I first “met” Ann Judson (1789-1826) through Sharon James’ biography of her: My Heart in His Hands: Ann Judson of Burma. I was hooked.
Ann Judson was one of the first female American missionaries. In her day, people considered it daring and dangerous for a man to leave America and go bring the gospel to “the heathen”. Most never returned; many died before they saw conversions. A young woman making the same decision to leave all for Christ was considered “romantic” and even foolish. But Ann Judson and her close friend Harriet Newell (1793-1812) married young men in the knowledge that they would spend their days in the Lord’s service in “far-flung” parts of the world: India and Burma. Young as they were when they left America as brides (Ann was 23; Harriet was 19), their letters leave a rich mine of spiritual encouragement, devotional meditations and instruction.
So I was excited to see that Corner Pillar Press is out with new editions of these women’s stories, and ordered them quickly. Jennifer Adams edits both volumes, and while both have attractive covers and some improvements from older editions, I was on the whole disappointed with these. Both have cheap binding (on mine, the excess glue forms a ridge on the paper cover), an imperfect editing job, and amateur aspects like, “All pictures are from the 1800’s and assumed to be public domain.” The most useful aspects of Adam’s work is the identification of Scripture passages to which the original authors refer.
Delighting in Her Heavenly Bridegroom: The Memoirs of Harriet Newell, Teenage Missionary Wife, is unabridged. The letters are an incredible window into the thoughts, feelings and story of a young saint. Because the volume is close to autobiographical, it avoids hagiography – something difficult to avoid when the subject is so sanctified. Adams has added to Newell’s memoir a preface to the series, preface to the volume, and notes, largely identifying the Scripture passages which Newell quotes in her letters. The book has many italicized words, phrases, or sentences which may or may not be in the original, but which are distracting. The same letters are available on Amazon in other editions (starting at $20), but at $8 right now through Reformation Heritage Books, it’s still a solid investment and I would quickly spend double that for the content. Here’s a taste:
“I have never repented leaving all for Christ. Though I am taken away before we have had it in our power to do anything for the heathen, yet it gives me comfort to think of the case of David, who was accepted for having it in his heart to build a house for God, though he was never allowed to accomplish his desire. The mission will go on without me.” (229)
The biography of Ann Judson, though in the same series, is far less impressive. Adams has taken Arabella Stewart’s 1855 triple biography of Adoniram Judson’s three wives, Ann, Sarah, and Emily, split it up by wife, abridged each section and added notes. While easier to hold than the single volume (which is available free online here), these editions are missing the full richness of Stuart’s original. The added footnotes, while helpful, do not compensate for the loss of the parts which Adams has cut to make it more accessible. Even after Adams’ revisions, long sentences and big, Victorian words abound. It is not the best job of making this work accessible while retaining the feel of the original – I got the feeling that neither goal was really achieved. Sharon James’ bio of Ann is a much better modern account, Stuart’s more full, and Ann’s own letters more personal.
If you are looking for accounts of Adoniram’s second and third wives, I would save the $8 per volume in the Corner Pillar Press series and read them online, or order the 256 page memoir of Sarah. Stuart’s full volume is available for $20.99 – three dollars less than the three Corner Pillar Press ones at the sale price.
But regardless of how and when and where you read these women’s stories, please read them. Though the Lord took each missionary wife after very few years or months of service, He used each powerfully to build the Church. Short lives full of difficulty, grief, discouragement, perseverance, faith, trust, and hope are powerful testimonies to God’s grace. They are also a spur to holiness – what they did with so little, I am not doing with much. The western church has much to learn from a handful of women long dead and nearly forgotten. The biggest encouragement in looking back at them is knowing that the Lord who fashioned and used them to do much is the same today, and He can do it again.