth, and alone deservest the homage and adoration of all creatures? Hasten it, Lord, in thine own time. (83–84)

Cruel and avaricious were not malicious terms. Burma’s penal system was indeed brutal, including public torture for minor offenses. And the country’s exorbitant taxation trapped the majority of the population in dire poverty. Ann’s passionate concern was warranted.

Powerful Certainty

The day-to-day routine of surviving in harsh and hostile circumstances, acquisition of a new language, hundreds of hours in discussion with inquirers — all was motivated by the conviction that God is sovereign, and his promises are sure. “We have nothing to expect from man, and everything from God . . . we are in the service of Him who governs the world” (55, 172).

Such confidence liberated Ann to see the long-term perspective. They were laying a foundation for future work:

We cannot expect to do much, in such a rough, uncultivated field; yet if we may be instrumental in removing some of the rubbish, and preparing the way for others, it will be a sufficient reward . . . when we recollect that Jesus has commanded his disciples to carry the gospel to the nations, and promised to be with them to the end of the world; that God has promised to give the nations to his Son for an inheritance, we are encouraged to make a beginning, though in the midst of discouragement, and leave it to him to grant success, in his own time and way. (73, 83)

She longed for Christ to be magnified and souls to be won in Burma — whether she saw the harvest or not.

Permanent Contribution

Ann’s life, albeit short, was hugely influential in the expansion of the missions movement in the nineteenth century. Ann and Adoniram established the first church in Burma. Ann was fully engaged in evangelism. She engaged in translation in both Burmese and Siamese (Thai), including a catechism. She started schools and stirred up support for female education among American women.

Ann died prematurely. Her valiant efforts to secure her husband’s survival in prison had shattered her own strength. He would minister in Burma for another 23 years, during which time a firm foundation for church life was laid (including his magnificent translation of the Bible).

In time, the epic drama of the Judson story inspired generations of Baptist missionaries. Ann’s writings were among the first at a popular level to stir up missionary interest among the Protestant population in America, and beyond. Her Memoir was printed soon after her death, and ran through many editions. She was the childhood heroine of Adoniram’s second and third wives.

In 1815, a 10-year-old American girl, Sarah Hall, wept when she heard of the death of Ann’s baby Roger, and she wrote a poem to mark the sad event. Little did she know that eighteen years later she would become the second Mrs. Judson!

“The epic drama of the Judson story inspired generations of Baptist missionaries.”

In 1828, a 12-year-old factory girl, Emily Chubbuck, was moved to tears by reading of the death of baby Maria. Eighteen years later, she would become the third Mrs. Judson! Emily said to a friend before meeting Adoniram, “I have felt, ever since I read the Memoir of Mrs Ann H. Judson when I was a small child, that I must become a missionary” (253).

Pray for Burma

Ann’s God-centered testimony inspired, and continues to inspire, many. It challenges the self-absorption of our comfort-obsessed culture. It spurs us on to plead with God for many to come to a living faith and a joyous determination to serve God whatever the cost.

It also reminds us of Burma (now Myanmar), where the military regime is brutalizing the population, including many Christians. We can pray that their testimony of eternal hope would win many to Christ, and that God would be honored in the nation Ann Judson so willingly served and departed from into glory.