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3 Famous Missionaries Known for Their Translation Work

by Evangeline

Throughout history, many Christian missionaries have faithfully served God in different ways. Here is a list of three famous missionaries who were known for their translation work.

William Carey (1761-1834)

William Carey was a British missionary who was one of the first missionaries sent to India in 1793. He was also a minister, linguist, printer, and social reformer.

Carey grew up in a small village of Northamptonshire and often acknowledged his humble beginnings as a shoemaker. Nevertheless, even from a young age, he displayed a flair for languages, eventually teaching himself Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Dutch, and French.

Later, in India, Carey translated the Bible into several local languages including Hindi, Sanskrit, Bengali, and Assamese. He also translated portions of the Bible into other dialects and languages. He also translated a famous Hindu classic, Ramayana, into English.

Carey also founded the Serampore Mission Press that printed a wide variety of textbooks, dictionaries, and literature that benefitted both the general public and students at all levels. His was a pioneering press that “thought it important enough that costly fonts of type be cast for the irregular and neglected languages of the Indian people”, much like how Wycliffe today continues to recognise the value and importance of people having access to the Word in their heart languages, regardless of how ‘minority’ a language it might be.

In total, Carey spent 41 years in India without ever going on furlough. During this time, his pioneering efforts laid the foundations for Bible translations, education, and social reform that proved to be instrumental in influencing the following generations of missionaries to India. As such, he is considered as the ‘father of modern missions’.

Adorinam Judson (1788-1850)

Adorinam Judson was an American Baptist missionary who was the first foreign missionary out of America. He was also a linguist and a lexicographer, known for translating the whole Bible into Burmese, as well as developing the now-standard English-Burmese dictionary.

Judson was born in Massachusetts, USA in 1788 and grew up mostly within the state, entering Providence College (now Brown University) when he was 17. As a child, he studied theology and began reading when he was just three. In 1812, he and his wife, Ann Haseltine, arrived in India as missionaries and there, they adopted Baptist principles and were baptised by William Carey. However, having been forced by the British East India Company to leave India, they escaped to Burma (now Myanmar) in 1813.

There, Judson faced countless difficulties and challenges. Serving as evangelists and Bible translators, he failed to see any converts until 1819! Later, during the Burmese War of 1824 to 1826, he was accused of being an English spy and imprisoned by Burmese forces and tortured.

After he was released from prison, he continued to work tirelessly, eventually completing the translation of the Bible into Burmese in 1834, and thereafter working on the English-Burmese dictionary. After serving for 30-odd years in Burma, he went on his first and only furlough back to the US, returning to Burma in 1847 and completing an enlarged dictionary in 1849. Shortly after, he contracted a respiratory fever and died in 1850.

Judson’s work in Burma eventually led to a fervent community of about half a million Christians consisting Burman, Karen, and other people groups. Today, Baptist churches in Myanmar celebrate Judson Day on 13 July every year to commemorate the date of his arrival to Burma in 1813. Judson Baptist Church Singapore also serves the Burmese community of Singapore.

James Hudson Taylor (1832-1905)

James Hudson Taylor was a British missionary known for being an evangelist, translator, and physician. Just like William Carey and Adorinam Judson, he was a pioneering missionary who went where no one had dared venture to before: inland China.

Born in Barnsley, England in 1832 to a family devoted to God, Taylor had always known that he would one day go to China as a missionary. Although he briefly lost sight of his ‘mission’ in his teens, he found his way back to God after reading a tract that he had found at home when he was 17. In preparation for his mission ahead, he moved to a remote town and trained under a doctor; he knew that he would need to get used to being lonely, and that medical training would be useful in the field.

In 1854, Taylor arrived in Shanghai, China as a young man of 21. There, he was not happy with what he encountered. He found that most missionaries he met were more interested in using their translation skills to serve businessmen and diplomats, rather than in serving God’s purposes. More pressingly, he felt that the Word needed to be taken to inland China where many were unreached. He set sail down the Huangpu River, distributing tracts and Bibles in villages along the way. In 1856, he moved to Ningbo, where he found a devoted community of missionaries to work with. It was around this time that he adopted the Chinese dress, as he felt that it would help the local people to see him and the gospel as less foreign.

Often suffering from poor health, Taylor returned to England in 1860 for medical reasons. There, however, he worked on translating and revising the Ningbo New Testament. In 1865, after praying for 24 missionaries to return to China with him, he founded the China Inland Mission (CIM; now OMF International) and returned to China in 1866.

Hudson Taylor died in Hunan, China in 1905, after serving a total of 51 years in the country. While he was oft known as a ‘man of faith’, to this he would humbly respond that he was ‘only a servant of a faithful God’. Today, OMF International continues Taylor’s work in presenting the gospel to not just the people in Inland China, but to all the peoples in East Asia.

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