The first missionary to come to Burma and stay was also the first protestant missionary sent from America to any foreign field. His name was Adonriam Judson. Pastor Naing Thang of Yangon is building on what Judson started.
In the summer of 1788 in a small colonial town, a minister and his wife were blessed with their firstborn son. Here, from this city of firsts, Malden Massachusetts, the Kingdom of God would boast a greater first for the expansion of the Gospel on the golden shores of an exotic land.
By the grace of God, the supporters of this ministry are working in the Gospel field prepared by the toil and suffering this good man of God and being continued by Pastor Naing Thang. With your help, we can continue lending a hand to those bringing in the harvest.
Malden was the first city among the colonies to print a code of law among the colonies, first to refuse to drink the British-taxed tea and yet again first to petition the colonial government to withdraw from the British Empire. These Puritans, living on the banks of the Malden River would boast yet another first from this burgeoning family.
The Judson family named their son Adonriam.
This boy, whose name means, “My Lord is exhalted,” would glorify the name of the Lord by being the first protestant missionary sent from the New World and first to translate the Bible into the Burmese Langauage. His Bible is the same Bible still in use today.
The agonizing story of this man’s suffering in his work in Burma can only be endured knowing the glory of what his work accomplished. Sewing the lives of two wives and six children into the soil of this endeavor, he fulfilled the words of a passionate vow. A vow he made in a letter when questioned by those who sent him on his mission.
By the end of his first six years, only one man had turned from idols to Christ. The people back home were beginning to wonder.
When Judson received a letter from the Mission Board in America questioning the fruit of his ministry, he answered, “The prospects are as bright as the promise of God.” By this time he had lost two sons, one still born in a storm during the five month journey to Rangoon and another to a fever at age two. “I will not leave Burma,” he declared, “until the cross is planted here forever!”
Soon after this declaration was made, Judson was imprisoned by the Burmese government who was now at war with England. He was tortured nearly two years and almost lost many years of translation work he had written on dried palm leaves.
God preserved his life and work through his wife as she worked to free him, sneak provisions to his cell and continue his translation work.
His agonizing story stands as one of the most trying stories of a missionary for the cause of Christ.
In the end, he died at sea and was buried at sea in the Bay of Bengal like his firstborn but not until he had done what he had set out to do.
When he left the world, Judson left behind more than 70 established churches and many trained pastors and translators to continue his work.
Pastor Naing Thang is a fruit of Judson’s work. The Gospel reached his small village in Mindat Township in Chin State years before he was born. He was raised by his parents with the knowledge of Christ.
Living in one of the most remote places on earth, Pastor Naing Thang said he was quickened by the power of God even as a child.
“I looked up one day while taking a walk one day at the ripe fields ready to harvest and I felt God speak to my heart, “ he said, remembering that day. “The words of Matthew came to me, ‘The harvest is plenteous and the laborers are few.’”
Barely out of grade school, Pastor Thang fleeced God to see if he had indeed called him to preach His word.
There was a place he would go, about three miles away from his village, to pray and mediate on God’s word. His fleece would be a very hard thing.
“I wanted my people to start new with the things of God. I wanted all of us to leave our village and move to the beautiful place where I prayed and spent time with God.”
Pastor Thang’s fleece was that when he shared this with the villagers, they would agree to leave their homes and all work together to build a new village where they could live for the glory of God.
He knew this was a very hard thing to ask and that he was just a boy, but believed if God was with him, He could cause them to listen to him and make the move. At first, when he shared his dream with them, they laughed and told him his idea was crazy. But he kept asking.
“Finally, when they didn’t listen, I became discouraged and began to wonder myself if God had spoken,” he said. “But then, something amazing began to happen. The people began to pack up their things and move to the new village site.”
Hearing his story brings to mind the words God spoke to Jeremiah at his calling.
“Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.”
From that day forward Pastor Thang’s story is filled with evidence of the strong hand of God. God provided for his needs and gave him people willing to hear the message of Christ in many places far from his home. Like Adoniram Judson before him, Pastor Thang first traveled hundreds of miles from his village to the big city of Rangoon (now called Yangon). From there he traveled each year to Rakhine State, back home to Chin State and up to Kachin State each year. Many received his message and he began forming them into churches.
At one point as he taught in a home in Yangon, government officials told him that would kill him if he did not stop preaching. They also said they would bring a great deal of trouble to those who came to listen, if he did.
Loving the people, Pastor Thang said he did not want the people he had been teaching to suffer, he agreed to quit.
“As I lay in my bed,” Pastor Thang remembered, “I felt like I was smothering, like I would die if I laid there. I thought to myself, ‘if I am going to die if I stay here and not preach and die if I preach, I’d rather die preaching.’”
When Pastor Thang told the authorities he would be preaching again they warned him that they would kill him. He told them he understood and if they wanted to kill him they could do so now, before he started preaching again. They thought he had gone mad and drove him from their office.
But, when he began teaching again, they sent a man to stop him. While he was teaching one evening a man stood up and stabbed him with a spike and drove it into his chest.
Pulling open the collar of his shirt and leaning down he showed the triangle shaped scar in his chest.
He also showed the two-foot long spike used by the man which one of the men there that day saved.
This and many other stories fill the pages of Pastor Thang’s life of ministry. He is thankful for the work of Judson and how his hard work has made his work easier.
When Adoniram Judson died at age 61, after giving nearly four decades to Burma, his son Edward summed up a great truth as he spoke about his father.
“Suffering and success go together. If you are succeeding without suffering, it is because others before you have suffered; if you are suffering without succeeding, it is that others after you may succeed.”
Judson probably illustrated this truth as much as any man who ever lived. May we help him continue his work In Myanmar by helping Pastor Naing Thang in his work in the fertile soils of Myanmar.