By Jenny Cornfield
For more years than I care to remember there has sat on my desk a framed photograph of the 1930’s American missionary to China, Betty Stam. As soon as I notice her picture each day as I sit down to work, a prayer that she wrote as a child immediately comes to mind and my lips begin to form its words: “Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes, all my own desires and hopes 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. Use me as Thou wilt, send me where Thou wilt and work out Thy whole will in my life, at any cost, now and forever.”
I never knew Betty Stam.
I have never known anyone else who knew her either.
Her story was one that I simply found on the pages of an old fashioned book as a child.
I was 10 years old when I first heard the ‘Old, Old, Story’ as though it was being spoken directly to me. Convinced that one day I would be a missionary I devoured books of those who had taken this story, ‘of Jesus and his love’, far and wide. Gladys Aylward, Isobel Kuhn, Catherine Booth, Amy Carmichael, Corrie ten Boom. Those who had said ‘Yes’ to God and allowed Him to propel them into some of the darkest situations that our world has known and bring Emmanuel’s light.
But Betty Stam was always my favourite. And the pages of the old worn book that I found her on brought her to life.
Although many years separate us, her story inspires in me three daily thoughts:
- It reminds me that my life is essentially a lived out story and the decision as to whether it is a good story or an indifferent one lies with me.
- Her story asks me if the ‘Yes’ that I have said to God is sometimes being lived out more in a ‘No’? ‘Work out Thy whole will in my life, at any cost, now and forever.’
It brings me back – time and again – to the word ‘surrender’ and the desire to live a life that it is fully surrendered to God, the One who calls us through stories, to become part of His story – the story that asks you to lose your life in order that you may gain it.
When Betty was in her early thirties, she and her husband, John, went with their 3-month-old baby to China with the China Inland Mission. They set up home in the small eastern town of Tsingteh (today known as Jingde, in Anhui Province). The year was 1934 and they had been in Tsingteh for 5 months when they heard rumours that Communist soldiers intended to come to the town in order to stop their Christian witness. The townspeople were concerned for the young couple’s safety and asked them to leave their home immediately and hide from the soldiers. It is reported that Betty addressed their fears with the words; “Don’t be afraid. We trust in God. There is nothing to fear.”
The hours that followed must have tested even the bravest resolve though.
On December 6th 1934 the soldiers took the Stam’s from their home and imprisoned them. That night John wrote a letter to the China Inland Mission:
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 morning. They were in the city just a few hours after the ever-persistent rumours 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 death.
John C. Stam
At 4 o’ clock on the morning of December 7th, the soldiers led the Stams out of the city of Tsingteh. They then marched them 12 miles over the mountains to a town called Miaosheo. As the soldiers pillaged the town, they left the missionaries under the supervision of the local postmaster.
‘Where are they taking you?’ the postmaster asked, ‘Where are you going?’
‘We don’t know where they are going, ‘ John replied, ‘but we are going to heaven.’
John gave the man the letter that he had written to the China Inland Mission and the man promised that he would make sure that it was delivered.
That night the young family were taken to a deserted home and were placed under guard.
Shortly before 10 o’clock Saturday morning, December 8th, the Communist soldiers having decided that they were going to execute John and Betty, came and ordered them to strip down to their underwear. After tying the missionaries’ hands tightly behind their backs, they marched the couple out into the street. Their baby was left behind, on her own, in the empty house.
The couple were marched down the high street of Miaosheo. At the end of the street, just outside of the town, stood Eagle Hill. There, in order to justify the executions that were about to take place, the soldiers told the townspeople of the evil of the foreigners and their influence. John and Betty Stam were then killed.
In China today, the longest revival in Christian history is taking place. Tertullian certainly had a point when he said that ‘the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church.’ There have been many Christians killed on China’s soil. It seems after the deaths of the Stam’s hundreds of people signed up – in lots of different ways – for the mission field. At one of the many memorial services that were held for them – this one at Moody Bible Institute – 700 students stood to their feet to signify their desire to give their lives to the mission field wherever the Lord might send them.
Today, 81 years after John and Betty’s deaths, their names are still the byword for courage and faith. As one of the biographies written about them concludes:
‘...no-one would dispute John and Betty Stam’s right to be included in the roll call of those whom the writer to the Hebrews describes as “of whom the world was not worthy” (Heb 11:38) ‘
And so the old fashioned, grainy black and white image of Betty Stam stands on my desk and each day as I sit down to work, I pray that my life will tell of my Saviour as boldly and as clearly as hers.
Following 12 years experience working in the Charity sector, Jenny now works as a freelance consultant specialising in helping organisations - especially charities and churches - train their communicators to speak powerfully & creatively in order that their audience will listen and be inspired to respond.