It was a dreary December day in the city of Tsingteh when John and Betty heard a rumor that Communist soldiers were drawing near to the city. The Communists were battling for control of the country and, of course, hated Christians or anyone else who would bring Western influence to their country. At the time the missionaries were not concerned; since they had moved to the city, just two weeks ago, rumors had been circulating but nothing had happened. They had been assured that government forces had come into their province to fight against the Communists. An hour later a man came running down the street shouting that the Communists were only a couple of miles away and would be upon the city in no time. Now the danger was clear. John and Betty grabbed a few supplies but they couldn’t find a way out of the city. Before they were able to flee, the soldiers surrounded the city, climbed the walls and opened the gates. There was no way to escape.
Very close to the city gate was the missionary home and it did not take long before the soldiers came upon it. The soldiers barged in and demanded to know the names of the people there; they demanded to know where they were from. Obviously two Americans would stand out in a small Chinese city. They took all the medicine they could find, all the money, all the valuables. John and Betty responded by brewing up some tea and serving each of the soldiers cake. But soon they were hauled off and put in the small local prison. They were told that they would be released only for a ransom of twenty thousand dollars. Read this letter that John wrote from prison—he wrote it to China Inland Mission, the missions organization that had posted them to China.
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 a.m. They were in the city just a few hours after the ever-present rumors 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 by death.
Here is a man captured by ruthless bandits, in prison with his wife and baby daughter. And his concern is not for life or for death, but only for the glory of God.
We’ll return to this most important day. But first let’s go back to the beginning.
John Stam was born in January of 1907. His father grew up in Holland but had moved to the United States as a young man. When he arrived there a clever Christian woman gave him a Bible and said, “Read this! It will help you learn English.” It taught him English, but it also taught him about the love of God. He got to John 3:16, read of God’s love for the world and said, “If God loves the world, that must mean he loves me!” And as he read that passage he prayed and asked God to forgive him. It transformed his life. Though he always held down other jobs, he also evangelized, even creating a mission hall where several days a week he would preach the gospel. Hundreds of people came to Christ through this work.
This was the kind of man John Stam had for a father. And yet John did not become a Christian as a young boy. It was only when he was 15 that he came to understand sin and he came to feel the burden of his own sin. He suddenly knew that he was a sinful person and that God would have to judge him for that sin. One day, sitting at his desk in school, he quietly prayed for the Lord to save him. And he did! Soon he came to do mission work with his father and he found that he loved to share the gospel. When he was 22 he began to do mission work full time and then decided to get some formal training. He went off to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago to train to be a missionary.
Just one year before that Elisabeth Scott, who called herself Betty, had begun studying at Moody. She was almost a year older than John—she was born in February of 1906. She also came from a Christian home. Her father Charles was a brilliant scholar who studied under B.B. Warfield and earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Princeton. Though he could have taught at many different seminaries, God had called him to preach the gospel. After spending a few years serving small churches in Michigan, he and his family sailed to China, to Shantung, where Charles evangelized and taught Bible classes. So Betty grew up in China and she became a Christian when she was very young. Here is a poem she wrote when she was just ten:
I cannot live like Jesus
Example though He be
For He was strong and selfless
And I am tied to me.
I cannot live like Jesus
My soul is never free
My will is strong and stubborn
My love is weak and wee.
But I have asked my Jesus
To live His life in me.
I cannot look like Jesus
More beautiful is He
In soul and eye and stature
Than sunrise on the sea.
Behold His warm, His tangible
His dear humanity.
Behold His white perfection
Of purest deity.
Yet Jesus Christ has promised
That we like Him shall be.
In that poem she proclaims that she is a sinner, that she loves herself far too much, that she needs a Savior. But she also proclaims that she loves Jesus, that she wants him to live in her. That’s big stuff for a ten-year old!
Though Betty was a Christian, it wasn’t until she was 18 that she attended a conference in New Jersey and something there changed her life. It was there that she completely consecrated her life to the Lord’s service. She wrote to her parents and said, “I don’t know what God has in store for me. I really am willing to be an old-maid missionary, or an old-maid anything else, all my life, if God wants me to. 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.”
Here is a poem she wrote write about that time. This is a poem Elizabeth Elliot loved and copied into her own Bible when she was just a little girl. It is a poem that takes on real significance as we continue to learn about Betty’s life.
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.
So now we’ve got these two godly young people at Moody Bible Institute together, both training to be missionaries. Both were great students and both were leaders to their peers. Both of them were well-loved. At that time the China Inland Mission, that organization started by Hudson Taylor, had representatives nearby and they would have meetings for the students, to share what the organization was doing. And it was at these meetings that John and Betty first met. Over the next couple of years their relationship grew; they loved one another but were hesitant to make plans or to rush into anything. At the very least they knew that they would have a year apart—Betty would graduate one year before John and would head to China immediately. John would have to catch up a year later.
And that is exactly what happened. In the fall of 1931 Betty headed to China. John stayed back at Moody and finished up his schooling. He was chosen as valedictorian and his address to the other graduates is really amazing for how mature it is. He was a young man, but one who knew the Bible and who knew the Lord.
He talked about all of the challenges facing the gospel at the time and here is how his address ended: “People of God, does it not thrill our hearts today to realize that we do not answer such a challenge in our own strength? Think of it! God Himself is with us as our Captain; the Lord of Hosts is present in person in every field of conflict to encourage us and to fight for us. With such a Captain, who never lost a battle, or deserted a soldier in distress, or failed to get through the needed supplies… Who would not accept the challenge to ‘Go forward, bearing precious seed.’”
Finally in 1932, John set sail for China as well. A few weeks earlier he had written to Betty to ask if she would marry him, but she never received the letter. They were in an awkward spot—both wanted to serve the Lord, both wanted to be committed to a life of service, so they did not want another person to hinder their ministry. Yet John had asked Betty to marry him and she hadn’t gotten the letter yet. They were in a strange kind of limbo.
But God worked things out. John landed in Shanghai and found, to his surprise, that Betty happened to be in the city, even though she had been posted to another city hundreds of miles away. In God’s timing, she had had an infection of her tonsils and had to come to the city to be treated. John found out and rushed to her. As soon as they got together they both knew that they loved one another and agreed to be married. The problem was that China Inland Missions required a one-year waiting period before a new missionary could marry. And so they would have to get through one more year apart. Betty soon headed back to her post and John went to his.
His first challenge was to learn the language. And it’s a tough one to learn. He spent almost a year studying the language before he was able to preach in Chinese. As soon as he could do that, he was sent on iterations, which is where he would travel for a few days or weeks, walking hundreds of miles, giving out tracts, selling Bibles and preaching the gospel.
Betty served in Fowyang, an area where the church had been heavily persecuted. A few years prior all the missionaries had been chased out of the province and, several years later, when they could finally return, they expected to find that the church had been wiped out. But they returned to find a thriving church, one of which had 250 people worshiping together. There was a spirit of revival in the area and Betty spent her time preaching especially to women and children, traveling from one village to the next.
But finally that year was up and John and Betty could get married. They did that in October of 1933. He sent his family a letter during his honeymoon and you can just sense his joy in all God had done for him.
This letter finds us at Tsingtao—a young married couple. Oh, the Lord has been so good in all the arrangements that we have just be praising Him all along the way. We’re just having a most blessed time together. I’ve such a lot of things to tell you that I’m going to see if I can lay my hands on some typewriter around here before the Lord’s blessings pile up so high that I shall forget a good many of them. Truly our God seems to go out of His way to make His children happy.
As soon as that honeymoon was over, they got to work together. They continued to travel through the province ministering from town to town. Sometimes John went alone but usually he and Betty went together. They visited Christians, encouraging them. And they met with unbelievers, preaching the gospel to them. They met people who would walk 20 miles to get to the closest church—20 miles there and 20 miles back just to hear the Word of God and to spend time with other Christians. They met people who had simply been handed a New Testament and, by reading it, had come to faith; now they just waited for the missionaries to come and to teach them more about this Lord they loved but only barely knew. Along the way they realized that Betty was pregnant and in September of 1934 she gave birth to a very healthy little girl that they named Helen.