LEARNING FROM BAPTIST HISTORY
Editor’s note: As part of an emphasis leading up to Baptists’ 400th anniversary in 2009, EthicsDaily.com is running a series of columns by staff of the Baptist History and Heritage Society about lessons from Baptist history and why they are relevant today.
Ann Hasseltine Judson was an extraordinary woman, faithful Christian, and committed missionary. In 1811, Ann Hasseltine, a 21-year-old faithful Congregationalist with a strong interest in missions, met a young man who felt called to be a missionary. His name was Adoniram Judson.
They met at a dinner party in her parents’ home, and Judson was greatly impressed. Over the next few months, he made many trips to the Hasseltine home, pleading with Ann to marry him. She spent much time in prayer, seeking God’s guidance. She wrote of her struggle to make this decision in her journal:
“I am a creature of God, and he has an undoubted right to do with me, as seems good in his sight. I rejoice, that I am in his 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…. But whether I spend my days in India or America, I desire to spend them in the service of God.”
Ann’s father, however, did not want his daughter to marry and declared that he would tie her to a bedpost before letting her live in a foreign country. Eventually, he relented, giving his blessing both to the marriage and his daughter’s commitment to missions.
The couple married Feb. 5, 1812. Two weeks after their wedding, they set sail for India. While on board ship, they studied the New Testament and contemplated the Baptist understanding of baptism.
Ann wrote a friend about her struggles concerning their understanding of baptism, “The more Adoniram examined Scripture, the more his doubts increased; and unwilling as he was to admit it, he was afraid the Baptists were right and he wrong.”
Ann initially told her husband that if he became a Baptist, she would not. But as the two young missionaries read, studied and prayed, Ann wrote that: “We were constrained to acknowledge that the truth appeared to lie on the Baptists’ side. It was extremely trying to reflect on the consequences of our becoming Baptists.”
But become Baptists they did. They were baptized by immersion on Sept. 6, 1812.
Ten months later, the Judsons finally reached their final destination of Burma. “It presents a very extensive field for usefulness, sustaining seventeen million inhabitants,” Ann wrote of the country, “and the Scriptures have never been translated into their language.”
Her letters home during this period of her life included Ann’s prayers for the people of Burma. She was overwhelmed by their great needs—both spiritual physical.
The Judsons slowly learned the language and then began making progress in conversing with the people and in bringing them to Christ. In 1819, after six years of serving in Burma, Adoniram baptized their first convert. Three years later, 18 Burmese had converted to Christianity.
In March 1824, war broke out between Burma and Great Britain. For two years it kept the American missionaries in a state of terrible suspense.
Burmese leaders insisted that all white-skinned foreigners were spies, and Adoniram was soon arrested and taken to prison. The authorities kept him in a horribly crowded, filthy building with no ventilation. He was chained to other prisoners and subjected to various types of torture.
During his imprisonment, Ann prayed constantly for her husband’s safety. She worked diligently to obtain his release and supplied him with food each day, for the prison did not provide provisions for prisoners. She also smuggled his translation of the New Testament into the prison.
In December 1825, after 19 total months in captivity, officials allowed Adoniram to leave. Upon his arrival at home, he discovered that Ann had been ill for a month with cerebral spinal meningitis. She never completely recovered. In July 1826 Ann contracted another fever and died three weeks later.
Lessons for today: Many great lessons can be gleaned from the life of Ann Judson, but what amazes me is her commitment to prayer. Ann always sought guidance from God. She prayed for herself, for her husband and family and for the Burmese people. She did not always receive clear-cut answers to her requests and she often struggled to understand. Yet, Ann kept praying, and she never stopped being faithful to God’s leadership.
Pamela R. Durso is associate executive director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society in Brentwood, Tenn.
President of Central Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas.