JOHN AND BETTY STAM
The year, 1934. The place, a remote area in inland China.
The circumstances, a young couple, both still in their 20s, are bound
and led to Miaoshou, a small town located a few miles from their home in the village of Jingde, where they had been assigned a ministry. After removing their outer clothing, they had
been forced to make this march in order that they might be mocked by the people
as they were led to an execution hill outside the village that was referred to
as Eagle Hill. Here their Communist
captors first allowed them to stand together, still bound with their hands
behind their backs, and then kneel. First John and then Betty was beheaded with a
The news of this martyrdom spread
across the Christian world with unusual rapidity for that period of time. I can very well remember hearing, as a
13-year-old lad, this shocking news of the martyrdom of two choice young people
whose single purpose in life was to take the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ to
those in China who had never heard.
John Stam was of Dutch ancestry. His father, Peter Stam, had as a young man immigrated
from Holland, where he (like his father and grandfather) had been involved in running
an inn with the selling of liquor and allowing gambling and other evil things
to take place in their shop. John's
father, upon coming to the United States, desired to learn as quickly as
possible the culture and language of this "Home of the Free." On one occasion he was handed a copy of the
New Testament in both English and Dutch.
He studied this diligently, not for its spiritual content but as an aid
to learning the English tongue. But the
Word of God spoke to his heart, and he was born again into the kingdom of the
Lord Jesus Christ. Prior to this
salvation experience, he met a young lady of similar background who was at the
time of their meeting a dedicated Christian.
She would not marry Peter until he had made confession of sin and was
serving the Lord. The Scriptures did
convict of sin, and he accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of his life.
Peter Stam was a hardworking man and
soon had his own business of contracting, but his main vision and calling was
that of evangelism. He founded the Star
of Hope Rescue Home in Paterson, New Jersey.
It was into this very godly home that
John Stam was born and grew to maturity.
At age 15 he accepted the Lord through the ministry of a blind
evangelist who was holding meetings at the Star of Hope Rescue Home. Although John was involved in the activities
of the rescue mission at an early age, he was very hesitant to stand before
people and publicly preach. As time went
on, he became more and more involved.
John's wife Betty was the daughter of
missionary parents in China and was brought up with the Oriental
language and culture. She returned to
the States and was enrolled in Wilson College in Pennsylvania, from which she graduated. Knowing that she needed more preparation for
the mission field, she then went to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
A year later young John Stam, likewise sensing the need of further
education and feeling a strong call to missions in China, enrolled at Moody Bible
Institute. It was there these two young
people met and fell in love. Betty
graduated a year before John and proceeded on to China.
Until John was able to arrive in China, their courtship was by
They were united in marriage in
October of 1933, having already spent time in language school. John learned the language very quickly. Betty, of course, already knew Chinese since
she had grown up in China.
The couple was assigned to several different ministries for a brief
period of time and then finally given a station of their own in the small village of Jingde (Ching-te).
It was known that there was Communist
activity not too far away, but both the mission authorities and the local
magistrate of the town felt that there was no danger and seemed happy to welcome this young couple to whom by
this time their first child, Helen Priscilla, had been born.
They arrived in the village in late
November, and it was only approximately two weeks later that early one morning
there was a pounding on their door. The
lock was broken, and Red soldiers marched into their courtyard. Without fear, John welcomed them and brought
them into their home. Betty quickly
prepared tea and biscuits (cookies) and served these officers. The Stams were then bound and carried away
and detained overnight in a local prison.
The next day the Communists marched John and Betty (still bound-although
Betty was permitted to minister to the baby) to the nearby village of Miaoshou, where they were placed in a rich
man's home that was being used as a prison.
A criminal, whom the Reds had just
released from prison, overheard the Communist soldiers saying they were going
to kill the child. They didn't want to
be bothered with the care of an infant.
He pleaded that this three-month-old child might be spared, saying that
the baby had done nothing worthy of death.
The angry retort of the Red soldiers was, "Then it's your life for
hers." He, the prisoner who had just
been released, said, "I am willing." He
was killed on the spot, sparing the life of the infant.
On the 8th
of December 1934, John and Betty were led out of town to a small hill known as Eagle
Hill, where they were to be executed.
There were a few Christians in the village-the fruit of previous
missionary endeavor. One man, a seller
of medicine, knelt and pled for the release of these prisoners but was rebuffed
by the Communists, who later searched his house and found a Bible and a
hymnbook, confirming to them that he was a believer; and he was hacked to
That fateful morning, John and Betty
stood bound side-by-side. According to
one biographer, they apparently had exchanged a few words and then were ordered
to kneel. With a flash, a sword severed
completely the head of John Stam, and he fell dead to the ground. Betty fell over him. The sword flashed the second time, and
Betty's head was severed. The two died
together, bravely giving testimony to their faith in Christ and the sure hope
of eternal life.
Afraid? Of What?
To feel the spirit's glad release?
To pass from pain to perfect peace,
The strife and strain of life to
Afraid? Of What?
Afraid to see the Saviour's face,
To hear His welcome, and to trace
The glory gleam from wounds of grace/
Afraid? Of What?
A flash, a crash, a pierced heart'
Darkness, light, O Heaven's art!
A wound of His counterpart!
Afraid? Of What?
To do by death what life could not-
Baptize with blood a stony plot,
Till souls shall blossom from that
But what of little Helen
Priscilla? She had been left at a home
in the village, wrapped up in her blankets against the cold of that area. Twenty-four hours later a national pastor,
Evangelist Lo, came and learned of what had transpired the previous day. There on Eagle Hill still lay the bodies of
John and Betty Stam. He took charge and
was able to give them a Christian burial.
It is interesting to know that he sewed their heads back onto their
bodies so that they would look more natural and placed them in two coffins. They were buried in a Christian cemetery there
in the province at a place called Wuhu.
Evangelist Lo then inquired about the infant; and an old woman whispered
to him, pointing to the house where the baby was. The child had been without food or drink for
36 hours, yet seemed none the worse for the prolonged fast. Evangelist Lo, who was accompanied by his
wife, gave Helen Priscilla to her.
Fearful that they might encounter rebel forces, the pastor and his wife,
with little Helen in a basket carried over a bamboo pole, made a 100-mile trek
to a mission hospital. Along the way
they procured wet nurses to feed Helen and, at one place, were able to buy some
powdered formula. It was again through the
providence of God that Mrs. Lo had had experience in a mission hospital and
knew how to care for the missionary infant.
Helen Priscilla was examined by a
doctor at the mission hospital and pronounced in perfect health. Betty, in anticipation, had wrapped little
Helen in her sleeping bag, where she also had placed a change of clean clothing
and some diapers. Two five-dollar bills were
also found pinned inside her sleeping bag, obviously intended for emergency
care for their child. Helen Priscilla
was then taken to the home of her grandparents (Betty's parents), Dr. and Mrs.
Scott, where she lived for five years. She
was later moved to the United States for her college education. To avoid the publicity brought about by her
family's experience and to obtain anonymity, she took the last name of her
"Spikenard, very precious"
In Simon's house, in Bethany, the Master sat at meat:
Purity and strength and pity shone
upon His wondrous face,
And the hearts of all were burning at
His words of heavenly grace-
When a woman came and poured her
precious ointment on His feet.
Fragrance as of eastern gardens
lingered sweetly in the air;
And the box that held the perfume,
Shattered lay upon the floor, a
rainbow curving in each bit-
As a woman, kneeling, weeping, wiped
His feet upon her hair.
Then to disapproving murmurs the
assembled guests gave vent:
For the world cannot endure the
"wasting" of a precious thing,
When it is a gift of utter
consecration to the King-
But a woman, loving greatly, kissed
His feet and found content.
One would ask the question: What is the result or fruit experienced from
this martyrdom? Seven years after that
execution on Eagle Hill, the first baptism in Jingde was held in March
1941. Five were baptized by a national
pastor in the little preaching chapel. News
of the death of John and Betty Stam, as it was carried around the world, challenged
hundreds of young people to commit their lives to foreign missions. When John was graduating from Moody Bible
Institute in 1932, he was chosen by his class to give a speech and said the
Shall we beat a retreat and turn back
from our high calling in Christ Jesus or dare we advance at God's command in
the face of the impossible? Let us
remind ourselves that the Great Commission was never qualified by clauses
calling for advance only if funds were plentiful and no hardship or self-denial
was involved. On the contrary, we are
told to expect tribulation and even persecution, but with it victory in Christ.
Their ministry, in a sense, was
likened unto that of Christ. It was only
three years that they served in China and then died, as did Christ, on a
hill. But much fruit has been realized
as the result of their sacrificial giving of themselves in service and in death
for the cause of Christ.
It was said "What a strange but
glorious experience was theirs to be decapitated here and crowned
there in the same moment." Are we,
here present today, willing to live and die for our wonderful Savior?