Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Heart in His Hands

This is just the latest book that I have endeavored to read. It's the account of Ann Judson and her life as it was spent with Adoniram Judson, missionary to the Burmese people and the transcriber of the King James Bible into Burmese.

I got this book a couple of years ago after Sherri had given me a an Amazon gift card as a secret prayer sister gift. And yes, it's taken me a little bit to get started in on it, but now that I have read I'm very happy that I did.

I've always enjoyed reading biographies. Little snippets of peoples lives. Historical figures, like George Washington or everyday ordinary people, like Carolyn Jessop (Escape) etc. Anyone that may have something worthwhile to share I consider reading. I've recently enjoyed reading the biographies surrounding lives of missionaries, like George Muller and today was able to finish the afore mentioned biography.

I sometimes think that there needs to be more books written about the women that stood beside their husbands and great men of the Christian faith. Like their husbands lives, these women have a lot of wisdom to share and there is a lot that young Christian ladies can learn from the character and trials of their lives. Part of the reason though, at least I believe, that the accounts of their lives are in short supply is because they were in large part busy with the running of their households and the work of supporting their husbands ministry that I don't think they thought of or had the time to keep tabs on the daily events of their lives. But whatever the reason for the absence of their voice Sharon James, the author, does an excellent job of weaving her voice throughout the book, by using her letters to her family and accounts from Adoniram's diary & letters to tell of the extraordinary life she shared with her husband in one of the hardest places on the earth geographically, politically and spiritually speaking. Proverbs 18:22 a says, Whosoever findeth a wife, findeth a good thing. To say that Ann was a good wife puts it mildly.

From what I can gather in reading the book, from the excerpts of the letters that were shared with us, and from the testimony of her character she was a spirited and godly woman, that desired to please the Lord with her life. She was accomplished in studies and, uncommon for the day in which she lived, she held a career as a teacher. She had a mind and an aptitude to learn, and I was particularly charmed by her diary entry...

"Have taken charge of a few scholars. Ever since I have had a comfortable hope in Christ, I have desired to devote myself to him in such a way, as to be useful to my fellow creatures. As providence has placed me in a situation in life, where I have had an opportunity of getting as good an education as I desire, I feel it would be highly criminal in me not to improve it. I feel also, that it would be equally criminal to desire to be well educated and accomplished, from selfish motives, with a view merely t gratify my taste and relish for improvement, or my pride being qualified to shine. I therefore resolved last winter, to attend the academy, from no other motive, than to improve the talents bestowed by a God, so as to be more extensively devoted to his glory, and the benefit of my fellow creature." 

This outlook on life I'm sure was far from the norm for her day. Most girls being preoccupied with marriage & cultivating a family. From what I know of the early 19th century career and service to others in such a fashion was not championed. She admittedly enjoyed the sense of adventure that the Lord would lead her in her service to him. Truth be known I don't know how a person, especially in that time period could not posses that quality in their spirit. There was so much that was unknown about that part of the world; customs & language being among them. Now I love to travel but for a 19th century woman to want to go there, even if it was with her husband, took a person of unique character to be sure. Well didn't men back then first address the father for marriage? Yes they did, and Adoniram was no different? His proposal to her father, after only knowing Ann a short while, was direct and mixed no words for he knew the seriousness of what lay before them....

"I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure for a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death? Can you consent to all this for the sake of Him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing immortal souls; for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?"

Most fathers would probably not take a letter like this to heart, but understanding the nature of the work that Adoniram was called to he left the decision in Ann's hands, a radical idea for the time.

Knowing that a person that would be called to that part of the world would not likely ever return to the home of their birth, see their family & friends again. Burma, now known as Myanmar, was a world away from the "comforts" that 19th century New England offered Ann. Having been to this part of the world myself I can attest to the fact that the climate is brutal with it's humidity, multiply that with 19th century modesty standards and I'm sure that it was down right stifling, but this was hardly a care that Ann ever expressed. Her only cares were for Adoniram and for the service that she desired to give to her Lord to see souls won for Christ.

Something that should be appreciated about the early work of their ministry to the Burmese people is that they first sought to learn Burman customs and ways of doing things, rather than force their American customs on the Burmese. Any person evangelising in another culture should take this into account. An example of their efforts in doing this was when the Judson's realized the zayat's, buildings along the side of the roads that the Burmese used to stop and worship in, could have a practical use in their evangelistic efforts. So they set one up for themselves, once they had a grasp of the language. But rather than having a monk occupying the space, Adoniram would use the opportunity each time someone stopped to witness to them about Jesus Christ. By recognizing a symbol that the Burmese had an understanding of, and using it in a way that would help them to be able to reach out to the people they were called to, Ann and her husband were able to share the gospel with people that they would otherwise not have contact with. But they were able to accomplish this because they had the foresight to take their time by learning the language and observing the Burmese people, rather than going in with guns blazing & no plans outside of sharing the gospel with them. Had that been the plan it might not have fared so well for them, and things for the couple weren't that easy to begin with. Upon their initial arrival to the country they were initially prevented from going in due to war & the British East India Companies outlook on Christian missionary work, and were therefore requested to return to America. Talk about discouraging.

While her husband spent his days in deep translation & study of the language, Ann was also able to take the time to ingratiate herself to the viceroy's wife in the Rangoon province. I was thinking about this move of hers the other day and it was an intuitively calculating move on her part. They were foreigners and had no real claim to any sort of society in the country, but she knew that should there be a political upheaval (as there were many) that even if she could not get an audience with the viceroy himself, that by at least holding court with his wife that an "ally" could be made and should her husband need help that she could get him an audience with the viceroy, through his wife. Talk about the gift of gab being put to good use, and yes boys it is a gift. And we ladies are good at it for reason such as this. Hey, that's my story & I'm sticking to it;) But seriously, this calculated move on Ann's part actually came in handy for Adoniram when he wanted to get an audience with the King of Burma during a particular time of political unrest. Ultimately it did not work in their favor, but the fact that they were even able to have their voice heard was remarkable to say the least.

Ann's life in Burma was never really easy, she was sick a lot. She was so ill at one point that she had to return to England & ultimately America so that she could receive the rest of a cooler climate & modern day medical care, which actually made her condition worse. She was ultimately gone for 2 years from her husbands side & their work in Burma due to this retreat. But because of her respite she was able to report to the Missionary Society that supported them, and gain more support for their work by having the time to pen An Account of the American Baptist Mission to the Burman Empire, a task that she would not have had the time for if she had not been on bed rest. Her writing skills also lent to her by God helped her to write catechism material for children in Burma, she was able to open a school there for helping children to read, in which her material was used, and she helped to translate the book of Matthew into Burmese as well.

Her status as a helpmeet in the work of God didn't stop at transcription & writing though. Because of her devotion to the souls in Burma & her husband, she fought with abandon for 2 years for her husbands release from his unjust imprisonment. Due to the war between Burma & England foreigners were treated with suspicion, regardless of their reason for being in the country, & ultimately Adoniram was taken as a prisoner of war. The accounts in the book are harrowing to say the least. By all accounts she was a lady acting upon the presumption of others ideology. She had no one with her except 2 foreign charges & her cook, she was pregnant & then continued to campaign for her husbands release once she gave birth, she saved & preserved his translation work that he was doing with the King James Bible during this time, she brought him food in prison (I otherwise believe he would have had none), and when he was taken to what was to have been a death camp she followed him again to petition for his release & to take care of him as best as she could at the prisoners new location. I am half inclined to believe that there are not so many women today that hold their husbands so dear to their lives, in the ministry or not. Not having my life tied to another's at this point in my life I struggle to think of what it mush be like to be that devoted to another person? To set aside everything, even her own health, to ensure that your husband can survive. The character of most people today doesn't allow for that. It's all about making sure that "I'm #1 and taken care of". But that is exactly what Jesus asks of us, is it not? I dare say that it is. In the final days of this 2 year ordeal she was so ill that she was said to be a ghost of her former self, almost unrecognizable to her husband. Her head had been shaved due to her fevers that she was enduring, her body emaciated from malnourishment, unable to feed her infant daughter. And yet upon her slight recovery of body & husband. Her thoughts were towards how to move forward with the mission work & converted souls in Burma.

A brief encounter with a sailor that had been recovered from the river, upon the Judson's release from prison, gives details to the state of her countenance...

"...My eyes first rested on the thin, attenuated form of a lady...That lady was Mrs. Judson, whose long captivity and severe hardships amongst the Burmese have since been detailed in her published journals. I remained two days with them, - two delightful days they were to me. Mrs. Judson's powers of conversation were of the first order, and the many affecting anecdotes that she gave us of their long cruel bondage, their struggle in the cause of religion, and their long adventures during a long residence at the court of Ava, gained a heightened interest from the beautiful, energetic simplicity of her language, as well as from the certainty I felt that so fragile a flower as she in very truth was, had but a brief season to linger on earth." 

Ann passed on into glory at the age of 37, while her husband was again away on ministry business. Her daughter passed away a few days later. And yet, for all the pain that she endured in this earthly realm, Ann's was a life well lived. I closed this book wondering if she had even considered the words that she had written so early in her life, about being in service to others. I'm sure those diary's were all but gone from her possession when she was in Burma, but it is obvious, by the example in which she lived her live, that the principles of devotion to God and service to her fellow men, were never really gone from her heart. In reading about her life, though we are separated by 222 years, I felt very akin to Ann. Her desire for self improvement, her love of people & the ministry and her desire to serve others and God are not far from my own ideals, although mine might have taken more time to cultivate in a godly direction, rather than a selfish one. I only now wait to see what use I can be and what doors the Lord will open for me in my life as it continues to progress.

In case you haven't figured it out, I RECOMMEND this book with all sincerity and hope that if you so desire that you will afford yourself the opportunity to read it.

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