John And Betty Stam: Martyred Missionaries To
“God can use us if only we are empty, broken vessels in
His hand.” – John Stam
God's Work in John's Life
It was in a splendid Christian environment that John C. Stam entered the world on January 8, 1907, at Paterson, New Jersey, the seventh of nine children. John and his brothers and sisters were early taught the things of God. They took part in the family devotions and were present each morning at the family altar. Christ truly was the head of the Stam home. John’s father, Peter Stam, was a stalwart Christian and an earnest worker in the church. A contractor by trade to support his family, he also started Star of Hope Mission. At first his outreach was to Jews in the city of Paterson, but later the work was extended to jails, poorhouses, hospitals, factories and street preaching.
John’s mother, a wonderful Christian character, was both a Mary, ready to sit at the Lord’s feet, and a Martha, who was willing to serve. Each of the children was dedicated to the Lord for His service at his birth.
Although John was brought up in this fine Christian atmosphere and was taught the way of salvation by praying parents, he was not converted until he was fifteen years of age. The whole family was engaged in the evangelistic work of the Mission. He was accustomed to seeing the transformation that took place when a heart opens to receive Christ in all His saving power, but he did not see himself like the drunkards, down-and-outs and those who did not know the Gospel who were saved at the Mission. He had grown up hearing the Gospel and believed it, yet he was all the more in danger because of his self-righteousness.
One week a blind evangelist, a man who really knew God, came to the Mission. The evangelist’s message seemed directed right at young John. It was during this series of meetings that John gave his heart to the Lord and was very definitely born again. The Lord got hold of him in a real way. From that time on John knew that he was no longer his own and rejoiced more and more to be at the service of his Master.
For two years John attended business school and was employed as a stenographer and clerk in various business houses. He was also an active worker and an invaluable assistant to his father at the Mission. As often as five or six times a week, John went with his friends to the slums and on street corners of Paterson to hold open-air meetings. Many were the times that the Lord richly blessed as the Gospel was proclaimed. During all this, John felt the call of God in his life and was anxious to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.
God’s Work in Betty’s Life
On February 22, 1906, Elizabeth Alden Scott was born at Albion, Michigan, where her father, Charles Ernest Scott, was pastor of the Presbyterian Church. Betty was the first of five children. Six months after Betty was born, Dr. and Mrs. Scott accepted a call to the Shantung Province in China. This was the start of the Scott’s long and illustrious missionary career. For twelve years Betty lived with her parents in Tsiangtao, China. Early in life she developed a deep and lasting love for the Chinese people. She was anxious to see these benighted Chinese come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus.
|The Scotts in China, Helen standing at the back|
Betty returned to the United States, her parents remaining in China, to study at Wilson College in Pennsylvania. It was after her freshman year, at a summer Bible Conference in Keswick, New Jersey, that she gave her life to Christ in full surrender. She shared with her parents:
“I don’t know what God has in store for me. ...It’s as clear as daylight to me that the only worthwhile life is one of unconditional surrender to God’s will, and of living in His way, trusting His love and guidance.”
At the conference she took as her life motto: “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” It was not long thereafter that her call to China became predominant in her life. She had always planned for missionary work in China, but now she felt certain that it was God’s plan for her life to bring the message of salvation to these people she so dearly loved.
Following her graduation from Wilson College, Betty attended the Moody Bible Institute in order that she might be better equipped for her life’s work. It was here that she and John Stam first met.
Training at Moody Bible Institute
In September 1929, after a long period of serious and prayerful consideration, the way opened for John to enter Moody Bible Institute. He took part in many of the student activities and in much of the Christian work of the school. He served on the executive committee of the Missionary Union, on which Betty also served. Here the two young students first realized that both were interested in missionary work in China.
Some time previous to this, at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Isaac Page of the China Inland Mission (CIM), John had set his face toward China, believing that God wanted him there to spread the Gospel and tell of Christ’s power to save. The weekly prayer meeting of the CIM that met in the Page’s home was partly responsible for the deepening of the friendship between John and Betty.
From the time that CIM sent out its call for “The Two Hundred,” Betty volunteered for the un evangelised sections of China and was accepted. She sailed for China alone in the autumn of 1931, yet not alone, for she and John had an understanding that they would be united in marriage when John came to China a short time later, if it were God’s will.
John graduated from Moody in the spring of 1932, a year later than Betty. He was speaker of his class and at his graduation expressed his quiet trust in God by using the verses from Lamentations,
“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness” (3:22-23).
It was difficult for John and Betty to separate when she went ahead to China, but both of them knew that the will of the Lord came first and that their lives were His. They had surrendered themselves wholly to the Lord, knowing that if He wanted them to be together, it would come to pass. They had the assurance that this was best left in His hands.
In September 1932, John sailed for Shanghai under CIM. After a brief unexpected reunion with Betty (she had been detained in Shanghai for medical reasons when the new missionary party, including John, arrived), they were again separated for another year during John’s language study at Anking. But on October 25, 1933, John and Betty were united in marriage. Little did they know on that blissful day that soon they would give their lives in China for the furtherance of the Gospel and for Christ’s sake.
John and Betty Stam were first stationed in Suancheng, Anhwei Province (1933) where they continued language study, held Bible classes and did evangelistic work. In the summer of 1934 the Stams were designated to fill the place of the local secretary at the Mission at Wuhu. It was here in September that their baby daughter, Helen Priscilla, was born.
John and Betty made ideal missionaries. They had an ardent love for the Chinese people. They worked hard and soon won their way into the hearts of those to whom they ministered. They had an honest zeal for God’s cause and both were able to adapt themselves remarkably well to their new work and surroundings.
John was over six feet tall, with a cheerful disposition and a winning smile. His conversation with everyone, of whatever nationality, was soon turned to the things of God. His letters home were deeply religious and seemed to bubble over with warmth and zeal. He feared nothing, neither travel, rain, mud, cold or heat. The women and children were especially attracted to Betty, and many were the visitors at the Mission house. John and Betty traveled a great deal about the province, Mr. Stam usually walking and Mrs. Stam in a sedan chair carried by Chinese footmen.
On November 12, 1934, the Stams left Wuhu with baby Helen Priscilla to begin a new work in Tsingteh. They made the trip in short segments, preaching the Gospel while traveling from town to town, giving out copies of God’s Word. They arrived in Tsingteh at the end of November and moved into a large old Chinese house that had been adapted for a missionary family.
They had been in their new home less than two weeks when they began to hear persistent rumors of the Communists in that territory. This did not, however, prevent John from beginning his evangelistic work. At their first Sunday service four outsiders were present besides the family and the servants. At the second service only the family and servants were in attendance. However, during the weekdays the street chapel was open five different times with good attendance and attentive listeners.
John wrote home, “The people here seem quite friendly, and several men have been in with whom I have been able to have a good talk. God help us to open the Scriptures to them.”
At eight o’clock on the morning of December 6, the City Magistrate warned John of the coming of the Communists. A second message was received 9:30 a.m. saying the Communists were within four miles of the city.
The attack of the Communists came so suddenly that before the Stams could get away the enemy was at the gate. The servants fled. The Stams knelt in prayer knowing the only way to turn was to God. The bandits broke open the lock on the gate and rushed to the house door. John met them fearlessly and let four of the soldiers in. He spoke to them very kindly and asked them if they were hungry.
Betty very graciously served them tea and food. The soldiers demanded all the money that John had, which he surrendered to them. The soldiers then tied John, while he asked for safety for Betty and the baby. Sometime later Betty and the baby were also taken. All were put in the city prison for the day.
While in the prison, John wrote Mr. Gibbs of the China Inland Mission Headquarters at Shanghai:
“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. ...The Lord bless and guide you – and as for us – may God be glorified whether by life or by death.”
The letter was slipped to a fellow Christian and was smuggled from one Christian to another until it reached Shanghai.
The next day the Communists carried away what booty they could, and with the Stams, marched quickly to Miaosheo some 17 miles away. John and Betty were shoved into a post office and left under guard. The postmaster recognized them and asked where they were going. “We are on our way to heaven,” John answered simply. The postmaster gave Betty some fruit and slipped paper and pencil to John who quickly wrote a second note to headquarters letting them know the circumstances.
The Stams were taken to a large, vacated house where John was tied in a standing position to a bedpost. Betty was allowed to tend to the baby through the night. When she arose the next morning, Betty tucked Helen Priscilla inside her sleeping bag and hid some money among the baby’s things before zipping the bag closed over the sleeping baby.
One in Life and One in Death
The Stams, with their hands behind their backs and their outer clothing removed, were led through the main street of Miaosheo to a little hill just outside the village limits. Helen Priscilla was left behind in the house. The poor people of the town who had not fled to the mountains were called to witness the execution of the “foreign devils.”
John was ordered to kneel. The brave young missionary spoke a few words as he knelt on one knee. While he was talking, the executioner struck him to the ground. Betty, bound as she was, fell on her knees beside him. A quick command, the flash of a sword and the two were reunited. One in life and one in death, they were now one in a martyr’s testimony for the Lord Jesus Christ.
And what about little Helen Priscilla who was left behind tucked away in secret? Early the next day a Chinese pastor friend of the Stams sought out and found the baby safe where her parents had left her, warm in her sleeping bag and none the worse from her day without food and care.
Pastor Lo Ke-chou and his wife made the journey to Wuhu where the baby was delivered to the anxiously awaiting missionary group and from there Helen Priscilla was taken to her grandparents, Dr. and Mrs. Charles Scott in Tsinan.
|Helen with her Grandparents|
Some time later, Dr. Scott came into possession of Betty’s Bible found in the loot taken by the Communists. In it Betty had written:
“Lord, I give up my own purposes and plans, all my own desires, hopes and ambitions, and accept Thy will for my life. I give myself, my life, my all, utterly to Thee, to be Thine forever. …Fill me and seal me with Thy Holy Spirit. Work out Thy whole will in my life, at any cost, now and forever. ‘To me to live is Christ and to die is gain’ (Phil. 1:21).”
Early in life John and Betty had settled it in their hearts that they were willing to die for the cause of proclaiming Christ. Following their martyrdom, hundreds of young people joined the ranks willing to go to the far ends of the world to share the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.