Adoniram Judson, who wanted to become America’s first foreign missionary, fell in love with the most beautiful girl in Bradford, Massachusetts. Ann Hasseltine was the daughter of a Congregational deacon, and Judson’s letter asking for her hand is among the most emboldened in church history:

I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter, whether you can consent to her departure to a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and suffering of a missionary life? Whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean, to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India, to every kind of want and distress, to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death.

John Hasseltine did consent, and the couple was married in the Hasseltine home on February 5, 1812. The next day they were commissioned as missionaries and soon left American shores. Their new home, Rangoon, Burma, was a filthy, crowded city. The atmosphere was oppressive, the work discouraging. By 1820, there were ten Burmese converts, but at a cost. One Judson child had been stillborn; another died of tropical fever.

When war broke out between Burma and England, Adoniram was accused of being a spy and placed in a death prison. His dark, dank cell was filled with vermin, and Adoniram was shackled at the ankles. Every evening he was hanged upside down with only his head and shoulders resting on the ground.

Ann, pregnant again, visited one government official after another, urging her husband’s release. On February 15, 1825, eight months after Adoniram’s arrest, she showed up at his prison carrying a small bundle, their newborn daughter Maria. No artist can capture the poignancy of that brief union with its intense emotions of sorrow and joy, fear and faith.

Torturous months followed. Adoniram was finally released, but both Ann and Maria soon died of fever. Adoniram suffered a mental breakdown that nearly took both his ministry and his life.

But God wasn’t finished with him. America’s first foreign missionary still had a world to change.

Unless you are willing to take up your cross and come with me, you are not fit to be my disciples. If you try to save your life, you will lose it. But if you give it up for me, you will surely find it. (Matthew 10:38-39)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Feb. 15.

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