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In the Hands of the Communists (Part 2)
January 11, 2011
Shortly after the birth of baby Helen, John and Betty Stam received their posting to the city of Tsingteh. And this brings us back to where we began in the beginning of the first part. After only a couple of weeks in their new home the Communists took over the city, took John and Betty captive, plundered their home and threw them in prison. And yet, as you remember, they rejoiced, trusting in God.
And now they were in prison, being held for ransom. The soldiers saw baby Helen and thought that this baby would prove to be a problem—she might slow down her parents as they followed the army. In front of John and Betty they talk about killing her. And then a strange thing happened. One of the men who had been tossed into prison by the Communist soldiers protested. He said, “The baby has done nothing worthy of death!” The soldiers told him, “It’s your life or hers.” The man said, “I am willing.” And just like that the soldiers struck him down and killed him, leaving the baby alone and unharmed. No one knows who the man was or why he would do such a brave thing.
Early the next morning the soldiers woke John and Betty and they all left the city, John walking and Betty riding on a horse. They started riding toward the town of Miaosheo. John had planned on going to the city that day anyway and waiting for him there was a friend, a man known as Evangelist Lo. As the soldiers marched into Miaosheo they took Lo captive. They asked him what he did for a living and he told them that he distributed tracts. They apparently didn’t know what that meant so they let him go. He hurried away, though he would return soon enough.
The soldiers pillaged the town just like they had pillaged the last one, taking anything that was valuable. John and Betty were hauled into a home that would serve as a jail and a guard watched them through the night. Betty was allowed to be free within that room, but John was tied in a standing position so he could not rest or sleep.
It was the next day, a Saturday morning, that the soldiers came into John and Betty’s room and told them to take off their clothes, to walk out of the house in just their long underwear. They tightly tied their hands behind their backs and led them out. John walked barefoot, having given his socks to his wife to protect her feet. They left the baby behind; Betty had tucked her into her little sleeping bag and then nestled her into a big pile of bedding. The soldiers forgot all about little Helen.
The soldiers marched John and Betty through the town and told all the people to come out and to watch them die. They would witness what China thought of foreigners, people who would come to their nation to teach people about God. There was only one man in the entire town who was brave enough to object. A man named Chang spoke up for the couple. He fell on his knees before the soldiers and begged them to let the missionaries go. The soldiers grabbed him and tied him up, too, accusing him of being in league with the foreigners. They searched his home and there they found a Bible and a hymn book—now they knew that he was a Christian too.
They dragged John and Betty to the end of the main street, a little place called Eagle Hill. They ordered John to kneel, but before he did so, he said just a few words to the soldiers nearby. No witnesses were close enough to hear the words, but I think we know what he told them, don’t we? What would he have said to them except to speak the gospel to them? He knelt on the ground, a big knife flashed, and John fell to the ground. Then they pushed Betty down beside him and she, too, was killed. Neither one showed any great fear; neither one cried out; both were praying to the Lord at the moment they went to meet the Lord. They went from being on their knees on the cold, hard ground, to being on their knees before their Savior. Chang was killed very shortly after. He had always been considered a timid and lukewarm Christian, but here he died a brave death for his faith.
John and Betty are martyrs, Christians who gave their lives in service to the Lord and who died for his cause. I want to talk about the impact of that. But first, let’s talk about baby Helen.
About 24 hours after John and Betty were killed, Evangelist Lo returned to the town since the soldiers had left. He had been told of the deaths of his friend and wanted to find their bodies. As he came into the town someone told him that there was a foreign baby left in one of the homes. He ran to the home and found baby Helen there, crying. She had been alone for 27 hours. Inside her clothes was pinned two five-dollar bills Betty had hidden away in the hope that someone would help her. Lo took Helen with him and walked to Eagle Hill. And there he found the bodies. He bought a couple of coffins (using credit, not the ten dollars left for the baby). The people who lifted the bodies into the coffins noted that John’s face was frozen in an expression of joy and that Betty’s was completely serene. Neither had faltered at the point of death.
Evangelist Lo and his wife carried baby Helen with them, finding in every village people who would nurse the little baby. They carried her all the way to the nearest missionary outpost where they handed the baby over and shared a full account of the deaths of John and Betty Stam. Helen was dubbed “the miracle baby.” She was raised by her grandparents and lives in the United States today.
It is hard to know why God allowed John and Betty to come to such an early death. They were a nice, godly young couple who had only just begun what could have been a long and fruitful career serving God as missionaries. They were just about the same age as Nick and Alicia, just barely starting life together. And with two quick slashes of a sword, they were dead. Their little girl was an orphan. Why?
We don’t know, do we? At least we don’t know the exact reasons. But we do know that in some way God wanted to use their lives and their deaths to glorify himself. Remember a few weeks back I spoke about Acts 12 and how God allowed Stephen and James to be killed, while letting Peter escape. And that passage told us that in all things God will have his glory. And God was glorified through the lives of John and Betty Stam. Here are just a few ways in which we see it.
When Evangelist Lo found the bodies and placed them in the coffins, he preached to the crowd that had gathered there. Here is what he said to them:
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 minutes are in the presence of God.
They came to China and to Miaosheo 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. You have heard this message. Remember it is true. Their death proves that. Do not forget what they told you. Repent and believe the Gospel.
Many of the people who listened to the evangelist wept, something that was notable because other missionaries would say that never in all their labors had they heard of Chinese people weeping as they heard the gospel. But these people had witnessed a demonstration of the power of God and the truth of the gospel. They had seen the difference the gospel makes.
There is one way God was glorified. Another way was when newspapers all over the world, secular newspapers, carried the story of what had happened. People read the story and heard of two brave Christians who considered their lives less valuable than their service to God. People were drawn to the gospel just by hearing this!
And all around the world people heard the story of John and Betty and determined then and there that they, too, would be willing to dedicate their lives to that same cause. Only eternity will tell how many people became missionaries, and how many souls were saved, after hearing the story of the Stams.
That is part of the answer, I’m sure. For the rest we will need to wait. And now it’s a good time to ask, Would you be willing to face death as they did? Would you be willing to give up every comfort? Would you be willing to trust God not just with your own life but with the life of your spouse? Your children? Would you make your last words gospel words, words that carry life even as you face death? Their on their knees on the cold ground in China, John and Betty were stronger than they had ever been. And God was glorified.
The night before they died John and Betty were being pulled along and someone asked, “Where are you going?” John’s response was “We do not know where they are going, but we are going to heaven.”
Let me close with a letter written by John’s father. He sent this to friends and acquaintances shortly after learning that his son and daughter-in-law had been killed.
Our dear children, John Stam and Elisabeth Scott Stam, have gone to be with the Lord. They loved him, they served him, and now they are with him. What could be more glorious? It is true, the manner in which they were sent out of this world was a shock to us all, but whatever of suffering they may have endured is now past, and they are both infinitely blessed with the joys of heaven.
As for those of us who have been left behind, we were once more reminded of our sacred vows by a telegram received from one of John’s schoolmates in the Midwest—”Remember, you gave John to God, not to China.” Our hearts, though bowed for a little while with sadness, answered “Amen!” It was our desire that he, as well as we, should 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 through this dreadful experience many souls shall be won for the Lord Jesus! 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!
We were honored by having sons and daughters minister for our Lord among the heathen, but we are more signally honored that two of them have won the martyr’s crown. We are sure that our dear brother and sister, Dr. and Mrs. Charles Scott, both join us in saying, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”