Read our other stories about the 200th anniversary of Adoniram Judson’s historic mission trip:
BURMA, Asia (BP) — Adoniram Judson penned many letters as a missionary in Burma describing his work and life, many of which — such as his correspondence to a young missionary candidate —- are still quoted today. In these letters, featured in “The Life of Adoniram Judson,” the missionary lays out what it means to serve the Lord at all costs.
You ask my advice on several important points. I am desirous of setting down a few items which may be profitable to you in your future course.
You are contemplating a missionary life.
First, then, let it be a missionary life; that is, come out for life and not for a limited term. Do not fancy that you have a true missionary spirit, while you are intending all along to leave the heathen soon after acquiring their language. Leave them for what? To spend the rest of your days in enjoying the ease and plenty of your native land?
Secondly. In choosing a companion for life, have particular regard to a good constitution, and not wantonly, or without good cause, bring a burden on yourselves and the mission….
Thirdly. Be not ravenous to do good on board ship. [M]issionaries have frequently done more hurt than good by injudicious zeal, during their passage out.
Fourthly. Take care that the unmissionary examples you may possibly meet with at some missionary stations do not transform you from living missionaries to mere skeletons…. It may be profitable to bear in mind that a large proportion of those who come out on a mission to the East die within five years after leaving their native land. Walk softly, therefore; death is narrowly watching your steps.
Fifthly. Beware of the reaction which will take place soon after reaching your field of labor. There you will find native Christians, of whose merits and demerits you cannot judge correctly without some familiar acquaintance with their language.
Some appearances will combine to disappoint and disgust you. You will meet with disappointments and discouragements … which will lead you, at first, almost to regret that you have embarked in the cause…. Beware, therefore, of the reaction you will experience from a combination of all these causes, lest you become disheartened at commencing your work, or take up a prejudice against some persons and places, which will embitter you.
Sixthly. Beware of the greater reaction which will take place after you have acquired the language and become fatigued and worn out with preaching the Gospel to a disobedient and gainsaying people.
You will sometimes long for a quiet retreat, where you can find a respite from the tug of toiling at native work — the incessant, intolerable friction of the missionary grindstone. And Satan will sympathize with you in this matter; and he will present some chapel of ease … to slip out of real missionary work. Such a temptation will form the crisis of your disease. If your spiritual constitution can sustain it, you recover; if not, you die.
Seventhly. Beware of pride; not the pride of proud men, but the pride of humble men — that secret pride which is apt to grow out of the consciousness that we are esteemed by the great and good. This pride sometimes eats out the vitals of religion before [its] existence is suspected. In order to check its operations, it may be well to remember how we appear in the sight of God and how we should appear in the sight of our fellow-men…. Confess your faults freely and as publicly as circumstances will require or admit….
Eighthly. Never lay up money for yourselves or your families. Trust in God from day-to-day and verily you shall be fed.
Ninthly. Beware that indolence which leads to a neglect of bodily exercise. The poor health and premature death of most Europeans in the East must be eminently ascribed to the most wanton neglect of bodily exercise….
There are many points of self-denial that I should like to touch upon; but a consciousness of my own deficiency constrains me to be silent. I have also left untouched several topics of vital importance, it having been my aim to select such only as appear to me to have been not much noticed or enforced….
Praying that you may be guided in all your deliberations and that I may yet have the pleasure of welcoming some of you to these heathen shores,
Your affectionate brother,
Maulmain, June 25, 1832
Shiloh Lane is a former International Mission Board writer who was based in Asia. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).