Adoniram and Ann Judson were certainly pioneer missionaries. They set sail for Asia in 1812, expecting never to see America again. Ann was one of the first female American missionaries.
Their original plan was to serve in India, but various providences led them to Burma, a land whose customs, language, religion, mindset and climate were totally foreign to them. Even in their own day they were regarded as daring, even foolhardy, adventurers.
Sharon James first published this book in 1998 as My heart in his hands (an apt quotation from Ann’s diary). She tells Ann’s story beautifully. Ann married the fervent young Adoniram Judson and exchanged pleasant life in New England for almost unimaginable trials on the mission field.
How did she feel about the lack of female company, long absences of her husband, dangerous journeys, serious illness, birth and death of her children, and inhumane imprisonment of Adoniram? One of the most appealing things about this biography is that it feels almost like an autobiography, because the author allows Ann to tell us how she did feel. Extracts from Ann’s diaries, letters and memoir are skilfully woven into the narrative.
If the hardships Ann suffered feature strongly, so do her achievements in the cause of Christ’s kingdom. She mastered the Burmese and Siamese languages, connected with local people, founded schools, promoted the mission’s work in America and Britain, wrote an inspiring book about it and preserved the life of Adoniram, who continued the work in Burma after her own death at the age of only 37.
Sometimes missionary biographies can be discouraging. We can see that the subject has achieved great things for the Lord, but are left feeling and longing to know the secret of the ‘success’. But here we are left in no doubt where Ann’s motivation and strength came from. After her conversion at the age of 17, ‘she longed to have all intelligent creatures love Him’ (p.27), and when the opportunity of becoming a missionary presented itself, she considered it ‘an undeserved privilege’ (p.42).
Ann was a deeply spiritual woman and, through this intimate portrait, her spirituality will profit the reader. She was humbly aware of the ‘innate depravity’ of her own heart (p.91). She viewed the trials of this life in the light of eternity; ‘on earth we serve God — in heaven we praise him’ (p.232) was a favourite motto.
This is a scholarly book. Sharon James has thoroughly researched it, even accessing some previously unpublished letters. There is a good index, interesting appendices and an epilogue that concludes Adoniram’s story, along with relevant pictures and maps. It is a warm, engaging, inspiring and challenging book. It would probably appeal mainly, but not exclusively, to women.