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 sharp sword.
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 correspondence.
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 pieces.
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 cease?
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 spot?
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 uncle.
"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, alabaster, exquisite,
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 following:
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?