December 4, 2013

Honoring Faithful Women

            Our journey yesterday continued down the long peninsula shared by Thailand and Myanmar.  We observed rugged mountains just to our east; many of the Karen people have made their way to refugee camps just over the border through this forbidding terrain.  Only a fierce faith could sustain this kind of trek.

            The destination of our travel was Amherst, burial site of Ann Judson.  On the way, we learned of another faithful woman, Mo Ma (Sister) Maxwell.  In the 1850’s, robbers killed this missionary nurse as she was being transported in a cart from one village to another for the sake of assisting in childbirth.  So beloved a person was she—and considered a martyr for her faith—that a pagoda near the entrance to her village was erected in her memory.  It was not a Christian community who provided this, but her Buddhist friends who revered her presence among them.  It continues to stand as testimony to her faithful service. I know of no other such tribute, a monument to a Baptist built by Buddhists!

           Visiting the Baptist Church in Amherst and the nearby grave site of Ann H. Judson is a moving experience.  Called “Mother Judson” by her fellow Christians in Burma, that she is so honored by this memorial is appropriate.  Clearly, she was integral to the early work, preserving Adoniram’s life through her clever initiatives with his guards, making sure his translated New Testament was safeguarded, and sustaining her own translation work and Gospel conversation as she could during his imprisonment.
            When Adoniram was ordained and commissioned for life in foreign mission (the day after he and Ann married), it is reported that she knelt at the end of the row of young men.  Was she expecting hands of blessing and commissioning also?  It is quite probable, given her independence of thinking.  You may recall that her father encouraged her to make up her own mind about her suitor’s proposal.  In the cryptic historical notations of this event, “everyone was looking at Ann,” as she knelt alongside her fellow missionaries.
            As we visited these sites, I was reminded that Advent features two remarkable women: Elizabeth and Mary.  We cannot tell the story of God’s incarnation apart from the roles each of these women played.  God’s presence is intimately involved in their pregnancies, and each responds to the impress of the Spirit of God.  Each births a child in unusual circumstances, having a sense of the significance their sons in God’s liberating redemption of their people.
            The church has found ways to honor faithful men throughout Christian history; occasionally a woman enters that “cloud of witnesses” through extraordinary service. We cannot tell the story of God’s good work in Burma (Myanmar) without including the valiant women, also.

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