Missions History: John & Betty Stam

 

When the news about John and Betty Stam leaked out of China, it sent shock waves around the globe. The young missionary couple had only been in China two years before they were captured by the Communist Red Army. Their daughter, Helen Priscilla, was only 3 months old at the time. The brutality and atheism of the Communists were well known. What fate would they suffer at the hands of the Red Army?

What would happen to young missionaries John & Betty Stam?

Background

While Helen had grown up in a missionary family in China, John was born into a Dutch immigrant family in the United States. His parents founded the Star of Hope Rescue Mission in Paterson, New Jersey. Both John and Helen accepted Christ during their youth and felt called to a lifetime of ministry. 

To train for ministry, they both enrolled at Moody Bible Institute. There, they met and fell in love. While John felt a definite call to missionary service in China, Betty was torn between serving lepers in Africa or working in China. She surrendered her future to the Lord, and He led her back to China.  At our Baptist church in Cape Breton, we want to know God’s will for our lives and follow it.

 

Ministry in China

After graduating, Betty was accepted with the China Inland Mission and returned there to serve as a missionary. A year later, John graduated from Moody and was happily reunited with Betty. They were soon engaged and took wedding vows in October 1933.

The happy couple began to share the gospel in the Anhui province of China. In the evenings, they would hold evangelistic meetings in the villages. During the day, they would travel to nearby communities for evangelism. 

In September of 1934, John and Betty welcomed a daughter into the world. Helen Priscilla Stam was a constant delight to them. And, soon, when they were promoted to their own mission station in Jingde, their happiness was complete. They were aware of Communist activity nearby, but it did not seem like a serious threat. They were confident that God had led them here and would keep them safe.

 

Capture by the Red Army

One fateful day in December 1934, John and Betty heard gunfire in the distance. Soon, Communist soldiers pounded on the door of the Stams’ home. After eating the tea and cookies that Betty served them, the soldiers arrested the young family and took them to prison.

John was ordered to write a letter to the China Inland Mission. He began, “Today at Jingde, my wife, child, and I fell into the hands of the Communists. They demand a ransom of twenty thousand dollars for our release…As for us, whether by life or by death, may God be glorified.”

The next day, they were transferred to a rich man’s home, which served as a temporary prison. Annoyed by the baby, the soldiers talked about killing her. A Chinese criminal who had just been released begged them not to kill little Helen. They threatened, “Then it’s your life for hers.” He said, “I am willing,” and was killed immediately. 

It is difficult to imagine how John and Betty must have felt that night…knowing that they were staring torture and death in the face. It was not so bad to suffer themselves, but what about baby Helen? Early the next morning, Betty wrapped tiny Helen in warm clothes and pinned extra diapers and two five-dollar bills inside her garments. She hid the baby in a small sleeping bag and left her in the house. 

Within hours, John and Betty were marched down the street to face the executioner’s sword. They were taken to Eagle Hill, outside the village, and were ordered to kneel. John was beheaded first, and then Betty. They were the 73rd and 74th martyrs of the China Inland Mission.

About thirty hours later, baby Helen was discovered by a local pastor. She was unharmed and safe, and Chinese Christians spirited her away to a missionary hospital. She was called the “Miracle Baby” because of her incredible escape. A Christian doctor examined her and found her in perfect health, and she was taken to her mother’s parents, Reverend Charles and Clara Scott. She lived there for 5 years before returning to the States.

 

A Powerful Legacy

When news spread of John and Betty’s martyrdom, both Chinese and foreigners were appalled. The Chinese governor of their province ordered an official reburial of the Stams, which was attended by both Chinese and consular officials. 

Western Christians were heartbroken over the loss of this young missionary couple. Letters, condolences, and donations for baby Helen flooded the China Inland Mission headquarters. Several families even offered to adopt the young baby. Hundreds of newspapers around the world told the story of John and Betty’s martyrdom, thus sharing the Gospel they preached.

Seven hundred students at Moody and two hundred at Wilson College offered themselves in Christian service, promising to be faithful event to death. And many people volunteered as missionaries to China. Seven years later, the first 5 converts from Jingde were baptized on Eagle Hill by a Chinese pastor. Where the Stams’ blood had flowed, precious fruit sprang up from barren ground.

Only eternity will reveal the untold fruits of John and Betty’s brief, courageous ministry. As Jesus said in John 12:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” In their martyrdom, John and Betty brought forth more fruit than they ever could have in their life. 

 

What About You?

God may not call you to serve on a foreign field or lay down your life to the executioner’s sword. But He calls you to take up your cross daily in obedience. “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) Will you take up your cross today? Join us at our Baptist church in Cape Breton to learn more.

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Will you bravely obey God as John and Betty Stam did? Join the friendly church family of Northside Baptist Church on Sundays at 11:00 am. 

For more information, call 902-304-4707 or email northside1178@gmail.com 

 
 
AUTHOR BIO: 
Claudine Broussard is a Cape Breton based musician, the social media director of ForwardMarketing.ca, and coauthor of Seeking Jesus: Stepping Into a Life of Bold Surrender, Freedom, and Deep Joy.