Short Dramas and Plays
A TV Interview with America's First Foreign Missionary, Adoniram Judson
by douglas batson
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Written to commemorate the bicentennial of the Judson's departure; the sketch was performed at the Capital Bible Seminary missions conference on March 8, 2012.
The interviewer should be played by a hip, younger woman; Judson played by a middle aged man. Early on, the interviewer has the dominant personality. Adoniram Judson is a humorless New Englander, but he slowly gains the upper hand.
Interviewer: [Introduce self] Our guest is America’s first foreign missionary, who is home on furlough for the first time in 33 years. Let’s welcome Mr. Adoniram Judson.
Mr. Judson, to start, after 33 years in Asia, please tell us what changes in America have impressed you the most.
Adoniram: Certainly, the most fascinating things I have seen are a steam locomotive and the telegraph---what hath God wrought?!
I: Mr. Judson, we understand that you were an accomplished scholar, and that your college experience was pivotal in you becoming America’s first foreign missionary.
A: That is true, but only in a round-about way. I was a child who loved to learn; I was reading at age 3, undertook navigation lessons at age 10. I was so gifted in languages that friends nicknamed me “Virgil.” I studied theology as a child b/c father was a Congregationalist minister. Despite the tears and pleadings of my mother, I had not made a profession of faith in Christ before I left home for college.
I: Where did you attend college?
A: At age 17, I entered Providence College, now Brown Univ. There, I immediately became best friends with Jacob Eames, he also possessing a superior intellect. With French skepticism rampant in academia, Eames convinced me to become a Free Thinker, a Deist -- someone who believes in a Supreme Being but who rejects the truth of the Holy Scriptures and of Christ Jesus as God’s Son. So, whatever faith I had once possessed as a child, I lost it -- largely due to Jacob’s influence. I was still only 19 when I won class honors, what you call the valedictorian.
I: What did you do when you graduated from an Ivy League school?
A: I am uncertain what you mean about my school – and ivy! In Plymouth, MA, I opened a private academy. Besides teaching the pupils I published two text books, Elements of English Grammar and the Young Ladies’ Arithmetic. Yet, I felt the need for more excitement and rode to NYC to seek my fortune, certain to become a famous playwright. However, real life proved to be more difficult than did school. After receiving no suitable offers of employment, I was en route home when the pivotal event occurred to which you referred.
I: Yes, please tell us what happened on your way back home.
A: The same fellow who had destroyed my faith in College was also responsible for me becoming America’s 1st foreign missionary.
I: That is so very strange!
A. It is a paradox, yes, but no laughing matter. On my way home I overnighted at an inn in CT. Saddlesore and tired, I was ready for good night’s sleep. But, the agonized groans of a man in the next room permitted me no sleep. My thoughts troubled me. All through the night questions assailed my soul: "Was that man prepared to die?" "Where would he spend eternity?" "Was he a Christian, calm and strong in the hope of life in Heaven?" "Or, was he shuddering in the dark brink of the lower region?" I chided myself for even entertaining such thoughts. How my brilliant college chum, Jacob Eames, would rebuke me had he learned of my worries.
I: What happened next?
A: The next morning I learned that the man had indeed passed away in the night; I inquired of the innkeeper as to his identity. I was unprepared for the most staggering statement I ever heard: "He was a brilliant young man from Providence College---Eames was his name!"
Yes, Jacob Eames, the unbeliever who had destroyed my faith! "Now he was dead -- and was lost! Was lost! Lost! Lost!" Those words raced through my brain, rang in my ears, roared in my soul -- Lost! Lost! There and then I realized I, too, was lost!
I: So, what did you do then?
A: I returned home and, much to parents’ delight, "sought God for the pardon of my soul." By special favor, because I was not a ministerial candidate, indeed I had yet to make a profession of faith, I entered Andover Theological Seminary, where my father lectured. Some months later I "made a solemn dedication of myself to God.” Dreams of fame and honor dissipated. My pressing purpose became to please the Lord. Through the influence of friends like Luther Rice, and others who had attended that now-famous Haystack Prayer meeting, we Brethren, that is how we called ourselves, decided to become America’s FIRST foreign missionaries.
I: Where did you expect God to send you?
A: I had heard a sermon titled “The Star of the East,” about missionary labors in Burma that fired my soul. The seminary organized the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, which was a most stupendous undertaking by faculty and students! Events moved quickly that winter. Five of us were ordained as missionaries, I married, and two weeks later sailed for India.
I: Mr. Judson, now hold on, wait just a minute. Who was this woman and how did she enter your life?
A: Of course, owing to your gender and youth, naturally you want to hear how I was bound to Miss Ann Hasseltine, one of the most remarkable women of her generation. I spoke at Nancy’s church (I called her Nancy) about my missionary calling and to raise funds for the journey. Nancy was convinced God would have her become my wife and accompany me. “Because of an obligation to God with full conviction to it being a calling,” she said. So it was that my bride of 13 days and I set sail for India in Feb. 1812.
I: I understand that you and Nancy had a change of convictions while on that 4-month voyage.
A: Indeed we did. Through studying the scriptures, Nancy & I became convinced of the believers’ baptism, and became Baptists on board the ship!
I: But it was not a Baptist mission board that had just sent you out. Do you mean to say that you simply dropped the Board that had sponsored you for a Baptist Board?
A. Yes, we were sent out by Congregationalists as there was no Baptist mission board at that time. Upon arrival in India we discussed our convictions with Mr. Wm. Carey. His associate, Wm. Ward, baptized us by immersion in Calcutta. My friend Luther Rice, who had sailed with us ---and who shared our convictions----returned to the U.S. and he organized a Baptist mission Board to take us on. We had wanted to stay longer in India, but the British East India Co. informed us that were not welcome.
I: Was that due to the War of 1812?
A: Actually, this was even before anyone in India knew that our two countries were at war, thank God! We were greatly frustrated, yes, but God in His Providence was actually protecting us. Had we arrived even a few weeks later, we would certainly have been imprisoned. Our frustrations waxed as Nancy miscarried. It was 17 months after we had sailed from Boston that a door to Burma opened for us.
I: What was your first impression of that country?
A: There was not one known Christian in that land of millions. And we found no friends in that robber-infested, idolatry-infected, iniquity-filled land. As a missionary, God’s purposes became mine. When I gazed at the temples of Buddha I cried aloud, [STAND] "A voice mightier than mine, a still small voice, will ere long sweep away every vestige of thy dominion. The churches of Jesus Christ will soon supplant these idolatrous monuments, and the chants of Buddha will die away before the Christian's hymns of praise."
I: How did you learn that language and how did you reach Burmese with the Gospel?
A: Alas, my gifting and training in classical languages was of little benefit to me. Even after studying the difficult Burmese language with tutors 12 hours a day, Nancy fared better in conversation (sigh). It was to be 4 years before I dared to hold a worship service in my halting Burmese. Even so, our public evangelism was totally ineffective. No Burmese would enter the mission compound. It was to be 6 long, soul-crushing years before the first decision for Christ.
I: Was it dangerous for a Burman to follow Christ? How did it happen?
A: We discovered a cross-cultural bridge to reach the Burmese. We built a Christian Zayat! A zayat is a shelter along the roadside where travelers could stop, rest, take refreshment, and listen to Buddhist lay preachers. Standing outside our roadside zayat I called out "Ho! Everyone that thirsteth for knowledge, come hither.” And they did, the Burmese packed our zayat, listened to our preaching and accepted our Gospel tracts.
Then, on June 27, 1819, it happened! I baptized the first Burman believer, Moung Nau. I wrote in my journal: "Oh, may it prove to be the beginning of a series of baptisms in the Burman empire which shall continue uninterrupted to the end of the age. Even though we preached the Gospel, not anti-Buddhism, it was very dangerous for the nationals to leave Buddhism. Perhaps that is why after a dozen years there were no more than 18 converts.
I: You may not want to talk about it, but we know that you spent 21 months in a notorious Burmese prison. Did your missionary activity break any local laws?
A: No, none at all! In fact things had been going so well. I had translated the Gospel of Mathew into Burmese, and a printing press and printer arrived from the mission board. A baby was born to us, but our joy was turned to sorrow. We soon buried our first child, Roger William Judson, under a great mango tree. War then broke out between Burma and Great Britain. Because I spoke English, I was imprisoned as a British spy; chained to violent criminals and hung by feet, upside down, in a dungeon for longer than I care to say. I was condemned to die, but in answer to many prayers to God, and the incessant pleadings of Nancy, who was again pregnant, my life was spared. Our reunion was joyous but brief, both Nancy and our child soon died after my release.
I: After so many difficulties, Mr. Judson, how did you carry on?
A: My grief ran very deep. To ease the pain, I buried myself in translation work. It took 9 arduous years before I finally translated the entire Bible into Burmese. I then set to work many more years on an English – Burmese lexicon. It has been very trying work, and I have oft felt depressed. I wonder how God will bless His Word in Burma.
I: Mr. Judson, due to your pioneering efforts and many sacrifices, there will be many more believers in Burma, I assure you.
A: Oh, can this be true? Praise be to God!
I: Our time is running short. Please do tell us about your family.
A: You know that Nancy & our first 2 children died. In 1834, after completing the New Testament translation, I married Sarah Boardman, a 30-year old widowed missionary in Burma, who courageously had stayed on after her husband’s death. We had 8 children together; 5 of whom survived to adulthood. Sarah and I experienced our own health problems and, with 3 of our children, we sailed for Boston. My first furlough in 33 years! …. Sarah (choke up)… died on board the vessel.
I: Mr. Judson, I am so sorry, I did not know.
A: But I have some happy news to announce now that my furlough is ending. Some months back I had scolded a young woman at a church. She was introduced to me as a promising playwright. But I told her that as a Christian, her writing talents are wasted on mere fiction. She would do far better by writing a biography of Sarah, I said. This she did, finishing it recently. And furthermore, the young woman informed me that she shall take Sarah’s place as my wife and return with me to Burma to be a mother to the children remaining there. I herewith announce my engagement to Miss Emily Chubbock.
I: Mr. Judson, I want to say congratulations, but I am shocked. I know Miss Chubbock, and she is not even half your age!
A: (indignant) Miss Emily Chubbock, like me, forsakes worldly fame and ignores scandalous gossip, even when it emanates from within the Church---so that lost souls may be saved!
And if I may have the last word, I will tell you what is truly scandalous! I am told that this War with Mexico is the design of southern States to expand slavery into Texas and new territories. Can this be true? Even more disturbing is the matter of slavery itself! Our ministers, the most intelligent, Christ-like men in the country, cannot resolve their differences on the matter. That Baptists and Methodists have split into Northern and Southern denominations, now that is scandalous. What did Jesus say? “But if the salt has lost his flavor, with which shall it be seasoned again?” If Christian ministers cannot resolve sectional differences, do we really believe that the politicians can do so? I am very concerned about the deepening divides in our country. Will that be all?
[Judson bows, exits.} Interviewer offers a concluding prayer. [200 years later, there are 4 Million Christians in Burma, 8% of the population, enough critical mass to evangelize their own.]
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