April 12: Adoniram Judson, Missionary to Burma, 1850

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

Adoniram Judson is remembered as the first American missionary to devote his life and work to proclaiming the Gospel in a distant land. He served as an American Baptist missionary to Burma, presently Myanmar, for nearly forty years.

Born into a devout Congregationalist family in Massachusetts, Judson demonstrated an unusual intellectual ability from an early age. A voracious reader and excellent student, he graduated first in his class at the College of Rhode Island, now Brown University, and further studied at Andover Theological School. Early on he was drawn toward preparing for missionary work. Judson discovered a particular gift for languages that served him well throughout his missionary endeavors.

In 1811, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions appointed Judson a missionary to the east. Early in 1812, he married his beloved Ann, and together they set sail, stopping first in India before proceeding to Burma. Upon arrival in 1813, they immersed themselves in three years of intensive study of the Burmese language.

Burma was a difficult context for mission work. It was some years before the first convert to Christianity and by the early 1820’s, only a modest handful of people—about a dozen—claimed the Christian faith. It was during this time that Judson began his monumental work of translating the Bible into Burmese and creating a Burmese grammar book that remains a standard reference work.

During the first war between Britain and Burma in the mid-1820’s, Judson was imprisoned and tortured, and his wife, Ann, though not imprisoned, suffered the indignities of being a Christian woman living under a decidedly anti-Christian regime.

It was only after the war and Judson’s imprisonment that the evangelical witness among the Burmese began to take hold. Judson’s desire to call forth a hundred converts soon bore fruit in more than a hundred congregations and thousands of converts. On Judson’s shoulders a new generation of missionaries and local pastors led unbelievers to the gospel in record numbers and Burma became a stronghold of Christian witness in the east.


I  Eternal God, we offer thanks for the ministry of Adoniram Judson, who out of love for thee and thy people translated the Scriptures into Burmese. Move us, inspired by his example, to support the presentation of thy Good News in every language, for the glory of Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

II  Eternal God, we thank you for the ministry of Adoniram Judson, who out of love for you and your people translated the Scriptures into Burmese. Move us, inspired by his example, to support the presentation of your Good News in every language, for the glory of Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Jeremiah 9:23-24

1 Corinthians 14:6-15

Matthew 18:10-14

Psalm 93

Preface of a Saint (2)

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

* * *

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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24 thoughts on “April 12: Adoniram Judson, Missionary to Burma, 1850

  1. This commemoration is for Trial Use. All elements (Title, Collect, Lections, and Proper Preface) are new.

  2. Collect. This collect does not read or pray well. It needs a rewrite.

    The Hebrew Scripture reading is but two verses long. Can you imagine a Baptist missionary reading just two verses of Scripture?

    Bio. He needs a ‘He was born in …..’statement; and a ‘He died in 1850.’statement.
    2nd paragraph: Is ‘Congregationalist’ the right word to denote a member of the Congregational Church of 18th century Massachusetts?

    Burma. As Burma is now known as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar it should be noted in the bio, and even the title.

    • Re: “The Hebrew Scripture reading is but two verses long. ”

      Since 23 really doesn’t apply to this commemoration it’s already twice as long as necessary!
      (It could be extended to 25, but it would be a painful revision.)

  3. Was he really the first American to do overseas mission work?

    I would like some more dates in the second paragraph.

    Next to last paragraph – what “indignities?” I assume that they were arrested and harassed by the Burmese, but perhaps that should be clearer.

  4. Overall, I think that the biography and the collect need more. Doing my own research, I found Judson to be an interesting person. I appreciate including Christians of other traditions in Holy Women, Holy Men, but this commemoration feels a little forced as if “let’s include the first American missionary” was its only goal.

    For those who would like to read more about the name Myanmar in English, Wikipedia has a very good consise review: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_Burma.

  5. Surprisingly, after hearing about their imprisonment, indignities, hundreds of churches, thousands of converts and years of service, the collect only mentions work he could have done at the public library: “who out of love for you and your people translated the Scriptures into Burmese.” Yet, the emphasis in bio and title is on “Missionary,” not Translator. Something fell through the cracks….

  6. There are two institutions of higher learning in the US named after the Judson: Judson College in Alabama and Judson University in Illinois. Both are Baptist schools.

    • Bruce — Thanks, I was wondering about that. Judson Press in Valley Forge PA, at the American Baptist Missionary Center, is named in his honor, also, and says so on their web pages..

  7. Praise the Lord for the life of Father Judson. His life is a perfect example of how we need to reach out and understand before we seek to be understood. By showing deep compassion and entering the place of those you wish to spread the Gospel to you become more connected to them and understand what it is that clouds their vision and their minds. This man spent years working to understand and was imprisoned and tourchured and still he was so intent on spreading the word that he translated it into there language and created a way to teach it in their schools. Can we not challenge ourselves to do more? Will we not put forth more effort to understand the language of those we wish to preach the word to?

    I say yes we will!

    Peace & Love

    Amanda J Murphy Venezia
    Solver of Problems

  8. Once again, the “headline writer” summarizes the account in a redundant first paragraph, I suggest it be deleted.

    Line 1, second paragraph: add “on August 9, 1788” after “family”.

    Line 1, second paragraph: add “Malden” after “in”.

    Line 1, third paragraph: add “of the American Baptist Church” after “missions”.

    Line 2, third paragraph: substitute “East” for “east”.

    Line 2, fourth paragraph: substitute “conversion to” for “convert”.

    Last line, final paragraph: substitute “East” for “east”.

    Add a final paragraph: “Judson died on April 12, 1850, on the coast of the Bay of Bengal.”

  9. I have a number of issues with this proposed commemoration. I will use the word “Burma” instead of Myanmar since that was the term used for the country when Judson worked there.

    1. The bio does need this information: Adoniram Judson was born 9 August 1788 in Malden, Massachusetts.
    2. The Rev. Judson was a Congregationalist before becoming a Baptist. Yes, Congregationalist was the correct term for the late 18th century until today. The term Puritan was not used by that time. The Judsons were baptized a second time by immersion to become Baptists.
    3. Judson worked for 38 years to convert the people of Burma. He never did have much success among the Buddhist Bermans. The most successful work was among the ethnic minorities who were animists, not Buddhists. Today most Christians in Myanmar are members of ethnic minorities: Karen, Chin, Kachin, Lahu and Lisu.
    4. My heart would be filled with more charity for Adoniram Judson had he remained unmarried while he worked in the jungles of Burma. But he sacrificed the lives of three wives. And his three wives bore him 13 children, only 5 of whom survived.
    a. Ann (Nancy) Hasseltine (1789-1826) married Judson in 1812. She bore three children, one stillborn and two died in infancy. She was apparently truly a partner in Judson’s missionary efforts and did much to try to alleviate his suffering during imprisonment.
    b. Sarah Hall Boardman (1803-1845) spent 20 years in Burma doing missionary work. She was a widow when she married Judson in 1834. During her 11 years of marriage she bore 8 children, five of whom survived. She died on shipboard on her way back home in 1845. Sarah was apparently quite a linguist in her own right working on translations as well as preparing materials in the different Burmese languages.
    c. Emily Chubbock (1817-1854) married Judson in 1846 and bore two children, a daughter and a son who was born posthumously and died within a day of birth. Though she survived her husband, she died of tuberculosis at age 37. She also was a writer.
    5. About 4 % of the population of Myanmar is Christian (3% Baptist and 1% Roman Catholic and there are also Seventh Day Adventists, Methodists and Anglicans. In 1966, all Christian missionaries were expelled.
    6. As has been noted above, there is a disconnect between the collect and the biography. The collect celebrate the linguistic accomplishments of Judson with the help of his wives, but little mention of the various translations and dictionary which were written not only by Judson but also his wives.
    7. I am not sure how one addresses the issue, but there is still systematic persecution of Christian minorities in Myanmar today. Buddhism is the official religion of Myanmar. Thousands have fled to Thailand, and also China, and Malaysia becoming refugees, some of whom have settled in the United States.

    • Try again. Not “Bermans”, Bamars. The majority population of Myanmar is of Bamar ethnicity.

      • I appreciate your information about the situation of the family. I don’t know many, but the two who shared with me (and others) some of the difficulties faced in being a missionary’s spouse have had to live with hardships and tragedies I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Just because one is ordained and a missionary doesn’t mean the rest of the family lives in another realm — they’re all in it completely and if your half of the canoe is sinking my half is, too! At the very least, the spouse should be included in commemorations of this kind of ministry situation. That’s not really enough, though, since the children are often permanently impacted (not to say “scarred”) by issues of nutrition, health care, education, and socialization. And yet, to hear them tell of their experiences, despite the hardships, the care for those ministered to is profound and the sense of embrace for that work (by those I’ve known) is uncompromised! So thank you! What we will or will not do about it in HWHM, however, will eventually be seen! I’m deeply grateful to you for raising the issue to visibility and consciousness!

      • Bishop Holley, in Haiti, is the other one whose family suffered several deaths in the interests of their mutual presence and activity there. Wouldn’t that qualify them as “martyrs,” too, under the operational definitioin we’re employing in HWHM?

      • The deaths of the first wife (Charlotte Gordon), two (of his four surviving) children and mother of The Right Rev. Dr. James T. Holly (March 13) are mentioned in the biography. They apparently died of yellow fever or malaria or other infectious diseases which was endemic in Haiti in the 19th century. In 1861-2, forty-three (per NYTimes obit for Holly) of the original 101 emigrants which Holly led from New Haven to Haiti died of infectious diseases. New York City where Holly lived and Washington, D.C. where he was born had yellow fever epidemics well in the 19th century. New York City had several cholera epidemics in the 19th century with thousands of deaths in each epidemic. Sporadic cases of malaria have turned up as late at the 1990s in NYC. The Rt. Rev. Dr. Holly did marry again in 1862. He and his wife, Sarah Henley had nine sons, all of whom survived infancy and childhood which is quite remarkable during a time when infant mortality rates approached 30% and sometimes higher. When the family must make great sacrifices, quite literally dying for the cause, and there is historical evidence for this, then it seem appropriate that this be mentioned in the biography as the very least.

  10. ABOUT THE APPOINTED LESSONS: Despite my earlier and inane comment about the OT lesson’s brevity, the readings, on the whole, are good. Particular comments:
    OT: it is not a matter of length; it is simply the wrong choice. Of the two verses selected, one of them (verse 23) doesn’t fit the commemoration at all (23 “Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth”) There is nothing in the Judson story about people claiming or presuming to be wise, mighty, or wealthy. It just doesn’t fit. The sole remaining verse, verse 24, is an edifying verse: “let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the LORD; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the LORD.” Such a verse might serve as a “chapter” at Noonday Prayer, but plainly does not suffice as a full Eucharistic lesson. We need another selection, not an arbitrary stretch
    so as to extend one good verse. Three possible alternatives would be Jeremiah 31:31-35, Ezekiel 11:14-20, and Ezekiel 18:23-32.
    The Psalm, I most delightedly add, is a magnificent choice!
    The NT reading is very apt. Judson’s proclamation of the Christian message, and his mastery of the local language, are central to this remembrance, and the reading highlights that, largely in verses 8-13. I question the wisdom of including verses 6-7 and 14-15 however, because issues of glossolalia are not part of Judson’s story, (at least, not in the HWHM write-up) and unless one already knows about that issue, verses 6-7, 14-15 are more likely to obscure the point than enhance it (which is exactly what the reading says NOT TO DO!). Shorten the reading to verses 8-13.
    The gospel selection is satisfactory. Note that since verse 11 is left blank in NRSV and NIV (and possibly others?) it could be written “Matthew 18:10,12-14” (rather than 10-14).

  11. To clarify on an earlier comment on college names. This is from http://www.judson.edu, the website of Judson College, an all-women’s school in Alabama:

    “The Judson Female Institute was established in 1838 by members of Siloam Baptist Church, and opened January 7, 1839. It was named after Ann Hasseltine Judson, America’s first female foreign missionary.”

  12. It may be of interest to some on this thread that the Baptist work among the Karen people of Myanmar
    (nee Burma) has resulted in many of displaced Karens coming to Utica, NY and finding welcome in
    the local Baptist Church. There are a number of Anglicans who have arrived here in the past few years
    and , at least, one wedding and two baptisms have been celebrated at Grace Church, Utica ( a down-
    town parish) in the last 3 years.

  13. The chief problem in the compiling of calendars is that the compilers tend to be Church historians, like me.
    and they include people totally unknow to most church members whom they understand to have listorical importance. The rule call for a local celebration of a festival and then to ask to have that person or persons added to the calendar.
    I know of no such base for this peerson. I have no objection to his being celebrated but question whether he belongs in the geberal calender.

  14. The comments above say all that needs to be said (and a bit more, in the case of ‘sacrificed the lives of three wives’). I only post this so that I can be notified of other comments, if any.

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