December 8, 2014, marks the eightieth anniversary of the martyrdom of John and Betty Stam, missionaries to China. In the weeks leading up to that significant anniversary I’d like to present a few of the outstanding features of John and Betty’s devoted service to Christ. We’ll begin with their unflinching commitment to carefully fulfill the vocational calling they sensed God had for their lives.
John Stam entered Moody Bible Institute (MBI) in the fall of 1929 at twenty-two years of age. Having been raised in a home where interest in foreign missions was strong, John came to Moody with a definite openness to the possibility of serving overseas someday if the Lord led him that way. As he participated in prayer meetings focusing on the needs of various missionary enterprises and read numerous prayer letters from around the globe, his heart was stirred over the significant opportunities and crying needs for spreading the Gospel in largely unevangelized parts of the world.
He became perplexed, however, when his parents did not respond favorably when he wrote to share with them his inclination to commit his life to foreign missionary service. His aging father, Peter, supervised a large mission in Paterson, New Jersey, and secretly hoped that John would return to assume leadership of that mission after completing his training at MBI. Peter wrote John: “Young people should not be swayed by merely human influences or personal desires in their choice of a lifework. And they should not overlook the need at home. I fear that sometimes speakers and missionary societies try to persuade young people, through emotions, to choose the foreign work.”
John loved his parents and did not want to disappoint them. He was open to serving wherever God would have him to, whether in Paterson, some other place in the United States, or in China or India (the two primary foreign countries he was considering at that time). Yet somehow the needs overseas, where far fewer Christian workers were available, seemed more pressing than those at home. To one of his brothers he wrote, “It does look frightfully disproportionate to see so many [serving] here in comparison with the few over yonder.” John made this a matter of earnest prayer.
Gradually he came to see a shift in the outlook expressed in his father’s letters. “Why think of China or India,” Peter wrote several weeks later, “when there are other countries more open. Would it not seem more in keeping with the Lord’s will to go where the work can be unhindered, rather than where life is always in danger and there is so much opposition?” Eventually, after several more months had passed, the father wrote his son, “May the Lord richly bless you and guide you by His Holy Spirit to do His will. We must pray that more men may go to China.”
John met Betty Scott at a weekly Monday evening prayer group that the China Inland Mission (CIM) sponsored for MBI students. John and Betty struck up a friendship that eventually developed into a romantic relationship. Over time, both John and Betty, independently of each other, increasingly sensed that God was leading them toward service in China, very possibly with the CIM.
Betty graduated from MBI and left to serve with the CIM in China one year ahead of John, in 1931. They did not become engaged before parting since it was by no means certain that both of them would end up serving in China under the same mission organization. Of this decision John wrote his parents:
The China Inland Mission has appealed for men, single men, to itinerate in sections where it would be almost impossible to take a woman, until more settled work has been commenced. Some time ago I promised the Lord that, if fitted for this forward movement, I would gladly go into it. So now I cannot back down without sufficient reason, merely upon personal considerations. If, after we are out a year or two, we find that the Lord’s work would be advanced by our marriage, we need not wait longer. … Betty and I have prayed much about this … Our hearts are set to do His will. But this is true, isn’t it, our wishes must not come first? The progress of the Lord’s work is the chief consideration.
A year later the Lord did lead John to China, to serve with the CIM. After John completed six months of intensive language study in China and a half year of active service under the supervision of a veteran CIM couple, he and Betty were wed on October 25, 1933. As per the direction of CIM leaders, John and Betty were assigned to take the lead in establishing a new work in a town where the CIM had had little previous ministry opportunity.
John and Betty Stam’s example reminds us of the importance and appropriateness of Christian youth and young adults prayerfully seeking God’s guidance as to how He desires them to serve Him with their lives, and whether or not He would have them to do so through some form of vocational Christian ministry, either in their own country or in a foreign land. Vocational Christian workers are just as urgently needed today, both at home and abroad, as they were in the Stams’ day. Whatever vocation the Lord leads us into – “sacred” or “secular” (to use an old dichotomy) – we should seek to faithfully and actively serve Him through it.
The Stams’ example also encourages us to carefully fulfill the ministries God directs us to carry out. We should not allow discouragements, difficulties, personal sacrifices or the contrary opinions of others to deflect us away from the ministries we’re convinced the Lord would have us to fulfill. That care and determination should be exercised both in our vocation and in the other avenues of service into which God guides us.
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My book John and Betty Stam, Missionary Martyrs relates the full account of their lives of consecrated service to the Lord. It provides much inspiration and encouragement for us in our own service of Christ.