I stood there, a massive hewn rock adorned with a woven cross, where a world-shaping building once stood in 1810. A church once remembered as “the Antioch of the Western Hemisphere” where men and women, like Adoniram and Ann Judson, were sent out with the gospel into the nations.
I stood there staring at this monolith, this chiseled stone, a short walk away from Northpoint Bible College in Haverhill, Massachusetts where I was readying myself to speak to a new generation of men and women preparing for ministry today. The proximity was not lost on me. Near this rock Adoniram Judson, a hero of mine, had walked and talked. He shared his passion for Jesus and his calling to reach the unreached. Young, headstrong and adventurous, Judson planted himself firmly in his calling and set his life like a flint against the countless challenges he would face over his life in missions (Isaiah 50.7).
I wonder if that 22 year-old Judson could have even begun to know the suffering he would endure, the trials he would face, the struggles he would fight through in obedience to his calling. Adoniram and Ann would endure the testing of their souls as they pursued Christ’s presence among the lost. They stood as their children died of disease. They knelt as Adoniram was imprisoned during a time of bloody war. And after Adonriam was released from prison he laid by her grave when Ann’s young body failed.
Every blow, every crippling defeat was like a touchstone scouring their souls. Every trial was a new invitation to go home, to give up, to retreat. The touchstones of trial and tribulation are often constant companions to missionaries in distant lands. They endure the scraping of troubles as they cement themselves, living stones, set in far off places.
Too often we collapse at the grating feeling of those touchstones in our lives of suffering and trial. The pain is too great and we cry out for mercy while the greater gift of rejoicing in our suffering, as we fill up within our flesh the full measure of Christ’s afflictions for the lost, sits within of our reach (Colossians 1.24). Can we begin to convince ourselves that the greatest suffering is not found in the temporary casing of our redeemed souls but the eternal damnations of those hopelessly lost without Christ?
More often it is the comforts of this world, even the successes we find in ministry, that are the breeding ground of failure. In our comfort there are no challenging touchstones running against our lives exposing strengths and weaknesses, no shavings revealing the gold beneath the skin.
Right now, a new generation is poised to pick up the mantle of missionary zeal once worn by the saints of old; those pioneers who ventured into the bush and emerged body-worn but souls-at-ease beside new brothers and sisters in Christ. Their wrinkles reveal the gold of their sacrifice to see men, women and children freed from spiritual bondage; their spilt blood is the seed of new churches (Romans 15.20).
In 200 hundred years from now may there be a new stone laid next to the first, a remembrance stone, a monument to those young men and women who counted the cost, settled their eyes on Jesus as they held shame and suffering in contempt, and carried the cross to be a personal link from the local church to the unreached (Hebrews 12.2).