Sarah Hall Boardman Judson
The Second Mrs. Adoniram Judson
In studying the lives of missionaries of the past, I find it interesting to note how these couples came to join hand and heart in the Lord's service. David Livingstone, badly mauled by a lion and with deep infection in his left arm, was nursed by a Mary. As the healing took place, he frequently sat with her in the shade of an apricot tree at Kuruman, South Africa. It was there he fell in love with his nurse. That Mary's mother, Mary Smith, had fallen in love with Robert Moffat because of his gentle voice and skill with playing the violin. He was only an apprenticed gardener working for her wealthy nurseryman father. A photograph of a young lady was what attracted James Gilmour, and he proposed to the subject of that photograph before he ever saw her. I could tell you other stories as well, but time does not permit.
The subject of our meditation today was brought to her husband because of her lovely poem, published in a religious journal. The one who became her first husband, George Boardman, had to meet the author of that lovely poem and shortly thereafter married Sarah Hall.
Sarah Hall was the oldest of 13 children and from a very early age had a bent for poetry. Throughout her lifetime she wrote many lovely poems. She was a very bright young girl, and by the age of four, she could read almost anything that was handed to her. She did very well in school but frequently, because of the confinements of her mother, was obligated to help care for the growing family. When she was in school, she excelled. The poem that she wrote as a teenage girl was about the death of a Mr. Coleman, who was one of the early associates of Adoniram Judson in Burma.
George Boardman, having read also the account of Coleman's death, volunteered and was accepted to take his place in the field of Burma. When he had completed his divinity training, they were married. At that time, Sarah was 21 and George was 24. From a very early age, Sarah had felt called to be a missionary, and when she was married to Boardman, her aspiration was fulfilled. Although her mother still needed her at home, she gladly released her daughter for the cause of the furthering of the kingdom of God in the darkened land of Burma. The Boardmans set sail for that far land in July of 1825. After a long and enjoyable ocean voyage, they arrived in India. Because the British/Burmese War was still raging, they were unable to go to their anticipated work immediately.
While in India, they occupied themselves with language study. Both George and Sarah were apt at learning languages and made great progress. It was during this two-year period of time that their first child was born, died, and was buried in the small Christian cemetery of Serampore, where William Carey and his co-workers are buried.
The Boardmans were finally able to go to Burma in the spring of 1827. Ann Judson had died the previous December. Judson's daughter Maria was a very sickly child and was being cared for by some missionary friends in Burma. Maria died the day the Boardmans arrived, and one of the very first tasks George was engaged in was that of building a coffin for the little one who was buried beside her mother. Adoniram Judson mourned the death of his wife Ann and all of his children born to her.
Rangoon was not a safe place to live. The original houses were destroyed, and there was still much unrest. The mission was moved to Amherst and later to Maulmain, which was in the portion of Burma that was governed by the British. It was here that the Boardmans came in contact with a mountain-tribe people called Karen. The name Karen, in the Burmese language, means "Wild Men." Actually, they had been displaced by the Burmese people who were much more sophisticated. These tribespeople were very simple peasants that eked out a living in little patches of farmland and by hunting up in the mountains. They were not Buddhists but animists. They had an oral tradition that someday a white man would come with a book and tell them about God. When the American missionaries came with the Bible and began to teach them about the way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, they thought this was the answer to the tradition I just mentioned.
They came in large numbers to listen to the preaching of the Word of God, and many of them came to faith in Jesus Christ. One man was a particular blessing. He was a notorious criminal by the name of Ko Tha Byu. He confessed to having murdered more than 30 people, but when he put his faith in Christ, his life was completely turned around, and he became a vibrant testimony for the Lord and a very effective evangelist. Scores of people frequently tried to crowd into his little house until it nearly burst. Sometimes 60 or 70 people wanting to hear the Gospel crowded into the Boardmans' small house. These simple tribespeople turned to the Lord in great numbers. The Boardmans had learned their language and were able to communicate the truths of the Gospel to these people.
Because of the number of missionaries at Maulmain, it was determined the Boardmans should move to Tavoy, which was 150 miles south of Maulmain. In Tavoy they were much closer to the Karens, and these tribespeople were more readily accessible. In a letter home, Sarah wrote, "Our desire is to labor among the poor heathen until called to our eternal home," and they did.
As concerned as they were about leading the Karens to the saving knowledge of the Lord, Sarah was also very much burdened for her own family back in America; and writing to her sister, she said, " O my sister, let us see to it that our affections are set on things above."
During this time, Mr. Boardman's health declined rapidly. He had had tuberculosis from his youth. He apparently tried to minimize its ravages on his body before the Baptist Board in order to allow him to go to Burma. They had one living son, George Junior; and George and his wife, with the infant, often trekked out into the mountains to preach to these people.
Their little 8-month-old second son was feeble from the onset but seemed to be making some progress when he died in December 1830. In trouble as well as in joy they devoted themselves to their great object—saving souls. One of the very last acts of Brother Boardman was a special baptismal service. There were some 80 men and women who were ready to be baptized, but being too weak to walk, he was carried on a litter. His wife was transported in a chair, and their two-year-old son, George Junior, was in a basket on the back of one of the carriers. A new missionary who had just arrived on the field went with them along with an entourage of Karen people to the site, which was several days' trek into the mountains. There in the mountain stream, the newly arrived missionary baptized the women candidates. Mr. Boardman was so weak it was questionable whether he would be able to survive long enough to witness this great victory. The Lord spared his life; however, they had no protection from the elements, and it rained almost all the time. They were soaked to the skin, and this exposure was more than his frail body could tolerate. He could not wait for the baptism of the men, so they began to carry him back to their home in Tavoy. George died just as they arrived back at home, and the Karens wept bitterly, for their "teacher" was gone. Sarah had been able to establish a girls' school in several places and a women's work. It was a rich ministry among these primitive people. Sarah wrote, "Three years ago they were sunken in the lowest depths of ignorance and superstition. Now the glad tidings of mercy had reached them, and they were willing to live in the open air and away from their homes for the sake of enjoying the privileges of hearing the Gospel."
The Boardmans were true pioneers that trekked extensively through the mountains and evangelized these primitive peoples. The village of Tavoy was on a river that separated the British portion from the Burmese, and robbers would come across the river and attack the local people. One night the Lord must have put an extremely heavy sleep on the Boardmans, for during the night, robbers entered into their simple house, plundered almost everything they had, cut large holes in the mosquito netting both of the Boardmans and of their infant George Jr., and made off with essentially anything of value. The Boardmans sensed that if they had awakened and tried to resist in any way, they probably would have been killed. The Lord spared them for a short time more to minister as a family to these tribespeople.
The Boardmans translated many portions of Scripture. Mrs. Boardman was able to prepare a hymnbook. Many of the hymns she wrote herself and taught these dear people the way of truth. They were able themselves to baptize scores of believers, and by the year 1850, there were over 10,000 baptized believers among these tribespeople. It's interesting that in their tribal language the word for God was "YUWAH"—how similar to YHWH, the Hebrew name of Jehovah. These tribespeople did not consider themselves of the same origin as the Burmese, but actually thought they were Caucasian. The Boardmans were true pioneers to people unreached prior to their coming. George Boardman died in March of 1831. At one point it looked as though she herself would succumb, but she slowly regained her health and was back to almost normalcy again.
Sarah started a number of schools. Apparently these were subsidized by the British government, and she was told she could no longer teach the Bible. She said that that was essential, and she would no longer receive any subsidy, nor did she. That sounds like our policy manual. As a widow, what was she to do? Some thought she would return to New England with her son George. Some thought she might just stay and make a home for her son, but she chose to stay and continue on as a missionary. This last decision was at the urging of Adoniram Judson. "Quietly and meekly she instructed the ignorant, consoled the afflicted, led inquirers to her Savior, and warned the impenitent to flee to Him."
On one visit of Judson to Tavoy, he proposed to Sarah, and they were married. "On the 10th of April, 1834, Mrs. Boardman was married to Adoniram Judson." Sarah herself became quite ill and was moved by Adoniram Judson to a new house in the town of Maulmain, where there were better facilities and help for her.
After the death of Boardman, Judson continued to pursue the translation of the Burmese Bible.
"In his journal under the date of January 31st, 1834, he wrote, ‘Thanks be to God I can now say I have attained.' He held the last page of his translation and kneeling gave thanks to God for giving him the privilege of translating the Bible into the Burmese language. He wrote, ‘I have commended it [the Bible] to His mercy and grace.'"
One of the most difficult things for Sarah soon after the marriage to Judson was the decision that George Jr. should be sent back to America for education and to get him out of the deadly climate of that part of the world. George Jr. was a very sensitive lad and very close to his mother, but when he was about six, in company with other missionaries, he was sent back to America. In the years that she was married to Adoniram Judson, they had several more children, and she was not able to give as much time to the missionary work because of the children. She did compose hymns and complete a translation of Pilgrim's Progress and a number of other materials. Also, another pagan tribe moved into the area, and she learned that language and translated material into it. She was a most remarkable woman and accomplished a great deal.
In December of 1844 the health of Mrs. Judson again began to decline. Her anxious husband determined to leave no means untried to save a life "so precious to the mission and so invaluable to himself and his family." This is when he made preparation to take her to the Isle de France.
Because of her declining health, it was finally deemed necessary to return to America, so Adoniram Judson, with his wife Sarah and several of the children, began a journey first to the island of Mauritius (Isle de France). They were there for a number of weeks, and she seemed to improve. There was thought of even returning to Burma, but she had a relapse, and they continued their journey. Her condition worsened, and just as they were approaching the rocky island St. Helena in mid-Atlantic, she died on September 1, 1845, and was buried on that small island. Judson proceeded to America with the children. He was a broken, grieving man, having lost two wives and a number of children. He had been 33 years in Burma.
Dr. John A. Dreisbach