Missionary Sarah Boardman: Bringing the Lost Book
The sun warmed the open fields as the little band moved down the trail. It was a narrow footpath, and progress was slow. Several strong men, accustomed to the hot climate, carried on a cot a missionary – a man who, though he was still young, was broken in health and nearing the end of life. The missionary’s wife and baby walked with him. The native people cared for the foreigner with tenderness and devotion – for had they not been waiting hundreds, no thousands of years for these missionaries to bring them the “Lost Book” of Y’wa?
The small group visited several villages, and each one gave a warm and joyful welcome to George and Sarah Boardman. The Karen people had never seen a white man until the 18th century. Yet amazingly, they had a tradition from ages past that the Supreme God, “Y’wa,” was going to send them a “white brother” with a Book that the Karens had lost. This Book would tell them about God and how to worship Him. No one knows when this tradition began. From the observations of missionaries who have worked with the Karens and a few surrounding tribes in Burma with similar traditions, these legends are believed to go back to the time of Job and Abraham. All the Karens knew was that their own religion was incomplete, and that they needed the “Lost Book” to restore them to a proper relationship with God.
George Boardman was a young college student in Maine when he felt God’s call to be a missionary in 1822. He was inspired by the courage and determination of Adoniram Judson, who had embarked for Burma in 1812. Recently, a young missionary named James Colman had died in Calcutta, India, and his death deeply affected George Boardman. He determined that he would try to fill Colman’s place.
At the same time, a young lady named Sarah Hall had also been affected by Colman’s death. She was a Godly, modest girl who had gifts in language, teaching, and poetry. When Colman died, she composed a poem on the event, and the poem was published in a Christian paper. This poem came to George’s attention, and he sought out the author. The friendship between the two developed in a sincere and Godly way, and soon they determined to go to Burma as missionaries together, as husband and wife, with the Lord’s blessing.
George and Sarah Boardman arrived in Burma in 1827. The war between Burma and Britain had recently ended. Ann Judson had died, leaving Adoniram alone in his labors. Adoniram was living in Amherst, a settlement outside of Burma proper and underneath the British protection. George and Sarah were called upon to open up a new mission station at a military cantonment in Moulmein, just 25 miles from Amherst. They placed their home outside of the military cantonment to be nearer to the native people, in spite of the fact that it left them outside of military protection and in danger of leopards, tigers, poisonous snakes, and bands of robbers. Though Sarah was naturally timid, she bravely followed her husband and faced these dangers with courage. At times, when she wished for a spot that would be a shelter from their trials, she quickly banished these thoughts from her mind. She wanted to trust the Lord and be willing to sacrifice comfort and safety for His sake.
Though Sarah’s time was mostly spent caring for her household, she diligently studied the Burmese language along with George. She translated Pilgrim’s Progress into Burmese. She had been trained in diligence and self-discipline as a girl, and these character qualities made it possible for her to learn Burmese well and to use it effectively on the mission field.
When new missionaries arrived and could take up the work at Moulmein, the Boardmans were chosen to open up a new station in Tavoy, a city 150 miles south of Moulmein. Here George began his work among the Karen people. When the Karens heard of his arrival and his message, they came in great numbers from the mountain villages. George made a visit to their villages and he was delighted by the enthusiastic response to the Gospel. The fruits of his labors exceeded his greatest expectations as many Karens came to faith in Christ.
His fatal disease cut short the years he expected to work among these Karen villages, but he had a great desire to visit them one more time before his death. It was with great joy that he witnessed the baptisms of 34 Karens on the last day of his visit. He had to watch the baptisms from his cot. The last day of his life was soon to come, and George Boardman died on the journey back to their home in Tavoy. He had been in Burma for just 4 years. Though short, these years have continued to bear eternal fruit.
Sarah Boardman now had a choice to make. Her husband was gone. She still had a little son, George Boardman Jr., to care for. She could easily go back to America to a loving circle of friends and family and raise little George in the comforts of her home country. But the Karen people were so eager for the Gospel! Who would be left to instruct them? Sarah’s husband had given his life for the cause, and her heart had been fully with him and his work. Thus, Sarah made her decision. She would stay and try to carry on her husband’s labors among the Karens.
It was not an easy load to carry. Sarah was naturally shy and reserved. The grief and loneliness from George’s death was fresh on her heart. She could have found a quiet retreat to brood over her troubles. But though distressed, Sarah was not in despair. She knew the Lord was with her, and she knew that He had work for her to do. Sarah was busy from sunrise to sunset. She effectively strengthened the boys’ schools that George had begun. She made visits herself to the Karen villages, bringing her son, George Jr., with her. The Karens also continued to make visits to her home in Tavoy, “coming in companies,” as Sarah wrote to her parents. With a modest and womanly grace, Sarah humbly gave instruction and consolation, led inquirers to Jesus, and warned the rebellious ones to repent. The Karen people came to love Sarah and look up to her as they had looked up to her husband.
After three years of working among the Karens, Sarah became the wife of Adoniram Judson. Though she left the mission station at Tavoy, other missionaries were there now to continue the work. For the rest of her life, she devoted her energies to helping Adoniram, and he found in her a faithful companion and a good mother to their children.
It is always easy to let fears, troubles, and sorrow cripple us from doing good. It is always easy to become bitter or self-indulgent in our trials. Sarah Boardman put the Lord Jesus first in her life by doing His work – what she knew was the right thing – in spite of her feelings and in spite of hard circumstances. Because of this, the Lord was able to use her to be a blessing to many, and to bring many people to the knowledge of Jesus. As wives and mothers and daughters, may we also determine to keep our attitudes right in the midst of our trials and to choose the path of duty the Lord has called us to.