Adoniram Judson was born August 9, 1788 in Malden, Massachusetts.
Despite his father being a Congregational minister, Judson was not saved until he was 20 years old. While studying at Brown University, he was greatly influenced by the Deistic beliefs of Jacob Eames, a close friend. Incredibly, the friend to swayed him away from Jesus also played a large role in Judson’s conversion to Christ. He had announced to his parents that he had rejected Christianity and was leaving for New York to become a playwright. One night he was staying at an inn and was adjacent to the room of a dying man. All night he found himself plagued with wondering if the man was prepared to die or where he would spend eternity. The next morning Judson asked about the identity of the man who died that night. Judson was taken aback in realizing that the man was Jacob Eames, his unbelieving friend who had destroyed Judson’s faith. With the realization that he was as lost as his now dead friend, Judson overcame his reservations and dedicated his life to the Lord.
In 1808, Judson started attending Andover Theological Seminar, where he became burdened to become a missionary. In 1810, he helped form the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, and then two years later, he and his new bride of seven days, Ann, sailed for India. When the Indian government refused to allow the Judson’s to enter the country, they went to Rangoon, Burma. There was not one known Christian among the millions of Burmese people.
After six years, the Judson’s saw their first convert baptized. Judson wrote in his journal, “Oh, may it prove to be the beginning of a series of baptisms in the Burman empire which shall continue in uninterrupted success to the end of the age.” In the first six years, Judson published tracts, translated the gospel of Matthew and the book of Ephesians, preached publicly, and labored among the Burmese people. Judson decided to contextualize the gospel when he decided to build a Zayat, a Buddhist-style meditation room, on the main street where he could hold meetings and teach passers by in a way that was not foreign to the people. This helped break down barriers between he and his hearers. This is what eventually led to their first convert.
In 1824, the Judson’s moved to Ava. When the war between the English and the Burmese started, Judson was imprisoned for two years at Ava for being a British spy. While in prison, Judson continued his Bible translation by hiding the manuscripts in a pillow his wife smuggled into him. His perseverance is recorded in his prayer while imprisoned, “Lord, let me finish my work. Spare me long enough to put Thy saving Word into the hands of a perishing people.” It was the faithfulness and persistence of his wife that kept him from starvation. Bribing the jailer, she would creep to the door of Judson’s cell, bringing food and whispering words of hope and consolation. Not long after he was released from prison, Ann died from spotted fever. She was just shy of 37 years of age. In his marriage to Ann, they had three children die. The third one died three months after Ann.
After recovering from Ann’s death, Judson continued to translate the Burmese Bible. In 1828, he moved to Maulmain where he and his colleague George Boardman were instrumental in the conversion of a member of the Karen People, Ko Tha Byu, who is the virtual founder of Karen Christianity. Ko Tha Byu’s ministry resulted in the conversion of thousands. Within 25 years, there were 11,878 baptized Karen believers.
On April 12, 1850, Judson died. Judson had spent thirty-eight years in Burma (minus a few months when he returned to America after thirty-four years in Burma). Adoniram Judson will be remembered for his role in the establishment of U.S. missions, the translation of the complete Burman Bible, and his pioneering work among the Burmese people. As a young man he had cried out, “I will not leave Burma until the cross is planted here forever.” Thirty years after his death, Burma had sixty-three Christian churches, one hundred and sixty-three missionaries, and over seven thousand baptized converts. One hundred years later, on the anniversary of his death, there were more than 200,000 Burma Christians.