Today is Valentine’s Day, and in honor of this I’d like to tell you one of my favorite missionary love stories – the story of Ann and Adoniram Judson. Theirs is one of the stories which influenced me toward missions, and showed me what it is like to balance a missionary call with a call to family. Ann Judson’s life illustrates how these two things complement each other in a life fully submitted to God.
Ann and Adoniram Judson’s relationship started on the understanding that their future life would not be easy. In fact, when Adoniram wrote to her father asking for her hand in marriage, he started with these words, “I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter…to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life…to every kind of want and distress, to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death.”*
Ann’s father ultimately left the decision up to her, and feeling the unmistakable call of God on her life, she accepted. So only a few days after their wedding, they sailed to the distant land of Burma (now Myanmar). Immediately, they became a team and an example to future missionaries of the importance of both husband and wife engaging in missions. They worked together to learn the language, translate many books of the Bible, and teach and evangelize the people around them. Their love for God and love for each other gave them a faithfulness which left a lasting impact on Burma.
But Ann’s deep devotion to her husband was not fully tested until about ten years into their ministry. Ann had to return to America for medical care and was gone for two years. When she returned, she found that Adoniram had been detained on suspicion of being a British spy in the capital city of Ava. Soon after Ann’s return, Adoniram was taken to prison. It was called a death prison, and for good reason. It was stifling, with no windows or airflow in intense tropical heat. It was filthy, never cleaned and crawling with vermin. It was torturous, the prisoners’ legs held in several pairs of shackles during the day and their feet hoisted at night so that only their shoulders touched the ground. They were provided with no food and not allowed to wash.
In the midst of this filth and suffering, Ann kept vigilant care for her husband. She walked several miles every day to visit, bringing food to him and the other prisoners and bribing the guards to get them whatever other help she could. Despite the fact that she was alone in a country antagonistic to women, Westerners, and Christians, she constantly advocated for Adoniram before various Burmese officials. Her appeals were so moving that she even brought the governor of the prison to tears! During this time, Ann also gave birth to a daughter, Maria. She continued to make her daily treks, bringing Maria with her to the prison. Adoniram saw Maria for the first time while in prison.
Eventually, Adoniram was moved to a different prison. When Ann discovered that they were gone, she took Maria and made the long, arduous journey to the new prison. There she bribed the jailer to let her and Maria live with them, and continued her fight for Adoniram, bringing him food and comfort and petitioning the government for his release.
Two years after his imprisonment, Adoniram was released in order to serve as a translator for the peace process. Sadly, Ann’s constant vigilance had taken a toll on her body. A few months after Adoniram’s release, she succumbed to cerebral meningitis and passed into the presence of the God she loved so dearly.
Because of Ann’s devotion and sacrifice, Adoniram lived through this imprisonment. After her death, he continued on in Burma, building the church and translating Scripture. Without her, he would not have had nearly the impact that he did have on the people of this country.
I love Ann’s story because it shows her devotion both to God and to her husband. She understood the nature of her calling both as a missionary and as a wife. She gave her life wholly to Christ, sacrificing every comfort in order to spread his name in an unforgiving land. Then, when her husband needed her so desperately, she saw that her calling was to her family and she gave everything she had for him. May God give me the strength to have this kind of devotion both to Him and to my family!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
*Judson’s proposal letter quoted in Courtney Anderson, To The Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson [Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1987], 83.
*Picture from https://faiceunews.com/judson-sunday-rev-adoniram-judson-tuanbia-tawi/