John and Betty Stam were a young American missionary
couple who served a few short years in China before being executed by Communist
rebels in 1934. Their martyrdom at ages 27 and 28 tragically ended their young
lives and their short, consecrated missionary careers. Yet ever since then God
has used their devout examples in life and death to help point not a few people
to saving faith in Jesus Christ and to inspire untold thousands of Christians
to serve the Lord with greater fervor and dedication.
Several weeks ago my wife Leeta and I had the privilege of visiting Christian Focus Publications, my primary publisher located in the scenic Highlands of Ross-shire, Scotland. Here’s the short feature Christian Focus released from our interview about the John and Betty Stam biography I’ve published with CFP. In this brief interview, I highlight a few of the outstanding aspects of the Stams’ lives and ministries.
If you’ve not yet read John and Betty Stam, Missionary Martyrs, I’d encourage you to do so. I think you’ll find it spiritually instructive, beneficial and encouraging. If you’ve already read the book and found it profitable, perhaps you would want to recommend it to someone else as worthwhile reading.
This past Monday marked the 80th anniversary of the martyrdom of John and Betty Stam. In honor of the anniversary, I’m giving away a copy of my book John and Betty Stam: Missionary martyrs (Christian Focus, 2008). Submit your entries below:
This coming Monday marks the eightieth anniversary of the martyrdom of John and Betty Stam on December 8, 1934. John and Betty, respectively, served as missionaries in China for only two and three years. They were viewed as ideal young missionaries in many ways and as having excellent potential for a long career of fruitful service. Just two weeks after assuming charge of a fledgling work in southern Anhwei Province (in east-central China), they were taken captive by rebel Communist soldiers. Two days later, on Saturday, December 8, they were executed by decapitation because they were Christians and foreigners. John and Betty were only 27 and 28 years of age at the time of their death.
Even in and through such tragic developments God worked in a number of ways that brought glory to Himself and advanced His Kingdom work. Here are some of the ways He did that:
John closed the short letter he penned to China Inland Mission (CIM) officials, informing them that Betty and he were in the hands of rebels, “The Lord bless and guide you, and as for us, may God be glorified whether by life or by death.” When a Chinese postmaster asked John where the soldiers were taking them, he responded optimistically, “We do no know where they are going, but we are going to heaven.” Faithful Chinese Christians who recovered the lifeless bodies of the martyred missionaries testified that John’s face bore an expression of unmistakable joy while Betty’s facial expression reflected complete serenity.
One of those Chinese believers bore this witness to the crowd that had gathered to watch the recovery of the slain couple: “You have seen these wounded bodies, and you pity these foreigners for their suffering and death. But you should know that they are children of God. Their spirits are unharmed and at this minute are in the presence of God. They came to China … not for themselves but for you, to tell you about God and His love, that you might believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved eternally.”
Helen Priscilla Stam – The Miracle Baby
John and Betty’s three-month-old daughter, Helen Priscilla, was left abandoned in a house when her parents were taken from it to be executed. Learning of the infant’s whereabouts a full twenty-four hours later, a Christian Chinese couple retrieved her. After undertaking an arduous overland journey on foot, they delivered Helen six days later to the closest CIM missionaries. Of the baby’s deliverance Betty’s mother commented: “To me it is nothing less than a miracle that Baby Helen Priscilla has been spared. My husband said this morning, ‘All the hordes of wicked Communists couldn’t harm that helpless babe, if it were the Lord’s purpose to have her live to glorify His name and show His power.’ We know that even more He could have delivered Betty and John from their captors, had that been His will for them.”
Both John’s and Betty’s parents bore remarkable testimonies of unshakable trust and commitment in the midst of their unspeakable loss. John’s father, Peter, wrote in part: “It was our desire that he, as well as we, would serve the Lord, and if that could be better done by death than by life, we would have it so. The sacrifice may seem great now, but no sacrifice is too great to make for Him who gave himself for us. We are earnestly praying that it will all be for God’s glory and the salvation of souls. … How glad we shall be if many dear Christian young people shall be inspired to give themselves to the Lord as never before, for a life of sacrifice and service!”
Several memorial services were held in China and the United States to honor John and Betty and to praise God for their lives of consecrated service. At two such services, 700 Moody Bible Institute students and 200 Wheaton College students stood to dedicate their lives to missionary service wherever the Lord might lead. Literally thousands of Christians around the world were challenged and encouraged to serve Christ with greater consecration and courage.
Hundreds of secular newspapers across the globe carried full accounts of John and Betty’s martyrdom, faith and dedication. Some were thus drawn to salvation.
A tribute in the February 1935 edition of the CIM’s periodical China’s Millions stated: “It has been a long time since any event connected with the mission fields has made so wide and profound an impression in this country. We believe that John and Betty Stam may by their death have spoken even more loudly than by their brief lives of devoted service. Let no one call this ending of their career a tragedy, for in reality it is a triumph.”
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In the eight decades since their deaths, the story of John and Betty’s service to Christ and their martyrdom for their faith in Him has continued to inspire and strengthen countless Christians in their own devotion to the Lord. You can read their full story in my book John and Betty Stam, Missionary Martyrs.
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.
Moody Bible Institute original building
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.”
Moody Bible Institute advertisement featuring the Stams
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.
After I had the opportunity to write Hudson Taylor’s biography for Barbour Publishing, Barbour invited me to write a book on John and Betty Stam. At first I had to admit that I was unfamiliar with the couple. But as I began researching the compelling story of the Stams’ lives and ministries I quickly realized theirs was a powerful testimony that I would be highly privileged to share with contemporary Christians. I concluded that it would be most unfortunate if the Stams’ inspiring and instructive story were to be lost to present-day believers because it wasn’t communicated to them.
Learn more in Vance’s biography of John & Betty Stam.
As a result, John and Betty Stam, Missionary Martyrs was first published in 2000, then reissued under the same title in 2008 by Christian Focus Publications. Here are several reasons I highly recommend this biography to you:
1. John Stam (1907-1934) and Betty Scott Stam (1906-1934) were both raised by committed Christian parents who diligently taught their children God’s Word and who carefully led them to saving faith in Jesus Christ. These consecrated parents loved and actively served the Lord and taught their children to do the same. All eight of the Stam children grew up to be active in Christian service as adults (two as foreign missionaries). The five Scott siblings, having been raised as missionary kids in China, all returned to serve there in adulthood. Such families have much to teach us about raising children who know, love and serve Christ.
2. John and Betty prayerfully sought and carefully followed God’s leading with regard to how He would have them to serve Him vocationally. They also sought to do what the Lord would have them to presently, not just in the future. They faithfully followed His leading even when that involved marked difficulties and when others, wanting to spare them such hardships, questioned their intentions. Their example serves as a corrective to not a few Christians who pursue their short- and long-term plans (as well as their own comforts) while giving little or no thought to what God’s will is for their life.
3. John and Betty put their commitment to following Christ’s call on their lives ahead of their budding romantic relationship with each other. They met and were attracted to each other while students at Moody Bible Institute. But when Betty graduated from MBI one year ahead of John, they did not become engaged since they were not sure it would work out for both of them to serve with the same mission agency in China. They both were following God’s call to serve as missionaries in China but John did not know if he would be accepted by the same mission agency that Betty was to serve with. They patiently waited on the Lord’s clear leading through the outworking of circumstances, and in the end God gave them the desire of their heart to marry and serve Him together in China. They remind us that Christ has the first claim on the believer’s affection and allegiance, even before one’s potential spouse.
4. The Stams model how essential a strong personal devotional life is to maintaining faithful, fruitful service of the Lord. While a student at Moody, John established the habit of rising at 5 A.M. daily for personal prayer and Bible study. He diligently sought to maintain his private time with the Lord while serving on the mission field. A fellow missionary at language school in China testified of John: “He seemed to know Christ more intimately, more practically than the rest of us. John’s spirituality was radiant and contagious. He seemed to be always in touch with the source of power, even our Lord Himself.”
5. John and Betty were committed to helping fulfill Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) wherever they were at, both in America and China. Before going to the foreign field, they participated in street and prison evangelism. For Betty this was a bit of a stretch as she was reserved by nature. But she pushed herself to participate in those outreach efforts and gained confidence and joy by doing so. In China John and Betty constantly (often daily) shared the Gospel, both at their mission stations and while out on evangelistic itinerations. On those outreach tours they shared Christ in tea shops, inns, homes, chapels and open air meetings. Regardless of our temperament or degree of evangelistic gifting, John and Betty’s examples encourage us to play an active role in sharing the Savior and helping advance His kingdom.
Helen Priscilla Stam, “The Miracle Baby”
6. The circumstances surrounding the Stams’ martyrdom highlight the fact that the Lord is sovereign over and accomplishes great good through even the seemingly untimely and unfortunate deaths of His children. While God permitted John and Betty to be captured and executed by Communist rebels, He providentially protected their three-month-old daughter, Helen Priscilla. She thereafter became known by many Christians worldwide as “The Miracle Baby.” As a result of John and Betty’s deaths, untold thousands of Christians around the globe, from that time till the present, have been challenged and encouraged to serve the Lord with greater consecration and courage. Hundreds of secular newspapers throughout the world carried full accounts of the Stams’ martyrdom, faith and dedication, with the further result that some were even drawn to salvation.