Adoniram Judson (1788–1850)
Ann Hasseltine Judson (1789–1826)

America’s unlikely missionaries to the Far East

He had been a cynical actor who rejected the faith of his father. She had been the town belle, indulged by her parents.

Hardly likely candidates for the rigors of the early nineteenth-century mission field—but now Ann Hasseltine Judson, nicknamed Nancy, and her husband, Adoniram Judson, are assured of their place in history. They helped open the Far East to others who would carry out the Great Commission.

Before they met and were married, both Adoniram and Nancy underwent powerful conversion experiences, passing, as Nancy put it, “from death into life.” Both had a passion to join the nascent missionary enterprise that was firing the imaginations of youthful Christians on both sides of the Atlantic. So thirteen days after they wed, in 1812, they set sail for India.

Aboard ship, Adoniram, an ordained Congregational minister, changed his theology to the Baptist position. Ann did also, and they were thus forced to sever ties with their sending mission. The Judsons were baptized by William Carey’s colleague William Ward.

The Judsons found that the English governors of the subcontinent did not welcome these Western visitors with their Bibles and zeal. Threatened with deportation, they left India and went first to Mauritius and thence to Burma—a closed land, ruled by a tyrannical regime, horribly hot and disease-ridden. The Judsons found the place “dark, cheerless, and unpromising.”

Over time, Ann Judson suffered from smallpox and spinal meningitis, buried one child, and saw her husband shut up in a vermin-infested prison for two years. Yet she also translated the Gospel of Matthew into Burmese and strove to improve the lot of ...

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