Friday, August 10, 2007

To the Golden Shore

A few years ago, the teaching pastor of our church gave a sermon on a man named Adoniram Judson. Our pastor thought so highly of this man that he named his son after him (Judson, as his wife wasn't too keen on the name Adoniram). I remembered only one specific point from that sermon and that was the letter Judson wrote to the father of the woman he wanted to marry. Judson was on his way to become the first American missionary and he was well aware of the dangers he and his wife-to-be, Nancy, could face. His letter asked Nancy's father if he would be willing to part with his daughter forever, knowing that she would be faced with illness, persecution, a desperately hard life, and possibly killed for her work to spread the gospel of Christ. If you were Nancy's father, what answer would you have given?

For Christmas, I bought W a copy of Judson's biography, To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson. I pulled it out recently and read it myself. Frankly, I don't read too many biographies, but this one was amazingly well-written, interesting, and terribly convicting. Judson was a brash young man, forging ahead at any cost to get himself and a few other young men appointed and sent out as missionaries to the far east. He was incredibly intelligent, well-spoken, and persuasive, eventually securing his missionary goal and his wife (her father allowed her to make her own decision in whether or not to marry and become a missionary). He and Nancy ended up in Burma, an incredibly savage kingdom with little interaction with the outside world. Their work was full of hardships, setbacks, death, pain, imprisonment, illness, and separation, but they soldiered on and saw some eventual growth from their efforts.

Eventually, the work claimed the lives of Nancy and their three children. Judson remarried twice, and every time God provided a wife to love and support him exactly as he needed suring that stage of his life. Judson's work included preaching, teaching, discipling, and most importantly, translating the Bible into Burmese and creating an English-Burmese dictionary.

Through the book, you see Judson undergo a metamorphosis from the headstrong young man bent on doing whatever it took to finally leave America as her first missionary to a self-effacing man of wisdom, willing to blend into the background so that God's work might shine on its own. He had come to realize how his first efforts had been for his own honor and prestige and it took a great deal of soul-searching before he could forgive himself and move past his feelings of guilt over it. Truthfully, that was exactly the kind of attitude that was needed to motivate the American churches to start and sustain a missionary program.

Could I put myself in that same position? Leaving my home, knowing that I would probably never see it or any of my family again? Knowing that I was doing it for the glory of God? I wish I could say yes, but it would be such a hard thing. Thankfully, the missionaries of today are not required to give up everything with such bleak prospects for their future on earth. They have extensive training and support and year-long furloughs back home, but I have seen their commitment to their work and it is just as intense as the commitment the Judsons made so long ago. After all, our life on earth is such a momentary thing compared to our eternal life with Christ and those who follow him.

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