Adoniram Judson’s Second Greatest Choice

By Paul al-Asad
Paul is a message bearer among the unreached.

As I read Courtney Anderson’s biography of Adoniram Judson, To the Golden Shore, I couldn’t help thinking that Judson was just the most incredible guy! He always seemed to make the “right” choice.

Judson sailed at age 23 in 1812 as the first overseas message bearer to ever leave the United States. Judson was directly responsible for the birth of the North American contribution to the spread of global Christianity during what historian and former Student Volunteer Movement Secretary Kenneth Scott Latourette has called the “Great Century.”

He ended up in the port city of Rangoon, Burma (Myanmar) among a people deeply rooted in Buddhism as the first Westerner they had ever seen, and was also the first to proclaim Jesus Christ among a people heretofore untouched by the outside world.

He labored for his entire life in that difficult land, returning only once to the United States for a brief visit. By the time of his death in 1850, Judson had translated the entire Bible into Burmese, and had helped establish a strong Christian movement there of over 100 churches with 8,000 believers that has continued to grow to this day.

It is accurate to say that had Mr. Adoniram Judson not lived, multitudes of Burmese people would have never had the chance to worship Jesus Christ as they do today, both in Burma and in heaven!

We should look very closely at the lives of such great servants who have gone before us so as to glean whatever wisdom we might from them. After all, who among us would not want to leave the legacy he left? Adoniram Judson’s life was actually very much like yours and mine.

While studying his life, I found that he was just an ordinary young man who had to make choices, just like all of us. First, he had to make the choice to follow Jesus (which he did after a time of rebellion in his teenage years), this turned out to be his first most important choice.

He then proceeded to make a series of decisions that changed the world for eternity…

  • He decided to turn down one of America’s leading churches in favor of spending his life ministering among a people who had never heard the gospel – something unprecedented in his day.
  • He decided to insist on the development of a missions sending agency from the USA, which was another thing unheard of in those days.
  • He decided to sail for Asia with the War of 1812 looming.
  • He decided to become a Baptist (he came from a Congregational background) while aboard a ship bound for India as he studied the Greek New Testament. Today the Baptists are the largest Protestant missionary force in the world.
  • He decided to leave the somewhat stable environment offered by William Carey in India for the very unstable and dangerous shores of Burma.
  • He was among the first to decide to fully contextualize the gospel on the field by adopting native culture and himself teaching from a Burmese zayat each day.
  • He decided to leave the coastal city of Rangoon and travel inland to approach the emperor, even though it could have meant death.
  • He decided to remain in Burma with the threat of war with the British looming there, and was therefore imprisoned for several years in a torturous setting.
  • He decided to remain in Burma for his entire life, even in failing health, knowing that in his case an early death in Burma would be better for God’s Kingdom than a full life in the States.

There were many other choices that Judson made over the years. As I have already mentioned, they all were incredibly significant in that they were like a series of building blocks that all advanced God’s Kingdom.

There was however, one particular choice that he made which I have intentionally skipped over until now.

In fact, save his choice to follow Jesus, all of the other great choices he made paled in comparison to his second greatest choice.

It is probably safe to assume that he may have never been able to make any of his choices a reality had he not first chosen Ann Hasseltine for a wife. Ann (called Nancy) was still a teenager when they were married.

Nancy would eventually become the strong base of support that Judson leaned on during every difficult trial in his life.

She said good-bye to her family in Massachusetts knowing she would never see them again as she was called to stand with her husband through every kind of danger and uncertainty that lie ahead.

She stood by his side and reminded him of his call as they buried their first-born son in Burma while he entertained thoughts of returning to America.

She visited him in prison every day, providing the only encouragement he had to keep living when the suffering in prison reached its height.

She risked her life to save the only copy of the Burmese Bible from capture by the government by smuggling it to Adoniram in prison.

She visited the emperor regularly (risking her life each time) to plead for the release of her husband. Eventually, like the persistent widow, the emperor consented to his release, and Nancy was there to nurse him back to health.

This young woman worked hard to master Burmese, and published the first Burmese Catechism. When she died prematurely, partly because of her stubborn refusal to return to America, Adoniram wept bitterly as he buried her beside their son because he knew what he had lost.

Virtually everything of significance that Judson ever accomplished bore Nancy’s imprint. He would later recall that none of it would have been possible without her.

I don’t know everything that comes to mind for people when they read the description of a godly wife in Proverbs 31, but I know what comes to mind for me. The simple thought that we sll ought to be very careful whom we choose to marry.

I can remember the frustrations of single life in my college years. Sometimes it can seem like a good Christian girl (or guy) is impossible to find.

What’s even worse though, is that when we find a Christian, we often erroneously assume it is meant to be simply because we are both believers.

WRONG assumption! If God is calling you as a message bearer, you need to understand that not all Christians share this calling.

Let me suggest that it may a be a work of the devil himself to marry you off to a spouse who is not called overseas, thus negating any potential effect you might have achieved among the world’s forgotten peoples.

I have seen far too many called and gifted young people marry a believer who did not share this call, only to become “just another youth pastor from Texas.” (These are not my words, but those of a friend who experienced this.)

When Paul talks about the dangers of being unequally yoked in 2 Corinthians, I believe he also has in mind the danger of being yoked with another believer who does not share in your particular call.

It would be far better to remain single and therefore retain maximum availability for God’s global purposes than to marry another believer who doesn’t share in your call.

Not compromising in this area will save you from a lifetime of frustration! I know many people who say their biggest regret is marrying the (Christian) spouse that they did because they have been unable to live out God’s calling on their lives.

Please don’t let this be your story! Adoniram Judson was the valedictorian of his class at Brown, he was a stud in every way. I am sure he had no shortage of potential Christian women to marry.

But it wasn’t until he met Nancy that he allowed his heart to make that jump. In Nancy, he saw someone who shared in his calling.

I thank God that shortly after I vowed NOT to seek a relationship with anyone in college, he brought my wife Tara into my life. When Tara came into my life, I knew she was the one for me. Not only did she share my heart for the lost, I also knew she loved Jesus more than she loved me!

I instinctively knew that those two qualities were what I needed in a spouse. It has never been “my” ministry or “my” calling. It is has always been “ours.”

Friends, I can’t say this strongly enough, if you can’t say that your significant other shares in your unique calling to the lost, and that they would choose Jesus over you any day, then you should not be with that person!

As a final thought, I would like to consider the teaching of Jesus and Paul in the NT. Both of them concur that singleness (the gift of celibacy) is of immense importance in the Kingdom in these last days.[1] Perhaps more of us should pray for the gift of celibacy so that we might have total availability for the sake of the gospel.

Let’s face it, there are certain things that single people can do on the field that families cannot do! There is also an intimacy with Christ that single people often attain which married people will never experience.

If we are to be married, however, let us pray earnestly for the gifts of wisdom, discernment, and restraint in the area of relationships.

For it is far better to deal with the “frustrations” of life as a message bearer while joyfully living out your calling overseas than to deal with the “frustrations” of married life as a person who never had the chance to live out that calling.

Lord, please help us to learn from the examples of those who have gone before us like Adoniram and Nancy Judson. Lord, lead us to the right spouse, or else to none at all. Most of all, lead us to YOU. Amen.

[1] Matthew 19:12b, 1 Corinthians 7:7-9

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