Adoniram Judson entered Burma in 1813 and began laboring in sweltering heat and seemingly constant battles with sickness, disease, and death for the next thirty-eight years. He did not see a convert for the first six years of his ministry. After serving for eight years, Ann Judson, his first wife, was so sick that he was forced to send her home to America to try to recover. They would be separated for over two years. When she left on August 21, 1821, Judson wrote of his distress of having to send her away in his letter to the man who would care for her:
“I feel as if I was on the scaffold, and signing, as it were, my own death warrant. However, two years will pass away at last. Time and tide wait for no man, heedless alike of our joys and sorrows.”
Some of the letters to his wife include the discouragement and challenges he faced, amplified by being deprived of his beloved companion. In a letter dated September 12, twenty-two days after her departure, he tells her of a desire he felt to leave Burma and find a more comfortable place for them to live together as Christians. What kept him in Burma for the next two years away from his wife, and ultimately for the next thirty years? Jesus Christ. As he considered Jesus, he was strengthened to continue in Burma to pursue the lost and glorify Christ. His words are a great rebuke and encouragement to us today:
“I wish I could always feel as I did last evening, and have this morning. At first, on hearing Moung Shwa-gnong’s story, I felt much disheartened, and thought how pleasant it would be if we could find some quiet resting-place on earth, where we might spend the rest of our days together in peace, and perform the ordinary services of religion. But I fled to Jesus, and all such thoughts soon passed away.
Life is short. Happiness consists not in outward circumstances. Millions of Burmans are perishing. I am almost the only person on earth who has attained their language to such a degree as to be able to communicate the way of salvation. How great are my obligations to spend and be spent for Christ! What a privilege to be allowed to serve Him in such interesting circumstances, and to suffer for Him! The heavenly glory is at hand. O, let me travel through this country, and bear testimony to the truth all the way from Rangoon to Ava, and show the path to that glory which I am anticipating. O, if Christ will only sanctify me and strengthen me, I feel that I can do all things. But in myself I am absolute nothingness; and when through grace I get a glimpse of divine things, I tremble lest the next moment will snatch it quite away.
Let us pray especially for one another’s growth in grace. Let me pray that the trials which we respectively are called to endure may wean us from the world, and rivet our hearts on things above. Soon we shall be in heaven. O, let us live as we shall then wish we had done. Let us be humble, unaspiring, indifferent equally to worldly comfort and the applause of men, absorbed in Christ, the uncreated Fountain of all excellence and glory.”
– The above letters are found in Edward Judson, The Life of Adoniram Judson (New York: Anson D. F. Randolph & Company, 1883), pp. 193-195.