Each man has only one life and most that I have known start out with big dreams; dreams of riches, influence, and the ability to change the world and make it a better place. Some of these dreams are dashed early, many are dashed later, and most are modified into something far more humble by the time the man is in his thirties. It is the rare man, perhaps less than one in a million, who actually achieves what he dreamt of in his youth. It is the rarer man still whose dreams as a boy were the same that God had for him as a man, and carried through faithfully in life to achieve them.
My uncle, Lash Frey, wanted to be a Baptist minister, and he spent his life as a Baptist preacher in a series of little churches in southern Arkansas. He was teaching the youth a lesson on a Sunday night in 2006 when he collapsed from a massive heart attack. My father in law, Richard Harding, chose to be a Baptist minister later in life, and served 10 years in California and 25 years pastoring a small church in Cordova, Alaska. It is hard to know if they considered themselves to have accomplished their dreams. From the outside, however, I look at their fruit, consider both to have been among the godliest men I have ever known, and envision multitudes greeting them in heaven.
It is easy for a man to envision a good work, harder to begin it, and hardest of all to complete it. How then could Adoniram Judson and his young wife Ann have left for India in 1812? How could they have resigned from their sending agency, the Congregational American Board, leaving them without support? How could they travel alone to Burma, suffer from disease and corruption, and lose their son, without seeing a convert for six years? What motivated Adoniram to stay in Burma preaching every Sunday to an empty chapel, translating the Bible into a strange language and doing the routine hard work of life when there seemed no result? How did Ann force herself to carry on alone when her husband was in prison during the war? How did Adoniram recover from his profound depression after Ann and his daughter Maria died, still without a hint of success? Even when he started seeing success in Burma, he lost his second wife Sarah. Here was a man who suffered for the Lord in ways that we shall probably never know. As the years pass, it can be hard for a man to get up every morning, his strength failing as the years go by, and keep serving the Lord, especially on the days that his life seems to have been a failure. Judson had plenty of these days, and yet he overcame.
Adoniram Judson had gone full circle; from the obedient child of a stern minister to a sophisticated playwright in training to an exuberant missionary in India to a man who had nothing except the Lord. As hard as the journey is, when we have nothing but Christ we realize that we need nothing but Christ, and only then will God use us to the fullest. We see Adoniram Judson as one of the greats of Protestant Christian missions, a man of historic impact and faith. He probably saw himself as a simple servant of God.