Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Triumph of John and Betty Stam and the Lessons for 21st Century Christians

John Stam is our missions pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Enid, Oklahoma. He and his family have been a part of our church for years. After serving as our education pastor and then our school headmaster over the past decade, John became our full-time missions pastor this past April 1, 2010. He bears the name of his great uncle, John Stam (pictured left), a 1932 graduate of Moody Bible Institute and a Christian martyr. The elder John, along with his wife, Betty Stam, were martyred in December 1934 while serving the Chinese people in the river valley west of Shanghai. The story of John and Betty Stam is best told by Geraldine Taylor--daughter-in-law to Hudson Taylor, the man who founded the China Inland Mission--in her classic work The Triumph of John and Betty Stam.

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.

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.
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.

At lunch yesterday John told me that his aunt, Helen, the daughter of John and Betty Stam, is still living. She resides in Philadelphia and turns 76 this Saturday. Helen never married, though she changed her last name because she disliked the notoriety of being "the miracle baby" who escaped certain death at the hands of the Reds. John and I are trying to arrange a visit with her on her birthday.Let me encourage you to purchase a copy of 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?"

"John Stam."

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.


Ramesh said...

Amazing. Praise God for John and Betty Stam. Now I truly realize my utter poverty. All my problems and Ergun Caner's problems seem to pale in comparison.

Anonymous said...


Great story! I gave my niece "Through the Gates of Splendor" for her birthday as she had just returned from a missions trip to Ecuador. My sister is going back to Ecuador in the future to administer a Christian school in Quito and to be a missionary to Ecuadorian children.

Thy Peace -- comment was completely unnecessary in light of this Christ-affirming post.

Steven Stark said...

What a beautiful story!

Christiane said...

Tremendous post, Wade.

I got to thinking about what you wrote here:

"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 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. "

I thought about it and then remembered something;
and looking it up, found the following account:

"He asked, "Do you believe in God?"
She paused.
It was a life or death question.
"Yes, I believe in God."
"Why?" asked the executioner.
But he never gave her the chance
to respond.
The seventeen year-old teenage girl lay dead at his feet."

Columbine High School
April 20, 1999
United States of America

Wade, the 'killing fields' are no longer that far away.

Ramesh said...

One can purchase a new copy of this book here.

ml said...

Wade, welcome back and thanks for this wonderful God epic. You are right about us Americans. I could't help but think of a recent book I have read: Radical: Rescuing Your Faith from the American Dream. Tales like you have related here only help us to make much of God rather than ourselves. Thanks this comes to me at a perfect time to remind me to position my heart to live to make much of God in life and death.

Chris Riley said...

That gave me goosebumps!!

Christiane said...

The martyrs become the measure of our dedication to Christ.

Against their ultimate witness, we can examine the progress of our own Christian formation:
of how our own lives are being given over to Our Saving Lord.

The martyrs represent the supreme victory of Christ over the forces of this world.

It has been said that,
"The martyr is a supremely free person,
free from the power of the world".

ml said...

Christiane, I have to disagree with the value you have given to martyrs. It sounds more like abherent early second century thoughts on suffering. They do not become a measure for dedication to Christ for anyone other than themseleves. I believe this is the impact of Jesus' words to Peter and John at the end of the Gospel of John. We are each called to deny ourselves but this may not always be a call to physically die. Sometimes (often) it is much more difficult to suffer and die to yourself and remain in this world as a living sacrifice. I think Jonathan Edwards is right that the only true mark of Christian growth is an increase in godliness mark be self denial. Not becoming more like the martyrs but Christ.

believer333 said...

Reading this account, caused tears to well in my eyes. God is good! God is worthy! I thank God for my life as it is.

Farm Girl said...

As a new believer I read about Betty Scott Stam and John. I say her name first as It was her prayer that I wrote in my Bible, that her prayer would be my prayer as time went on, I thought it was thrilling that their nephew is in your church.
That just makes my day so thanks for publishing "The rest of the story."

wadeburleson.org said...

Thanks to Yvonne, who sent me a copy of John C. Stam's last letter sent from China, I reproduce for readers below.

This last letter from John was written the day before his and Betty's death and was found hidden in the clothing and blankets of little Helen Priscilla.

Tsingteh, An.
Dec. 6, 1934

China Inland Mission, Shanghai

Dear Brethren,

My wife, baby and myself are today in the hands of the Communists in the city of Tsingteh. Their demand is twenty thousand dollars for our release.

All our possessions and stores are in their hands, but we praise God for peace in our hearts and a meal tonight. God grant you wisdom in what you do, and us fortitude, courage and peace of heart. He is able-and a wonderful Friend in such a time.

Things happened so quickly this a.m. They were in the city just a few hours after the ever-persistent rumors really became alarming, so that we could not prepare to leave in time. We were just too late.

The Lord bless and guide you, and as for us, may God be glorified whether by life or by death.

In Him,

John C. Stam

Christiane said...

Hi ml,

You wrote about a disagreement, but I'm not sure about that. My reference:

"Against their ultimate witness, we can examine the progress of our own Christian formation:
of how our own lives are being given over to Our Saving Lord. "

is based on this Scripture:

Heb 12:1 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,.”

I am coming from a difference perspective, this is true, but it may be that you and I are simply emphasizing different viewpoints rather than disagreeing totally.

My tradition has always honored the faith of the martyrs, even to the point of building Churches on the very site of their deaths, with the altars directly over their earthly remains. (a tradition having something to do with the Book of Revelation where the martyrs are calling out to God in prayer from under the altars, I think).
Yes, the tradition is very, very old.

Ramesh said...

If anyone watches Emmanuel Enid services, you will notice John Stam of this story and John Stam at Emmanuel look similar. At least my mind seems to see lot of similarities of their faces.

I am truly blessed by this blog post.

Christiane said...


yes, I also believe that I have seen him speak at Emmanuel, as I do try to watch the services as regularly as time permits.

Anonymous said...

John told me a out this book 3 years ago and I never did get around to buying it! Now I am putting it on my Christmas List. :-).

David Simpson said...

Wade, you ought to think about taking a video crew with you and recording her account of her parent's story... that could turn out to be a very powerful tool on the internet...

Anonymous said...

Love this story. Thanks for taking the time to share it.


Marilyn Frevert said...

Thank you for sharing the Stam's story. The Stams fought the good fight,finished the race, and kept the faith. This reminds us of the truth that we are not our own, but have been bought with a price.
To God be the glory!