On June 25, 1832, more than twenty years after embarking upon the missionary task in Burma, Adoniram Judson responded to a letter from the Foreign Missionary Association of the Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution, N. Y. The questions initially asked related to the necessary character and preparation needed for missionary service. Judson provided ten short, instructional statements to the future missionaries. The second of these related to marriage. He notes: “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.”
At the time of this instruction, Judson had been a widower for over five years. No doubt as he wrote those words of advice to future missionaries, he paused to give thought to his Ann who had faithfully served him and the Lord from the outset of their marriage on February 5, 1812 until her departure from this world October 24, 1826 at age 37.
Ann Judson was a remarkable individual. As a young adult, she was in every way described as a typical, full loving lass by friends and family. She loved to spend time with friends and enjoy the fellowship of family. Yet, within her was the tender, yet formidable heart of a lion; a lion as a lamb. A picture of Christlikeness. A woman who by faith enacted the prayer of her heart upon her salvation as a teenager when she wrote, “Direct me in Thy service, and I ask no more. I would not choose my position of work, or place of labor. Only let me know Thy will, and I will readily comply.” Her journal communicates the deep, thoughtful reflections of a teenager who wrestled with, yet complied with the call of God upon her life.
When she first met the young adventurer/missionary on July 28, 1810 at a church conference, Ann had no thoughts of missionary service. This was a novel concept within the United States and certainly within her Congregational background. What was striking to her was not the young man’s looks or charming personality. Judson was preoccupied in his own thoughts and more than a bit backward socially. His son records, “During the sessions the ministers gathered for a dinner beneath Mr. Hasseltine’s hospitable roof. His youngest daughter, Ann, was waiting on the table. Her attention was attracted to the young student whose bold missionary projects were making such a stir. But what was her surprise to observe, as she moved about the table, that he seemed completely absorbed in his plate!” Yet, he had taken notice of her and records that his love was instantaneous.
The relationship between the two was fast and focused. Judson had declared his intentions to go to the Far East for sake of the gospel. He desired her to accompany him. Yet, her consent and that of her father’s was needed for Judson’s hopes to be fulfilled. Adoniram started with the father.
His request to Mr. Hasseltine was typical of Judson’s approach to life: straight-forward. A portion of the letter bidding permission for her hand in marriage states:
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 to a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life? Whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern 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? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”
In a remarkable step of faith, Mr. Hasseltine approved. His daughter was to be the first woman sent from the boundaries of the United States as a missionary.
Judson now needed Ann’s consent, knowing it was to be a spiritual battle between her and her Lord. On August 8, 1810 she recorded in her journal, “Endeavoured to commit myself entirely to God, to be disposed of according to his pleasure . . . though it were to carry the Gospel to the distant, benighted heathen.” Yet, she still struggled with submission to God’s direction in her life and her own motives. On September 8, 1810, she wrote an extended note to a dear friend, transparently exposing her heart.
I have ever made you a confidant. I will still confide in you, and beg for your prayers, that I may be directed in regard to this subject I shall communicate.
I feel willing and expect, if nothing in providence prevents, to spend my days in this world in heathen lands. Yes, Lydia, I have about come to the determination to give up all my comforts and enjoyments here, sacrifice my affection to relatives and friends, and go where God, in his providence, shall see fit to place me. My determinations are not hasty, or formed without viewing the dangers, trials, and hardships attendant on a missionary life. Nor were my determinations formed in consequence of an attachment to an earthly object; but with a sense of my obligation to God, and a full conviction of its being a call in providence, and consequently my duty. My feelings have been exquisite in regard to the subject. Now my mind is settled and composed, and is willing to leave the event with God—none can support one under trials and afflictions but Him. In Him alone I feel a disposition to confide.
How short is time, how boundless is eternity! If we may be considered worthy to suffer for Jesus here, will it not enhance our happiness hereafter? O pray for me. Spend whole evenings in prayer for those who go to carry the gospel to the poor heathen.
Her heart and mind were convinced of God’s direction. From her perspective she had no other choice but to commit to Mr. Judson her intent for marriage and missions.
Her young fiancée, Adoniram, was equally committed and solemn regarding their future together. A letter of New Year’s greeting was sent to his love on January 1, 1811:
It is with the utmost sincerity, and with my whole heart, that I wish you, my love, a happy new year. May it be a year in which your walk will be close with God; your frame calm and serene; and the road that leads you to the Lamb marked with purer light. May it be a year in which you will have more largely the spirit of Christ, be raised above sublunary things, and be willing to be disposed of in this world just as God shall please. As every moment of the year will bring you nearer the end of your pilgrimage, may it bring you nearer to God, and find you more prepared to hail the messenger of death as a deliverer and a friend. And now, since I have begun to wish, I will go on. May this be the year in which you will change your name; in which you will take a final leave of your relatives and native land; in which you will cross the wide ocean, and dwell on the other side of the world, among a heathen people. What a great change will this year probably effect in our lives! How very different will be our situation and employment! If our lives are preserved and our attempt prospered, we shall next new year’s day be in India, and perhaps wish each other a happy new year in the uncouth dialect of Hindostan or Burmah. We shall no more see our kind friends around us, or enjoy the conveniences of civilized life, or go to the house of God with those that keep holy day; but swarthy countenances will everywhere meet our eye, the jargon of an unknown tongue will assail our ears, and we shall witness the assembling of the heathen to celebrate the worship of idol gods. We shall be weary of the world, and wish for wings like a dove, that we may fly away and be at rest. We shall probably experience seasons when we shall be exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. We shall see many dreary, disconsolate hours, and feel a sinking of spirits, anguish of mind, of which now we can form little conception. O, we shall wish to lie down and die. And that time may soon come. One of us may be unable to sustain the heat of the climate and the change of habits; and the other may say, with literal truth, over the grave—
‘By foreign hands thy dying eyes were closed;
By foreign hands thy decent limbs composed;
By foreign hands thy humble grave adorned;’
but whether we shall be honored and mourned by strangers, God only knows. At least, either of us will be certain of one mourner. In view of such scenes shall we not pray with earnestness ‘O for an overcoming faith,’ etc.?
The story of their engagement is a precursor to the rest of their lives. It was marked by interpersonal joy, spiritual depth, solemn service, and passed too quickly. They were married February 5, 1812. The following day, Adoniram was ordained for the gospel ministry and commissioned to go to the heathen. On February 19, 1812, they embarked on their mission leaving behind friends and family. Their fourteen years together were all they expected and predicted: delight, love, fulfillment, sorry, pain, and grief. They lost three children; one by miscarriage and two who lived less than a full year. But they reproduced spiritually, as the lost in Burma were pointed to the Savior through the Judsons’ life and testimony.
Their testimony resonates with Paul’s in 2 Corinthians 11:23-33. Their legacy is threefold: a translated Burmese Bible which is still in use today, a thriving Christian church in Burma that has transcended the persecution of political and religious foes, and hundreds of thousands of believers who have been impacted by the Judsons’ story.