Reading Biographies: Ann Judson

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24-25)

For my last series in reading biographies I choose Ann Judson, the wife of Adoniram; the book, Ann Judson, Missionary Wife by Arabella Stuart.

Biblical femininity

Adoniram was the first foreign missionary to be sent from America in the early nineteenth century. For a woman to travel as well was considered by many to be absurd, even foolish. But Ann counted the cost and considered it prudent to give away her life in order to gain it. Rarely will one read of a woman who displayed such “biblical beauty, femininity and strength” in the face of unspeakable sufferings on mission to the unreached of Burma. Stuart says,

“Ann’s desire to take the gospel to the unreached was rooted in her own personal call to missions and was realized through her ministry to her husband.” (45)

Note that her call was first from Christ, but her ministry was first to her husband then to the unreached. Physicians attribute her death to the strain of ministering to her husband when he was imprisoned for two years.

“She gave her life for him and the spread of the gospel among the people of Burma” (45).

Ann supported her husband in the field not primarily out of love for the unreached Burmese but out of love for Christ, and a desire to fill up his afflictions for the fame of his name amongst the nations. She was willing to let goods and kindred go, to give up the comforts and social delights of American Christianity and look to a higher treasure and labor for an imperishable reward (Heb. 11:35).

“Ann displayed a feminine strength that is not absurd, but precious in the sight of God. Her devotion to the Lamb and willingness to follow him wherever he led made her radiate his beauty and display his worth” (20).

She was a great example of biblical womanhood.

Suffering alone

What is most remarkable about Ann Judson, however, is that she was willing to suffer…alone. Who does not know the agony of suffering alone? Sufferings are hard enough when shared with others, but will test a person’s faith to the maximum when there is no one but Christ to turn to.

She was alone in the missionary call. That she was the first woman to accompany her husband in the mission field was a lonely prospect; the harshness of the climate, social crudities, a lack of female companionship and what would be the loss of two of her three children while she was alive meant that only grace from God would uphold her.

She was alone at sea and abroad. For various reasons Ann spent four years apart from her husband for the cause of the mission work. Her heart ached to be with him. It ached for female companionship. While she was away she received news that three women whom she had in her Burmese Bible class had converted to Christ. Nevertheless, her goal was, “To have a female praying society consisting of those who were once in heathen darkness is what my heart earnestly pants after and makes constant subject of prayer” (26).

She was alone in her death. Ann suffered much from ill health brought on by the stress of the mission and the lifestyle in Burma. She eventually became ill when Adoniram was away. Her last words to her cook were, “I must die alone and leave my little one; but as it is the will of God, I acquiesce in his will. I am not afraid of death but I am afraid I shall not be able to bear these pains. Tell the teacher (i.e. her husband) that the disease was most violent and I could not write; tell him how I suffered and died” (31).

“Yet I am not alone” was her constant refrain. Ann was an ordinary woman with fears and weaknesses just like all of us. But she was a woman able to fall into the earth and die in order to bear much fruit; fruit she wouldn’t see in her lifetime. Why? Because she was motivated by the greater worth of the gospel of Christ, weakened by suffering so that she knew Christ and sustained unto death by her union with the living Christ.

In the words of John Flavel she was “never less alone than when alone”.

Ann Judson, Missionary Wife, Vol. 1 of The Lives of the Three Mrs. Judsons, Arabella Stuart, (Corner Pillar Press, 2011)