Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on Baptist Press, and is adapted from Paige Patterson’s introduction to “Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of the Pioneer American Missionary,” edited by Jason G. Duesing, assistant professor of historical theology vice president for strategic initiatives at Southwestern Seminary.
My appreciation for the life of Adoniram Judson began in 1957 when my dad, Thomas Armour Patterson, a missionary-hearted pastor, placed a book in my hands and urged that I read it carefully.Courtney Anderson’s biography of Judson, “To the Golden Shore,” wrapped its tentacles around this red-haired young teen’s heart, mind and soul. And until this day, I read it often, unable to shirk the adventure, the love, the risk, the suffering, the faith and the courage that leap from every page, grasping the reader and pressing his spirit into submission.
I was an unlikely missions candidate. A puckish prankster almost from the womb, not much in the world seemed very serious to me. I roamed the woods of southeast Texas without my parents’ knowledge or permission by the time I was 10, caught sunning cottonmouths with my bare hands and hunted with a contraband .22 pump rifle which no one knew I had. I have conveniently forgotten how it came into my possession. I loved the woods, football, baseball and basketball. I loved my parents and my childhood sweetheart, Dorothy Kelley, but marveled at how little they all seemed to know of my escapades.
Because I had a better than average awareness of my capacity for sin, my conversion to Christ at age 9 was vivid to the point that now, 60 years later, I remember every detail. With it came a commitment to the ministry, answering God’s call, which I grasped fully. Conversion healed immediately the more gross of my sinful impulses, but I fear that the prankishness and love for exploration and adventure were only exacerbated. The sometimes stodgy Adoniram had another side to him, I learned. He loved to laugh and could evidently spin a yarn or two himself. And, as I read the pages of To the Golden Shore, two different but not at all contradictory notions were stoked into a raging fire that has never been quenched.
First, the desire to see the world, to embark on a great adventure gripped my soul. And to attempt this journey bearing the Gospel of Jesus the Christ as the sole solution to the agonies of life only made such an enterprise seem more essential. Now, after more than 125 countries and countless adventures, including several brushes with death and a couple of arrests, this aging body makes it more challenging but the thirst for more has not waned in the least.
More important, if the Judsons could sacrifice akin to the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24), then it dawned on me that lost people, people outside of Christ, must really matter. Clearly for all the tragedy that engulfed them, the Judsons believed that the lost of Burma and the saving message of Christ were more important than all else in life. This forced me to reconsider the atoning sacrifice of Jesus and the lives of Jesus, Paul, Peter and John.
As a 16-year-old evangelist, I may well have been more of an eminent danger than a blessing, but I could identify with the prophet who said he had a fire in his bones and he could not keep silent (Jeremiah 20:9). In the company of my parents, I traversed the whole circumference of the globe, preaching in 13 countries to the precious lost for whom Christ died.
Though I envy those called of God to permanent mission assignments, especially those in exotic and difficult places, the Lord never led me to those. Rather, for the last 37 years I have followed what I believe to be the leadership of the Spirit of God to train missionaries and mission-hearted pastors so that no one is left without an opportunity to know of the Savior who could save even a freckled-faced, red-headed, hot-blooded prankster — a preacher’s kid in Beaumont, Texas. At every juncture, the impact of Adoniram Judson has played a major role in my life’s work.