Book Review: Adoniram Judson by Jason G. Duesing

Judson bookThe last book I can remember reading that had such an impact on me was in my later university years. I read a young adult version of the biography of Jim Elliot, a missionary martyr to Ecuador. His life and faith were an inspiration as I worked out my faith during my university years and spurred me into the world of missions.

That was over 10 years ago now.

So it seems very few books I read spur me into greater action and reflection. Most books invite me into the story and may give good information about a particular person or period. But I can’t think of more than a handful of books I’ve read that spur me into action and greater obedience to God.

But the book Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of The Pioneer American Missionary by Jason G. Duesing, is one of those books.

This book isn’t written by one author. We could say it’s a collection of essays combined to give an excellent picture of Judson’s life and ministry. The book goes deep into his early life, his Christian life, his missionary life, his married life, and the influential life he led.

It is a wonder as to why I hadn’t previously read a book about Judson. He is highly esteemed, particularly by those in America and the missions world. He is recognised as the father of American missions. The little I previously knew was from John Piper’s biographical message on the man from 2003. Yet in this written volume, with references to his and his wives’ journals and letters, there is a terrific account of this “mighty man”.

Three main areas I saw highlighted in the book were Judson’s faith in the sovereignty of God, endurance through suffering, and commitment to long-term missions service.

Sovereignty
The faith Judson and his wives’ had in God is simply an inspiration.

I say wives because Judson ended up having three. Ann and Sarah, his first two, died during his lifetime and Emily passed away only a few years after Judson himself died. I feel this needs to be clarified so there is no miscommunication. 🙂

But all four individuals were wholeheartedly followers of Jesus Christ and sought to be obedient to His call, wherever that led. This begins with the conversion of Adoniram Judson soon after hearing one of his good friends from university die in the room next to him. He literally heard this man passing away during the night and upon finding out who it was the next morning was thrown into turmoil about his own soul.

Judson sees the light and the graciousness of God through his Son and clings to the cross for forgiveness and salvation. He realises that it is only the cross that can bring true salvation. The trust he has in God at this early stage is evident. The way God’s hand guided him from being the son of a Congregationalist minister into atheism through university and then into a living, vibrant, and heartfelt faith when he was 20 years old is clearly seen. God’s sovereignty is at work.

With this as the banner of his life he pursues a life that will count. He seeks to see others come to know God through his Son, so that they too may see salvation through the cross.

He trusts God in his studies, as he heads to theological college without an active faith. Over the course of his studies he converts and has an unrivaled desire to be a missionary is Asia. He trusts God as he seeks a wife and proposes to Ann Hasseltine, loving her and trusting she will be willing to come with him to Burma and the East. In a letter to her parents, seeking to begin a relationship with her, he very early on describes his intentions for life and what that will mean for them and their daughter. In July, 1810, he writes,

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; 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 fer and for you; for the sake of perishing immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God?

As they travel he trusts God’s plans as they make the controversial but convicted decision to become Baptists after studying the scriptures. In the four months from leaving the American shores he and his wife Ann see the truth in Believer’s Baptism and are baptised themselves by colleagues of William Carey in India.

In his first marriage with Ann, and consequently the ones following, the sovereignty of God is central to their faith and obedience.

Suffering
Judson and his wives’ suffered immensely. He saw the death of two wives, the death of over five children, and the death of colleagues in the mission work. He was imprisoned for nearly two years by the brutal regime in Burma at the time. When he lost his firstborn son he wrote:

Our little Roger died last Saturday morning. We looked at him through the day, and on the approach of night we laid him in the grave. This is the fourth day, and we just begin [sic] to think, What can we do for the heathen? But yet it seems hard to forget little Roger so soon, to force off our thoughts from the attractive, painful subject, and to return to our usual employments. O may we not suffer in vain! May this bereavement be sanctified to our souls! and for this I hope we have your prayers. (p88)

Ann experienced the same difficulty. In a letter to her parents, she expressed her confidence in God’s sovereign goodness, even in the death of her child:

We do not feel a disposition to murmur, or inquire of our Sovereign why he has done this. We wish rather to sit down submissively under the rod and bear the smart, till the end for which the affliction was sent shall be accomplished. Our hearts were bound up in this child; we felt he was our earthly all, our only source of innocent recreation in this heathen land. But God saw it was necessary to remind us of our error and strip us of our little all. Oh may it not be in vain that he has done it. May we so improve that he will stay his hand and say, ‘It is enough’. (p88)

What inspiration and trust in the Lord!

Added to this is the ridicule he received from the local Burmese. It took seven years into the work before the Judson’s saw a convert. The constant health issues and lack of ‘success’ in the conversion of the people he sought to reach, and the death and disease he saw drove him to leave the main town he was living in and live by himself, in the jungle, sitting and staring into a shallow grave he had dug.

Thankfully it was the years after this that Judson saw the fruit of his work but the suffering had an effect, as one could expect.

Service
The commitment of Judson and his wives’ have had a lasting impact on the lives and ministry of those who have gone after him. Their service of nearly 40 years, with one furlough back to America, is something to behold in the modern day. I understand that this was a different era, but the long lasting commitment of Judson and his wives attest to the fruit from long-term service.

As mentioned, they didn’t see a convert for seven years. They experienced great suffering in their own lives and also saw it among the people they served. Yet, they continued to work in building relationships and translating the Bible into the native tongue of the Burmese. To this end Judson had a commitment to being contextual in everything and learn the culture well.

The Judson’s immediately set about learning the Burmese language. Understanding Burmese was crucial for personal evangelism and Bible translation, both of which were necessary if the gospel was to gain a foothold in Burma. It was not enough to learn the language; the Judsons also had to learn how to live and minister in a Burmese context. Phyllis Rodgerson Pleasants describes the centrality of this learning for the Judsons’ mission:

“The Judsons recognised that they had to be learners before they would be able to teach anything. They were persistent in learning from the Burmese [sic], their entire lives in order to communicate the gospel authentically in ways natural to the Burmese instead of trying to make the Burmese American so they could understand the gospel. More than learning the language from their teachers, the Judsons learned what it meant to be Burmese.”

Learning the Burmese language and being immersed in Burman culture were critical components in providing a contextually appropriate Christian witness. The Judsons eventually excelled at both. (p81)

This led Judson to be a communicator in word and deed. Alongside the work of translation was the contextual approach to being a witness for Christ.

We agree in the opinion that our sole object on earth is to introduce the Religion of Jesus Christ into the empire of Burmah; and that the means by which we hope to effect this are translating, printing, and distributing the Holy Scriptures, preaching the Gospel, circulating religious tracts, and promoting the instruction of native children.

Cross-cultural communication of the gospel was the Judsons’ heartbeat.

Jusdon understood that translation work could commence more quickly in Burma that in some settings because, as Wayland surmised from Judson’s letters, “The Burmans are reading people. They have their religious books, and possess the teachings of Gaudama in their own language.’ However, Judson prioritised proclamation, “The press can never supplant the pulpit’.

Language acquisition came gradually with parallel cultural knowledge, giving them the ability to interpret nuanced Burmese meanings, and worldview complexes of belief and practice. One of Judson’s first forays in adapting his technique to the culture was to stop building a zayat, a speaking point at the end of his house where passersby would stop to inquire this foreigner and his teaching. Eventually it became a place to hold public worship. Even though he borrowed the zayat idea from Buddhist priests, he clearly distinguished his zayat from theirs. His diary described the design and function of the building and recorded that it ‘is whitewashed, to distinguish it from the other zayats around us’. (p139)

Conclusion

Much more could be said. The book is well worth a read and some days spent in reflection of it. It was an inspiring read and one that made me think about my commitment to Christ and the way in which missions is currently done.

Judson’s Missionary Advice

ijudson001p1In 1832 Adoniram Judson wrote to the Foreign Missionary Association of the Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution, NY. In the letter he gives 10 points of advice to missionary candidates. They are as follows:

In commencing my remarks, I take you as you are. You are contemplating a missionary life.

First, then, let it be a missionary life; that is, come out for life, and not for a limited term. Do not fancy that you have a true missionary spirit, while you are intending all along to leave the heathen soon after acquiring their language. Leave them! for what? To spend the rest of your days in enjoying the ease and plenty of your native land?

Secondly. In choosing a companion for life, have particular regard to a good constitution, and not wantonly, or without good cause, bring a burden on yourselves and the mission.

Thirdly. Be not ravenous to do good on board ship. Missionaries have frequently done more hurt than good, by injudicious zeal, during their passage out.

Fourthly. Take care that the attention you receive at home, the unfavorable circumstances in which you will be placed on board ship, and the unmissionary examples you may possibly meet with at some missionary stations, do not transform you from living missionaries to mere skeletons before you reach the place of your destination. It may be profitable to bear in mind, that a large proportion of those who come out on a mission to the East die within five years after leaving their native land. Walk softly, therefore; death is narrowly watching your steps.

Fifthly. Beware of the reaction which will take place soon after reaching your field of labor. There you will perhaps find native Christians, of whose merits or demerits you can not judge correctly without some familiar acquaintance with their language. Some appearances will combine to disappoint and disgust you. You will meet with disappointments and discouragements, of which it is impossible to form a correct idea from written accounts, and which will lead you, at first, almost to regret that you have embarked in the cause. You will see men and women whom you have been accustomed to view through a telescope some thousands of miles long. Such an instrument is apt to magnify. Beware, therefore, of the reaction you will experience from a combination of all these causes, lest you become disheartened at commencing your work, or take up a prejudice against some persons and places, which will embitter all your future lives.

Sixthly. Beware of the greater reaction which will take place after you have acquired the language, and become fatigued and worn out with preaching the gospel to a disobedient and gainsaying people. You will sometimes long for a quiet retreat, where you can find a respite from the tug of toiling at native work — the incessant, intolerable friction of the missionary grindstone. And Satan will sympathize with you in this matter; and he will present some chapel of ease, in which to officiate in your native tongue, some government situation, some professorship or editorship, some literary or scientific pursuit, some supernumerary translation, or, at least, some system of schools; anything, in a word, that will help you, without much surrender of character, to slip out of real missionary work. Such a temptation will form the crisis of your disease. If your spiritual constitution can sustain it, you recover; if not, you die.

Seventhly. Beware of pride; not the pride of proud men, but the pride of humble men — that secret pride which is apt to grow out of the consciousness that we are esteemed by the great and good. This pride sometimes eats out the vitals of religion before its existence is suspected. In order to check its operations, it may be well to remember how we appear in the sight of God, and how we should appear in the sight of our fellow-men, if all were known. Endeavor to let all be known. Confess your faults freely, and as publicly as circumstances will require or admit. When you have done something of which you are ashamed, and by which, perhaps, some person has been injured (and what man is exempt?), be glad not only to make reparation, but improve the opportunity for subduing your pride.

Eighthly. Never lay up money for yourselves or your families. Trust in God from day to day, and verily you shall be fed.

Ninthly. Beware of that indolence which leads to a neglect of bodily exercise. The poor health and premature death of most Europeans in the East must be eminently ascribed to the most wanton neglect of bodily exercise.

Tenthly. Beware of genteel living. Maintain as little intercourse as possible with fashionable European society. The mode of living adopted by many missionaries in the East is quite inconsistent with that familiar intercourse with the natives which is essential to a missionary.

For the entire letter, see here.

Judson The Baptist

I’m currently reading through Adoniram Judson – A Bicentennial Appreciation of The Pioneer American Missionary by Jason G. Duesling. It’s a terrific read, giving good historical context to Judson’s decision in becoming a missionary and outline of his work and family.

He began his faith as a Congregationalist, coming from the house of a Congregationalist minister. But after working through the intricacies of being the first missionary with the denomination he became a Baptist while travelling from America to Burma. This certainly caused a bit of a stir at the time, as you could imagine.

In the 1913 issue of the Foreign Mission Journal there is mention of the presentation of the Judson Centennial fundraising movement at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting. One statement recorded from the evening summarised the guidance Judson received from the Spirit and the Word.

The mighty significance of the Judson spirit is not the fact that when a missionary is left alone with his Bible he becomes a Baptist, but the significant thing is that when a Baptist is left alone with his Bible he becomes a missionary.

This is one of the great mission quotes, let alone one that inspires those who call themselves ‘Baptist’.

Remembering Missionaries This Christmas

cross and christmasEvery week I receive numerous newsletters and emails from cross-cultural workers (or missionaries depending on your preference) telling me what they’ve been up to and what they’d like prayer for in the coming months. As you can imagine this time of year brings with it a certain theme – Christmas.

Christmas isn’t an easy time for missionaries. The same can be said for many people back home too. But part of being a missionary means you’ve left your extended family to live and work in a place where you’re an outsider.

You don’t know the language as well as the locals, you are away from the comforts you’ve been bought up with, you’re more than likely unable to worship in the capacity you’re used to for this festive season, and the big Christmas meal probably won’t include a large succulent turkey. Christmas can be a tough little period where you begin wishing you were back home.

In among all the palaver that comes with celebrating a Western Christmas the main tinge of sadness comes from not being able to celebrate with others, particularly family. It is the relational aspect to Christmas that can be hardest, that can being with it this sense of disappointment.

In the two years we were in the Middle East we felt that strongly. We lived within a school that had a few other expat teachers to celebrate Christmas with. It was a great time together and we did of course have a lot of fun. But once the food has been eaten and the afternoon slumber has come over you there is that time of reflection and wishing you could just hang with people you know.

On the other hand there is a great opportunity for missionaries to share the good news of what God has done. Living in a different culture where Christmas isn’t thought of as anything more than a Christian holiday and a few days off work becomes a time where you can tell others about what it really means. That Christmas is actually the remembrance and celebration of God entering the world in human form, bringing hope and joy. And while this may be an assumed reason in the West, when living in a non-Western country the ability to talk about faith and religion is far greater. Striking up a conversation about why Christmas is important and what it means can come far more naturally in a foreign setting than in the Santa-obsessed, present-focused West.

This Christmas is again, like every year, a good reminder to think of those who are away from family.

I am making a conscious effort to pray for and drop a line to those who I know are serving in a missionary capacity. Perhaps you could too?

A few things you could pray for could be:

  • Joy among the sadness of being away from family.
  • Opportunities to share the real meaning of Christmas with those they live and work with.
  • Time for reflection and recuperation from the year that has been.
  • A deeper sense of the love of God and the love of those back home.

Education, Millennials and Missions

millennials-graphic-600The post ‘Six Millennial Statistics Every Adult Should Know‘ was published a little over two weeks ago. I was sent a link for it through a colleague who also challenged a group of us to respond to one of the questions being posed and how it related to missions and missions engagement. As a side note, I reckon this article is worth consideration, as opposed to other Gen Y blog posts because it actually asks really good questions at the end of every point. In any case, I responded to the question through the group email in the following way. You’ll notice I’ve also included the paragraph and questions I was responding to.

Well Educated

School plays a larger role in this generation of young adults than any in American history. 23% have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, making them the most educated generation ever. Obviously, some have stayed in school due to a poor economy. (It just wasn’t a good time to launch a career). Others stayed in school because mom or dad pushed them to get that college degree and a “white collar” job instead of a “blue collar” job, and parents were all too happy to have them live at home during (and after) the process. So they’re well educated but may need to take a job they are over-qualified for at first. It also may mean they take a job where they must “pay their dues” in order to make progress. This is difficult.

Question: How can we enable young adults to capitalize on their education and leverage it to take them where they’re most gifted to serve?

My thoughts:

Most of my “ministry career” has been doing youth and young adult ministry in the rich part of Melbourne. The majority of my kids were going to private schools or top public schools in the state. The importance of education is taught at an early age and takes away time from church. The pressure from the school and parents was enormous, so much so that many of the year 11-12’s were having mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

The expectation is to continue this education into their university studies and then career. Western culture teaches them to continue studying and gain better and better results in order that they can do the exact same with their kids etc.

We all really know this don’t we…?

But, because they’re so educated it means they won’t begin to think about missions in a serious capacity until they’re almost out of their university degree. This has implications for us as the average age of someone jumping into missions and heading off long-term will continue to be pushed out to the 30s and 40s – once their education and career has been established.

Because they’re so educated it means they will want to use what they’ve learnt in the future. It’s not often to have someone come and say they’d like to just give up what they studied and worked toward for something else. Well, unless they’ve been in the workforce for 10 years and its time for a career change or something. This has implications for us as those who wish to do missions will want to use their skills and education as the backbone to their missionary effort. This might mean people won’t fit into our organisation but on the other hand it will mean we get well-educated professionals when they do fit.

Because they’re so educated they will be better able to understand the concepts and ideas that missiology and theology present to them. I don’t think any teaching is too deep for any Millennial, as long as its clear and answers the question of why. The implication for us is that there needs to be in-depth and rigorous training and development given throughout their “missionary career”.

Because they’re so educated they will have a fair bit of financial debt. While Fee-Help and HECS is brilliant and in reality may not need to be paid off because they won’t earn enough it is still a debt they will be carrying. Depending on their personality they may wish to pay it off or live with it hanging over their head – like I do. This has implications for us because they may wish to pay this off as they serve and therefore have it included in their support budget. Also, if they’re required to go to theological college then that debt will be increased at a significant rate because of the private nature of theological schools.

I think the tough question is how do we show that they will be using their education as part of their missionary efforts on the field?

To suggest that they won’t be using any of their studies will simply drive people away. We need to take each person as they are and show them how they can be of great help using their skills and what they’ve learnt. Telling stories of workers who’ve gone over and found that their skills and education help them build relationships and teach others is important. And, I think it’s important to show people that their education is more than just a visa platform too.

How would you respond? 

Inconvenient Evangelism

A great little post from Leon Brown over at Reformation21:

Sharing the gospel takes time, time we often do not believe we have. Sometimes we are so concerned with ensuring our plans are completed, we do not stop to consider that the Lord may have other ways he would like to utilize us. Sure, we know in theory God “establishes [our] steps,” but when the theory becomes a reality, it rattles our me-centered paradigm. That is one reason why some of us may not share the gospel very much, if at all. It is inconvenient, rattles our self-centered approached to life, and thwarts our plans.

Read the whole thing here.