Sarah Hall was born on November 4, 1803, in Alstead, New Hampshire. She was the first of thirteen born to a couple who were of humble circumstances. She was given little opportunity to attend school, but instead was called upon to take care of the home and her siblings due to her mother’s poor health. She took every chance she could to school herself and especially excelled in literary composition and prose. Sarah’s heart was stirred for the foreign mission field, as many hearts were at that time in young America, and she followed closely the work that Adoniram and Ann Judson were doing in Burma. At the age of eighteen she became a Sunday school teacher and was an avid witness for Christ. At the age of 20 she became the leading member of a tract society and established a small prayer meeting where she was able to see all but one make a public profession of their faith in Christ. She tried to take every opportunity to hand out Gospel tracts or say an encouraging word about the Lord to all those she came in contact with.
Upon learning of the death of Missionary Colman who was also labouring in Burma, Sarah’s heart was so stirred that she penned a poem that spoke to the hearts of all who read it. One such person was George Boardman. He too was touched when he heard the news of Mr. Colman’s death and asked himself, “Who will go in his place,” upon which he replied, “I will.” As soon as he read Sarah’s poem, which had been published in a religious journal, he knew he must seek out the author whose words spoke the thoughts of his heart. Sarah was excited to find someone whose passion for the heathen on distant shores matched her own. On July 4, 1825, at the age of 22, she married the Reverend George Boardman and within two weeks, they sailed for Burma. Because of the fighting between Burma and Britain, they were forced to wait at Calcutta for 18 months. On April 17, 1827, they finally arrived at Amherst to join the Judsons in their endeavors. Adoniram was still grieving the recent loss of his dear wife, Ann, and would soon be burying his young daughter as well. He was left quite bereaved but found comfort, friendship, and help in the young couple who had come to work alongside of him.
Sarah and George started off in Maulmain, about 25 miles from Amherst, which was a lonely and dismal mission station about a mile from where the British army had a post. It was a place where wild beasts howled through the night and pillagers wreaked havoc whenever the fancy struck them. The Boardmans were offered a place to stay within the army camp, but instead chose for their family, which now included a baby girl, to erect a bamboo house at the base of a mountain close to the thick jungle. They wanted the natives to know they had not come to conquer them but to show them Christ. One night shortly after they arrived, Sarah woke to see robbers had pillaged everything of value in their home. It was particularly frightening to see that two gashes had been made in the mosquito net above their bed where no doubt a robber stood guard ready to kill if the sleepers should wake. She took great comfort in the fact that she knew God’s watchful eye had been on them, and He kept them slumbering through the ordeal. They were often subject to the harsh elements of the land along with the rough people who inhabited it, but in her own words, “We are in excellent health, and as happy as it is possible for human beings to be upon earth. It is our earnest desire to live and labor, and die, among this people.” Not long after that her daughter passed away. It was a particularly hard blow as she loved her so dearly. Her daughter’s death caused her to see more plainly than ever the frailty of human life and the need for urgency in reaching those around her with the Gospel. The idea that their little family now had a representative in heaven was quite precious to her and brought her comfort and caused her to fear less the time when her life on earth would also be done.
In April, 1828, it was decided that they should live and work out of a mission station in Tavoy which was about 150 miles south of Maulmain. It was here their real labors….and their struggles began. They found the “whole city given to idolatry.” Everywhere there were evidences of heathen worship, heathen superstition, and heathen cruelty. The Boardmans erected a zayat and while her husband sat at its door teaching anyone who passed by and inquired, Sarah began teaching the local children. In February of 1829, they made their first tour among the Karens, a people group living in Burma that lived in small villages in the mountain jungles. Sarah quickly mastered the language and began translation work. She helped oversee the children’s home and she opened a school for girls. She also ministered as she could to the English women who found themselves living in Amherst, Maulmain, and Tavoy for various reasons. Whenever Sarah was able to meet with them, she took the opportunity to encourage them to know God and she was able to see many of them saved. They said of Sarah, “she was the most finished and faultless specimen of an American woman that they had ever known.”
Their fruitful ministry in this place was not without great difficulties and discouragements, however. During those first six years she and her husband were in Burma, she bore three children, only one of whom survived. Both her and her husband's health became precarious at different times, and in 1831, at the age of 28 her husband was taken from her. She was left alone with her son George in this harsh land. It would have been perfectly acceptable and even expected for her to return home to the comforts of family and friends and all things familiar, especially in her time of grief, but she decided rather to stay. In her own words, “My beloved husband wore out his life in this glorious cause; and that remembrance makes me more than ever attached to the work, and the people for whose salvation he labored till death.” For the next three years or so, she continued their work in the jungle villages with her young son and a few native helpers. She worked from sunrise until ten o’clock each night. She traipsed through “wild mountain passes, over swollen streams, deceitful marshes, craggy rocks, tangled shrubs and jungles” in order to teach and minister in the Karen villages. She established five mission schools which she supervised with the help of native teachers and continued to be in charge of the food and clothing for the boarding schools.
At the age of 32, four years after her husband’s death and eight years after Adoniram Judson’s first wife, Ann, had passed away, the two fell in love and got married. Sarah proved to be an invaluable asset to Adoniram’s ministry. During their eleven years of marriage, she bore him eight children, five of whom survived. Somehow she found time to translate into the Burmese language over 20 hymns, 4 volumes of Children’s Sunday school lessons, several tracts, Pilgrim’s Progress, and many other Christian materials. She then decided to learn the language of the Peguans, another tribe in their region, in order to reach them with the Gospel in their native tongue. She superintended the translation of the New Testament and various tracts in their language, and she held prayer meetings for the ladies and gathered the Burmese women into classes for Bible study and prayer…all of this amidst declining health.
Sarah had struggled with sickness off and on over the years and had come quite near death more than once, but finally in early fall of 1845, after 20 years on the field, it was determined that only a voyage back to America could save her. She did not make it home. Sarah died while at sea on September 1, 1845, and was buried at a mission station on the island of St. Helena. As she lay on her death bed, Adoniram, knowing how much she gave up to spend her life serving the Lord, asked her this question. “Do you still love the Saviour?” “Oh yes,” she replied, “I ever love the Lord Jesus Christ.” He then asked, “Do you still love me?” With her affirmative answer and a farewell kiss from her husband, her spirit left her earthly body, and she was immediately in the presence of the One for whom she toiled and was reunited with her little ones that had gone on before. She was truly an example of a lady of whom it could be said, "She hath done what she could."
Her Story/My Story:
Sarah wrestled in her heart with this notion of going to the mission field, not because it wasn’t her heart’s burning desire, but mostly because she could see the need all around her right where she was. It would be hard, too, for her to leave her family who had for so long relied on her strength, love, and care. Just a couple weeks before her wedding, her mother exclaimed to her, “Oh! I cannot part with you.” Her wedding day came and not many days later they were set to depart for the foreign fields where they would start their life together serving the Lord. A stagecoach was secured to take them to the vessel that would transport them to Burma. Her parents came to say their final goodbyes knowing in their hearts this was probably the last time they would see their daughter this side of heaven. It was then that Sarah leaned out of the stage coach and looking at her father asked,
“Father, are you willing? Say, Father, that you are willing I should go.”
“Yes, my child,” was the answer. “I am willing.”
Sarah replied, “Now I can go joyfully.”
As I was making my final preparations to leave for Nigeria for my first term on the field, I asked my mother how she felt about my going. I don’t remember her exact words at that moment but shortly after and just before I left, she gave me a small framed plaque that said, “To be God’s ambassador is the highest calling.” I carried that small frame, that held the sentiments of courage and purpose and surrender given to me by my mother, from America to Nigeria, from Nigeria to New Zealand, and from New Zealand to Thailand. I’m afraid it was lost in the great flood we had here in Thailand several years ago now, but the sentiments that were behind those words have always stayed with me in my heart. I praise the Lord for parents who not only raised me in a Christian home and challenged me to use my life for God’s service, but who were also willing to let me go to do the job I felt God had created me for. In modern times my leaving did not mean necessarily that I would never see them again, but it did mean that the times would be years apart. Much has changed over the past 23 years, and although I can pick up the phone now and talk to my parents whenever I want, going years between being able hug their neck is still a reality and something that doesn’t get easier with time. I often say, “Missionaries don’t speak of seeing family in weeks or in months but in years.”
Sarah’s parents’ willingness to let her go gave her the freedom to do so. I’m sure they had absolutely no idea the great impact that decision would have for eternity. Now over half a million Karen and Burmese claim the name of Christ. A few years ago tens upon tens of thousands gathered to celebrate the 200 year anniversary of the Gospel being brought to them by the Judsons. It has been my great privilege to work with the Karen people for the past six years. They tell me of the stories that have been passed down through their generations of the great things Sarah Judson did for their people. Yearly they celebrate how she insisted, and made provision for, the Karen children especially the girls to go to school and be educated. Although there is no picture on this earth to remind us of her face, her life is still etched and forever will be on the hearts of the Karen people.
Study: Letting Go
The Bible is filled with stories of parents who chose to use their children for their own good pleasure, like in the case of Laban who used Leah to trick Jacob into 14 years of free labor or Lot who willingly offered his two daughters to a mob in order to protect the visitors staying in his home. But, it is also filled with stories of parents who chose to give their children back to God to be used for His purpose like we see in the story of Abraham who was willing to sacrifice Isaac at God’s request or the story of Hannah who gave Samuel back to the Lord to be raised at the temple for God’s service.
God’s intention for the children He grants us if for us to. . .
love them (Ps. 103:13)
teach them (Eph. 6:4; Deut. 11:19)
discipline them (Pro. 13:24, 19:18, 29:17)
train them (Pro. 22:6)
. . . not for our own pleasure or for what they can bring to our lives, but so that they will be equipped in the best possible way to accomplish His will in their lives.
I like the analogy the Lord gives us in Psalm 127:3-5 where he likens children to arrows.
"Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed,
but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate."
God says children are like arrows. Why arrows?
1. Arrows are made with a purpose. They are not just a decorative thing that sits around. God has a purpose for every child He gives us to raise.
2. Arrows are made to aid and assist, whether that is to feed a family or fight a foe. A parent’s responsibility is to train and equip their child in such a way that they will be ready to do whatever job it is that God has for them to do.
3. Arrows are made straight so that when they are pointed in the right direction they will hit the mark. A parent’s job is to teach their children the straight truths from the Word of God to give them the best opportunity of hitting the mark and then point them in the right direction. A parent headed in the wrong direction rarely leads to a child going in the right direction.
4. Arrows are made to reach heights and lengths that the sender cannot. A parent should hope and pray and work towards their child being able to accomplish even more for the Lord than they were able to do.
And then there is the quiver. It is an interesting analogy between the quiver and a man’s home filled with children. The purpose of the quiver is to hold and protect the arrows. . . .but only until it is time for them to be drawn and shot. A parent should always be willing to let their child leave the comforts of home to accomplish the thing God has created them to do.
When we accept that we have been given this child from the Lord,
and we acknowledge that this child is ultimately His to do His will and for His good pleasure,
we affirm in the hearts of our child their rightful responsibility of seeking God’s purpose and plan for their life,
and we allow them the freedom to do it.