Read the first three blogs on Adoniram Judson:
In my previous blog I touched on four lessons from the life of Adoniram Judson. This week I want to focus more intently on two of those lessons, because they are not just separate items on a list, but are closely connected to each other.
First, I mentioned the reality of spiritual warfare in Judson’s life, describing his 17 months in terrible conditions in a Burmese prison, followed by the death of his wife Ann. “Adoniram’s grief at Ann’s death led him to retreat into seclusion, a paralysing year-long siege of depression that overcame him. He grew increasingly reclusive, finally building a hut in the jungle. He dug his own grave and spent many hours contemplating death. When he returned safely from his self-exile, everyone was surprised that he had survived.”
Then I described how, after that deep struggle, he moved into a very fruitful period of winning men and woman to Christ. "Following that dark period when he had hoped to die, ‘he enjoyed a decade of evangelistic fruitfulness, especially among the tribal Karen people… He used to set out alone on long canoe trips up the Salween River into the tiger-infested jungles to evangelise the northern Karen people.’”
Now consider the relationship between those two events, the dark paralysis of depression and the fruitful period of evangelism. By doing that we come up with a real insight into a frequently repeated pattern in cross-cultural mission. That 10 year time of evangelism which began very soon after his period of depression led, as I have said in previous posts, to 8000 Burmese people coming to faith in Jesus and 100 churches being planted. Of course, that was not all his work, but would it have happened without him? I doubt it. Therefore we can see that valley of despair was an attempt by the evil one to remove the missionary who would lead this serious invasion of Satan’s kingdom, when so many people were brought to faith in Jesus Christ. A pattern emerges. Before great fruitfulness, there is spiritual warfare.
"A pattern emerges. Before great fruitfulness, there is spiritual warfare."
The Lord Jesus Himself in Luke 4:1-14 entered into the wilderness to be deeply tempted by the evil one. He went in full of the Holy Spirit (verse 1), then came out of the temptation battle in the power of the Spirit (verse 14), leading to His anointed ministry of preaching, healing and deliverance, and then eventually to the cross and the resurrection. Paul in 2 Corinthians chapter 1 echoes Judson’s dark period when he says: “we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.” But we know how much God used Paul after that. The great missionary to the Lisu people of China, J.O. Fraser, after seven years of more or less fruitless labour amongst them, went into a similar dark valley, questioning whether he even should be working there and, amazingly for such a man of prayer, wondering if God even heard his prayers. Later God so blessed Fraser’s ministry that the Lisu went from zero believers to, pro rata, the highest number of believers of any minority people in China.
A pattern emerges. When God is going to win men and women to Christ through His servant, the enemy attacks to try and bring down that chosen servant of God before he or she gets going.
What might have happened if he had lived in 2021? A letter back home from Burma would have taken 2 months. By that time Judson had recovered and was winning men and women to Christ. But what might have happened had he lived today? In our very different day of instant communication quite possibly within a week of his sad departure into the jungle, messages would have begun to fly back to the United States on social media, on Zoom and email, saying that Judson was in trouble. Thousands of miles away those who felt responsible for him might well have begun to construct a plan to remove him. It could have been out of real concern and compassion, but it would have been hugely misguided. And so we note a danger in our fast media age – that of instant and superficial communication leading to wrong decisions.
Of course, there can be a good side to that. Such instant messages could have triggered prayer and intercession and also pastoral concern for Judson. Another factor of our generation, ease of travel (outside of the pandemic) could have led to a pastoral leader flying out to comfort and encourage him. Paul needed Barnabas, so such a Barnabas today might have been able to restore and help him into that fruitful period of evangelism more swiftly.
The danger is always of leadership back home jumping to fast conclusions without really praying or engaging on site with what is actually going on. Some missionaries do need to be returned home for their own sakes – or for the sake of others. Our policy has been that should happen when there is a danger to themselves or they are a danger to others. But in most cases a surge of prayer and pastoral concern will lift a child of God into success in God’s calling.
How we need in our sending churches those who have experienced these principles, and those who have an understanding, praying and pastoral heart not just for the local church, but for those missionaries that they send out.
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