More than rubies

Sarah Boardman Judson


Sarah Hall discerned a call to missions as a teenager and longed to follow in the footsteps of her heroine, Ann Judson. When the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Society leaders learned of her interest in Burma, they arranged for Sarah to meet George Boardman, who also wanted to serve there. The couple sailed one week after their wedding in 1824. Two of their three children died in infancy, and George himself died from lung problems in 1831. Normally, a widowed missionary wife would have returned to America, but the 28-year-old Sarah chose to stay at the encouragement of Adoniram Judson, also recently widowed. She boldly took her husband's place making evangelistic tours through remote jungles and preaching the gospel to the Karen people, who revered her, as well as supervising the mission schools.

After her marriage to Judson in 1834, Sarah balanced the challenges of a growing family with mission leadership responsibilities and linguistic work, proving herself to be a brilliant translator and writer. Her translation of The Pilgrim's Progress into Burmese is still used today. She also translated the New Testament into Peguan and helped Judson with his translation work as well. Adoniram was delighted with her “affectionate, amiable, pious spirit,” telling her in 1839, “You know I love you more than all the world beside.”

Illness forced Sarah to return to America for rest in 1844. She died on the voyage. Her life had been a powerful response to the plea in the last line of a poem she wrote many years before: “Christians! Christians! Come and help us, ere we lie beneath the sod.” Sarah's humble personality, courage, and willingness to proclaim the gospel through both the spoken and written word made her a memorable missionary.

Emily Chubbuck Judson


Judson wrote in a letter after Sarah's death, “I hope I feel thankful to God that he has granted me, during my pilgrimage, the society of two of the most excellent women and best wives that ever man was blessed with.” Little did he know then that his remaining years on earth would be graced by a third.

Born into poverty, Emily Chubbuck helped support her family by writing under the alias “Fanny Forrester.” As her work gained national recognition, she earned a good living by writing poetry, popular fiction, biographical sketches, articles, and Sunday school material. Adoniram Judson, struck by her potential, challenged her to write on “more worthy” subjects.

Like Sarah, Emily's interest in missions had been sparked by reading about Ann Judson; marriage to a missionary hero like Adoniram was a dream come true. As the third Mrs. Judson, Emily lovingly cared for her new stepchildren and gave birth to a daughter of her own, Emily Frances. Despite health problems, she managed to master the Burmese language and brought her keen analytical ability and literary flair to the tasks of composing a biography of Sarah Boardman Judson, translating tracts, and writing Sunday school materials.

After Adoniram died, Emily returned with the children to America, where she supported the family by writing. Her compelling stories of the Judsons' life and work in Burma helped promote the cause of missions and keep the memory of Adoniram Judson alive in America.

Four years after Adoniram's death, Emily died of tuberculosis in 1854. In the shadows of Ann and Sarah, the woman Adoniram called “the earthly sun that illumines my present” proved to be her own person, able and willing to serve God in a “worthy” and creative way.

By Rosalie Beck

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #90 in 2006]

Rosalie Beck is assistant professor of Christian history and missions at Baylor University.
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