Chapter 22: The Beginnings of American Foreign Missions (1/11)

Samuel J. Mills, when a student in Williams College, gathered about him a group of fellow students, all feeling the burden of the great heathen world. One day in 1806 four of them, overtaken by a thunderstorm, took refuge in the shelter of a haystack. They passed the time in prayer for the salvation of the world, and resolved, if opportunity offered, to go themselves as missionaries. This “haystack prayer meeting” has become historic.

These young men went later to Andover Theological Seminary, where Adoniram Judson joined them. Four of these sent a petition to the Massachusetts Congregational Association at Bradford, June 29, 1810, offering themselves as missionaries and asking whether they might expect support from a society in this country, or whether they must apply to a British society. In response to this appeal the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was formed.

When a charter for the Board was applied for, an unbelieving soul objected upon the floor of the legislature, alleging in opposition to the petition that the country contained so limited a supply of Christianity that none could be spared for export, but was aptly reminded by another, who was blessed with a more optimistic make, that this was a commodity such that the more of it was sent abroad the more remained at home. There was much perplexity concerning plans and finances, so Judson was dispatched to England to confer with the London Society as to the feasibility of the two organizations cooperating in sending and sustaining the candidates, but this scheme came to nothing. At last sufficient money was raised, and in February, 1812, the first missionaries of the American Board sailed for the Orient. Mr. Judson was accompanied by his wife, having married Ann Hasseltine shortly before sailing.

On the long voyage out, in some way Mr. and Mrs. Judson and Mr. Rice were led to revise their convictions with reference to the proper mode of baptism, reached the conclusion that only immersion was valid, and were rebaptized by Carey soon after their arrival in Calcutta. This step necessarily sundered their connection with the body which had sent them forth, and left them wholly destitute of support. Mr. Rice returned to America to report this condition of affairs to the Baptist brethren. They looked upon the situation as the result of an act of Providence, and eagerly planned to accept the responsibility thrust upon them. Accordingly the Baptist Missionary Union was formed. So Mr. Judson was the occasion of the organization of two great missionary societies.

The Persecution of Doctor Judson

After laboring for some time in Hindustan Dr. and Mrs.

Judson finally established themselves at Rangoon in the Burman Empire, in 1813. In 1824 war broke out between the British East India Company and the emperor of Burma. Dr. and Mrs. Judson and Dr. Price, who were at Ava, the capital of the Burman Empire, when the war commenced, were immediately arrested and confined for several months. The account of the sufferings of the missionaries was written by Mrs. Judson, and is given in her own words.

“Rangoon, May 26, 1826.

“My beloved Brother,

“I commence this letter with the intention of giving you the particulars of our captivity and sufferings at Ava. How long my patience will allow my reviewing scenes of disgust and horror, the conclusion of this letter will determine. I had kept a journal of everything that had transpired from our arrival at Ava, but destroyed it at the commencement of our difficulties.

“The first certain intelligence we received of the declaration of war by the Burmese, was on our arrival at Tsenpyoo-kywon, about a hundred miles this side of Ava, where part of the troops, under the command of the celebrated Bandoola, had encamped. As we proceeded on our journey, we met Bandoola himself, with the remainder of his troops, gaily equipped, seated on his golden barge, and surrounded by a fleet of gold war boats, one of which was instantly dispatched the other side of the river to hail us, and make all necessary inquiries. We were allowed to proceed quietly on, when he had informed the messenger that we were Americans, not English, and were going to Ava in obedience to the command of his Majesty.

“On our arrival at the capital, we found that Dr. Price was out of favor at court, and that suspicion rested on most of the foreigners then at Ava. Your brother visited at the palace two or three times, but found the king’s manner toward him very different from what it formerly had been; and the queen, who had hitherto expressed wishes for my speedy arrival, now made no inquiries after me, nor intimated a wish to see me. Consequently, I made no effort to visit at the palace, though almost daily invited to visit some of the branches of the royal family, who were living in their own houses, out of the palace enclosure. Under these circumstances, we thought our most prudent course lay in prosecuting our original intention of building a house, and commencing missionary operations as occasion offered, thus endeavoring to convince the government that we had really nothing to do with the present war.

Foxe’s Book of the Martyrs, Chapter 22

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