Today 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.”
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.
Copyright 2014 by Vance E. Christie