Galatians 6:9 encourages us, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest of righteousness if we do not give up.” Adoniram Judson’s thirty-seven-year ministry in Burma (from 1813 to 1850) serves as an excellent example of that scriptural principle.
Judson’s opening years in Burma can only be described as slow sledding. His first three years were spent learning the Burmese language by studying it twelve hours per day. He then wrote a seven-page tract to introduce Christianity to the Burmans and translated Matthew’s Gospel into Burmese. Public worship services were begun and were attended by about thirty people. After nearly six years in Burma, the first Burman came to saving faith in Christ. That was it for the first six years – he learned the language, wrote one short tract, translated one book of Scripture into Burmese, started worship services with a relatively small number of attendees and led one Burman to the Savior.
After Judson had been in Burma ten years, he completed an initial translation of the entire New Testament into Burmese, although it still needed revising before it was ready to print and distribute. By that time there were eighteen known Burmese Christians but all but three or four of those had been scattered by persecution.
Then came a war between Burma and Britain. Though he was an American, Judson, like all foreigners in Burma at the time, was suspected as being a spy for the British. Consequently, he was incarcerated in a pair of brutal Burmese death prisons for a year and a half. He survived those only by God’s preserving mercy. Judson then spent the better part of a year serving as a translator in the treaty negotiations that needed to be carried out at the war’s conclusion.
After the war, two coastal provinces of Burma came under British control, and religious toleration was exercised in that pair of provinces. The rest of Burma remained under the control of the Burmese government, and Christianity was still not tolerated in that vast portion of the country. At last, after thirteen and a half years of achingly-slow ministry progress, Judson and the few Burmese Christians had a secure place where they could practice their beliefs and serve the Lord unmolested.
As a result of this religious freedom and the foundational ministry work that had already been done, the final twenty-four years of Judson’s ministry were marked by considerable spiritual fruit. Virtually every day he was involved in evangelizing and edifying indigenous people. Assisted by a number of native associates, he carried out several evangelistic and church-planting itinerations in a few different parts of Burma, including areas officially closed to Christianity.
Judson translated the Old Testament into Burmese, then revised his Burmese translation of the entire Bible. He wrote several other Gospel tracts and church manuals to assist in winning Burmans and building up Burmese congregations. This literature was translated into a few different languages that were used in Burma. Literally millions of pieces of Christian literature were distributed throughout the country. In the closing years of his life Judson produced a 600-page Burmese-English dictionary to assist missionaries for generations to come in learning and using the language.
By the time of Judson’s death, scores of churches had been established in Burma. As many as 6,000 indigenous people, representing a variety of ethnic groups, had become Christians. More than thirty missionaries were serving in several different locations.
More often than not in our individual or collective ministries, there’s an initial foundation-laying stage when progress is slow and results are modest. Even after a ministry is up and going there are inevitable plateau periods in which it seems little progress is being made. It’s easy during such phases to get impatient, discouraged and to be tempted to give up.
But as we carry on faithfully and diligently in ministry, month after month and year after year, God has a way of blessing that type of service. Over time He allows our ministry to grow, to bear much spiritual fruit and to accomplish great good. So let’s be encouraged to keep on keeping on in our ministry efforts for the Lord, even if we’re in a slow, discouraging season presently.
I would enjoy hearing instances you’ve seen or heard of where long-term faithfulness in Christian service led to significant spiritual fruitfulness.
Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie