John and Betty met each other at Moody Bible Institute and since Betty was a year older than John, she sailed for China as a missionary in 1931, he a year later in 1931. After a year long courtship in China, evangelist and missionary Reuben A. Torrey performed the marriage ceremony for the Stam's on October 25, 1933, in Tsinan, China. John was twenty-six; Betty was twenty-seven. The region where the Stam's served was particularly dangerous because of the civil war between the Chinese Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party. Eleven months after their wedding, on September 11, 1934, Betty Stam gave birth to a baby girl the Stam's named Helen Priscilla.
Three months later the Stams were beheaded by the Communists on a hill outside Miaosheo while their baby Helen lay hidden in a blanket. To honor the account of how the Stam's died, I will quote verbatim from Geraldine Taylor's The Triumph of John and Betty Stam.
Painfully bound with ropes, their hands behind them, stripped of their outer garments, and John barefooted (he had given Betty his socks to wear), they passed down the street where he was known to many, while the Reds shouted their ridicule and called the people to come and see the execution.Many Christians are unfamiliar with the story John and Betty Stam, but their lives have much to teach us about serving Christ in a dangerous world, focusing on the eternal rather than the temporal, and never settling for worldly riches or fame. I can't help but think about how soft we American Christians have become after reading the account of the Stam's death. We expect security and personal comforts, but we have never been given any guarantees of material or temporal blessings for tomorrow. The killing fields of this world may make us one of their victims. There is, however, nothing to fear. Whether death comes from the sword, or a gun, or a bomb, or nuclear war, the moment of our death ushers us into an eternity of rich blessing and unspeakable love. The Apostle Paul called death "far better" (literally: very much better) than life in Philippians 1:23.
Like their Master, they were led up a little hill outside the town. There, in a clump of pine trees, the Communists harangued the unwilling onlookers, too terror-stricken to utter protest—But no, one broke the ranks! The doctor of the place and a Christian, he expressed the feelings of many when he fell on his knees and pleaded for the life of his friends. Angrily repulsed by the Reds, he still persisted, until he was dragged away as a prisoner, to suffer death when it appeared that he too was a follower of Christ.
John had turned to the leader of the band, asking mercy for this man. When he was sharply ordered to kneel—and the look of joy on his face, afterwards, told of the unseen Presence with them as his spirit was released—Betty was seen to quiver, but only for a moment. Bound as she was, she fell on her knees beside him. A quick command, the flash of a sword which mercifully she did not see—and they were reunited.
The Triumph of John and Betty Stam. In my experience God uses the extraordinary testimonies of people like the Stams to bring encouragement to his church. I'll close with an anecdote that is heartwarming.
When our pastor of missions was in college he was caught in a snow storm heading back to Wheaton. He called his father and was told to get a hotel and to wait until the storm cleared before continuing his journey to teh college. When John informed his dad he had no money, it was suggested that John call the local Baptist pastor.
John looked in the phone book and found the church phone number and called. The pastor answered the phone and John told him that he was a college student heading back to Wheaton, and he was stuck in the snow storm and wondered if the pastor would open the church and let John sleep on the back row of the church. There was silence on the end of the phone. John thought the pastor was trying to think of a polite way to say no, but then the pastor said: "What did you say your name was?"
There was again silence. Then, after a few moments the pastor said, "I want you to come over and stay at our house." John received directions to the parsonage and arrived a few minutes later. The pastor opened the door and escorted him into the dining room where the pastor's family was seated around the dinner table. The pastor's kids eyes were wide as saucers. John was invited to take a seat and the pastor's wife began serving him dinner. Then the pastor told John the following.
"John, it is my custom after dinner each evening to read to my children. For the past few dinners I have been reading to them from The Triumph of John and Betty Stam. Tonight, we came to the account of John and Betty's martyrdom and we all were mesmerized by the gripping account of how this couple gave their lives for the cause of Christ. One of my sons asked me the question, 'Dad, how can anyone call the beheadings of the Stams a triumph?" No sooner had he asked me that question when the phone rang and John Stam asked if he could sleep at our church. Are you related to the John Stam we've been reading about?"
John explained to the family that he bore the name of his great uncle and that the legacy of John and Betty Stam had greatly affected his own life and that of Valerie Elliott, his friend and fellow classmate at Wheaton. Valerie was the daughter of martyred missionary Jim Elliot, and Betty Stam (maiden name Betty Scott) had flown to visit with Valerie's mom's family (the Howards) when Elizabeth Howard (later Elliot) was just 12 years old. Elizabeth Elliot wrote in her personal memiors the impact that the 21 year old Betty Scott had on her and the decision she later made to marry a man called to missions and join him in the work in South America. John spent the rest of the evening explaining how God takes what the world calls tragedy and turns it into triumph. It was a marvelous visit for all involved.
John told me that his encounter with that family on that cold winter night led to the children attending Wheaton College themselves to prepare for the mission field.
I guess you could say the triumph of John and Betty Stam continues.