If you know me well, you know that Adoniram Judson is one of my heroes. He was the first American missionary, and would undergo persecution in Jesus’ name like few people ever have. He was the first Christian ever to go into Burma (modern-day Myanmar). After a painful life of ministry, which included the loss of his wife and several children, he would leave over 7,000 Burmese believers.
Judson was raised in a Christian home, but when he went off to college at Brown University, he was lured away from the Christian faith by a fellow student and close friend, a young man named Jacob Eames. Eames was a philosopher who rejected all revealed religion, including the Bible. Eames ridiculed the God of the Bible, and under Eames’ assaults, Judson’s already fragile faith crumbled.
He kept his loss of faith hidden from his parents until after his graduation, when on his 20th birthday—August 9, 1808—he announced that he was no longer a Christian. He had been valedictorian of Brown University, and left for New York, hoping to write for the theater there.
While in New York, Judson found little fulfillment as a playwright, and grew quickly disillusioned. But God was beginning to work in his heart. One night, while traveling through a small village, he spent the night at a local inn. The only available room was next door to a man who was dying. All night the man groaned and cried out in desperation. Judson was so tormented by the despair in the man’s cries that he could not sleep.
Judson began to wonder, “Is this man prepared for death? That’s really all that matters now. Am I?” His philosophy taught him that death was nothing—a door into an empty pit—but that brought him little comfort now, listening to a man that was actually dying. At the same time, he could hear in the back of his mind the voice of his friend Jacob Eames, mocking him: “Really, Judson? You’re this weak? Are you really the valedictorian of Brown University? Spooked by a little superstitious religion?”
Judson lay there, toggling between fear and shame for that fear.
But still, those groans. . .
The voice eventually stopped. The next morning, as sunlight filled Judson’s room, the sense of despair lifted and Judson felt ashamed for having given in to such weakness the night before. He got dressed, went downstairs, and asked at the front desk about the man in the adjoining room. “He is dead,” was the simple reply.
Judson politely asked, “Do you know who he was?” “Oh yes. Young man from the college in Providence. Name was Eames, Jacob Eames.”
Judson could hardly move. He didn’t leave the inn for hours. He later reflected on that moment:
“Lost. In death, Jacob Eames was lost—utterly, irrevocably lost. Lost to his friends, to the world, to the future. Lost as a puff of smoke is lost in the infinity of air. If Eames’ own views were true, neither his life nor his death had any meaning. . . . But suppose Eames had been mistaken? Suppose the Scriptures were literally true and a personal God real? . . . For that hell should open in that country inn and snatch Jacob Eames, [my] dearest friend and guide, from the next bed—this could not, simply could not, be coincidence.”
Judson would come shortly thereafter not only to believe the gospel, but also to pour the rest of his life out for it, suffering extraordinary things in the name of it. The gospel of Jesus was not a light thing for him; it was weighty in life and weighty in death. It demanded the utmost attention and the most fervent devotion. And it demands the same today.
 Adapted (with quotations) from Courtney Anderson, To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1956), 32–45.