John & Betty Stam

It was at the beginning of the third century that Tertullian of Carthage said that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. Certainly this truth has been seen in the life and death of my great aunt and uncle, John and Betty Stam.

They were young missionaries serving with the China Inland Mission in the early 1930's. Scarcely one year after their marriage in China, they found themselves caught up in the advance of the Communists into the town where they were living. They were captured, held for an exorbitant ransom, marched through the streets of the village, and they were beheaded.

Betty Scott had been raised in China. She was the daughter of a Presbyterian missionary couple. Perhaps her childhood faith, her utter dependence on God, and her preparation for giving her life for the gospel can best be witnessed in the words of her own poetry.

At age ten she wrote:

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.

As a young woman of eighteen, she wrote this, a poem which Elizabeth Elliot learned as a 12-year-old and copied into her Bible:

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.

This young woman was ready to worship her Lord in life or in death.

John Stam had grown up in large Dutch Reformed family in Paterson, New Jersey. His father, my great grandfather, came to faith Christ after a woman had given him a Bible written in both English and in Dutch. He read it with the purpose of learning a language. God's purpose was to bring him to the knowledge of and faith in a loving Savior.

Here we have a 1908 family portrait. We see John as one-year-old and the Stam family motto above their heads in Dutch, "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us."

And here he is in 1917 as a ten-years-old boy. My grandfather Jacob is on the back row, second from the right. Sister Clazina, the older sister sitting next to her father, lived until age 103. The birthday cards I got from her always ended with "Heaps of love and daily prayer! Love, Aunt Nita."

John and Betty Stam's gravestone in China properly proclaims the grand purpose of their calling:

John Cornelius Stam
18 January, 1907
"That Christ may be magnified whether
by life or by death." Phil. 1:20

Elizabeth Scott Stam
His Wife
22 February 1906
"For me to live is Christ
and to die is gain." Phil. 1:21

8 Dec. 1934, Miao Sheo, Anhwei
"Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of live." Rev. 2:10

Several years after their death, hymnwriter Will Houghton, wrote a song text in their memory: "By Life, or By Death."

Donald Hustad recalls that it was most often sung as a solo at missions conferences and times when Christians were being challenged to whole-hearted surrender to the Lord in Christian ministry. In just a moment, we will sing a newly-altered version to a familiar tune.

Thanks to the providence of God and the courage of the Chinese Christians, their baby daughter was smuggled to safety and raised in the home of her loving grandparents.

The last letter from John was written the day before their death and was found hidden in the clothing and blankets of little Helen Priscilla.

Tsingteh, An.
Dec. 6, 1934

China Inland Mission, Shanghai

Dear Brethren,

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-persistent 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.

In Him,
John C. Stam

Indeed, these young followers of Jesus had prayed that the Lord would be honored in their living and in their dying.

The blood of martyrs had become the seed for a renewed energy in foreign missions. John's alma mater, Moody Bible Institute, experienced a remarkable growth in missionary zeal. When my parents were students at Wheaton College in the early 1940's, they had hundreds of classmates, including many of my Stam relatives, who were preparing for foreign missionary service, at least in part, because of how God had used the witness and courageous faith of John and Betty Stam.

I count myself blessed to have grown up with this strong missionary heritage. My mother, 77 years old and going strong, has never been to China but "goes to China" every Friday night as she teaches English to the families of Chinese graduate students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At present, if you were to ask my 9th grade daughter Clara what she hopes to do after college, she would say that she plans to be a Christian missionary in China.

May God be praised in our living and in our dying. Amen!

John and Betty Stam
Correspondence from China (1931-34)

Family correspondence and missionary newsletters (China Inland Mission), mostly from John Stam to his Paterson, New Jersey, family.

These documents are found in the missionary archives of the Billy Graham Center on the campus of Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. They were scanned (jpg files) on March 1, 2010. Some of the files contain more than one letter, but the date goes with the earliest one on the file. If you have original letters, pictures, or publications about John and Betty Stam's life and ministry in China, please consider contacting the archives at


Letter Dated September 23, 1931
Letter Dated September 27, 1932
Letter Dated October 13, 1932
Letter Dated October 19, 1932
Letter Dated October 26, 1932
Letter Dated November 5, 1932
Letter Dated November 19, 1932
Letter Dated December 2, 1932
Letter Dated December 24, 1932

Letter Dated January 7, 1933
Letter Dated January 21, 1933
Letter Dated February 4, 1933
Letter Dated February 25, 1933
Letter Dated March 25, 1933
Letter Dated March 29, 1933
Letter Dated April 8, 1933
Letter Dated May 15, 1933
Letter Dated May 31, 1933
Letter Dated June 26, 1933
Letter Dated July 29, 1933
Letter Dated October 15, 1933
Letter Dated September 9, 1933
Letter Dated December 9, 1933

Letter Dated February 16, 1934
Letter Dated March 20, 1934
Letter Dated March 23, 1934
Letter Dated May 8, 1934
Letter Dated July 28, 1934
Letter Dated September 13, 1934
Letter Dated October 22, 1934
Letter Dated November 9, 1934
Letter Dated December 6, 1934
Letter Dated December 15, 1934
Letter Dated December 20, 1934
Letter Dated December 26, 1934