Betty Stam was born February 22, 1906, in Albion, Michigan in a pious Christian home. Her ancestors were Pilgrims who had come over on the “Mayflower.” Her father Charles E. Scott, had been awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree (D.D.) and was a professor who was later called to serve as pastor in Albion. Betty was the oldest; when she was born, her parents had been designated by the Presbyterian Church as missionaries to China, assigned to do preaching and theological education. They took their infant daughter with them to Qingdao, Shandong, as they began a ten-year career of service
Betty Scott grew up in China, where her two younger sisters and her two younger brothers were born and reared. Spending their childhood under the care and instruction of their parents in an environment of Christian faith, they grew physically, mentally, and spiritually. By their precept and example, the Scott parents laid a solid foundation of faith for their children. As they came to school age, each was sent to the school for foreign children at Tongzhou, Hebei.
In 1923, the Scotts returned to America on furlough; on the way home, they availed themselves of the opportunity to take their children on a tour of Egypt, Jerusalem, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, France, England and other places. Betty entered Wilson College, in Pennsylvania. She had a natural ability in literature, especially poetry. She was president of the literary society and editor of the literary magazine of the college. An excellent student, she evinced sincere Christian piety, and entered fully into the student volunteer missions movement. When she graduated, it was with a perfect scholastic record.
While in college, Betty already intended to return to China as a missionary. She once prayed to God: “If it is Your will, please allow me to return to China without any obstacle.” While she was attending the Keswick convention in England in 1925, the verse, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), entered into her heart, moving her deeply. Hence, immediately upon completing college, she enrolled in Moody Bible Institute in Chicago in order to prepare for missionary service. There was a prayer meeting in the home of the Rev. Isaac Page on the campus of Moody every Monday evening. Mr. Page had a doctoral degree in theology, and had served as a missionary in China with the China Inland Mission (CIM) for more than ten years. It was at that prayer meeting that she met a student one year behind her, John Stam, who shared her intention and commitment. The two became fast friends, and committed their future together to God in prayer. Not long afterward, her long-held heart’s desire was fulfilled when Betty joined the CIM, becoming one of the “Two Hundred.”
Betty Scott arrived in Shanghai on November 4, 1931. After completing the required six months of language study at the CIM language school for women, she was assigned to the mission station at Yingzhou (now Fuyang City) in Anhui. From September to November, she attended a retreat for missionaries at Wuhu, an evangelistic meeting at Taihe, and an annual conference for missionaries at Yingzhou. When she saw how many Chinese had come from all over to attend these meetings, and how many were baptized, her heart was filled with deep joy.
When Betty’s parents returned from furlough in America in the fall of 1932, they arranged to meet her in Shanghai (where the headquarters of the CIM were located). While there, she came down with tonsillitis, and had to remain for treatment. Her friend John Stam arrived in Shanghai just as she had recovered (October 12). At that time the CIM required missionaries to wait for one year after arrival in China before getting married, so they took advantage of his presence in Shanghai to become formally engaged.
Then she said goodbye to her fiancé and, together with Miss Katie H. Dodd, headed for work at the Yingshang mission station, south east of Yingzhou, under the supervision of Mr. and Mrs. Carl J. Glittenberg, who were in charge. They first stayed at Yingzhou for a while to get accustomed to the environment, then went by rickshaw to Yingshang. From her letters to her younger brother, we know that, all along the way, sanitary conditions were primitive, flies filled the air while they were eating, and rats prevented them from sleeping at night. When they arrived, however, and saw the church building filled with people from morning to night, and so many women and children eager to hear the Gospel from them, they were very excited. In letters to her fiancé, she expressed her zealous heart:
“John, since our arrival, crowds have thronged the chapel. The seats are filled in the chapel, the courtyard, and our home. Aside from women, students, and children, there are many young girls. Katie and I distribute tracts while keeping up our Chinese study, and the eloquent woman preacher attracts many people. According to my count, each group has about 50 or 60, and one group replaces another. We invite them to return for worship on the Lord’s Day. How I long to conduct a Bible study for the girls who have had some education, and to hold meetings with these women and children!”
Just as Betty was entering more and more into her role as a missionary, security in Anhui was deteriorating. On May 12, 1932, the Rev. Henry S. Ferguson was captured by the Red Army at Zhengyangguan (now Zhengyang), and his whereabouts were unknown. On November 11, Mrs. Glittenberg was taking her two-year old daughter Lois, who had come down with dysentery, in a car to Huaiyuan Hospital when she was intercepted and robbed by a band of soldiers. She was detained for two days, which caused her daughter’s condition to worsen so much that she died.
At 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon of December 11, a band of soldiers burst into and occupied the missionaries’ residence and girls’ school, intending to garrison themselves there. Mr. Glittenberg and the Chinese pastor of the church were away at the time. At the critical moment, Betty came boldly forward to dissuade them, but was unable to stop them. Mr. Ho, the preacher, found the soldiers’ commander and took up the matter with him. Thankfully, this officer was both reasonable and friendly, and ordered his troops to withdraw, thus heading off a disaster.
Her fiancé John passed his language exam on March 25, 1933 and was assigned to his mission station. In September, Betty traveled to her parents’ Presbyterian mission station at Jinan, Shandong, to prepare for the wedding. She and John Stam were married on October 25, with more than 200 missionaries in attendance, along with more than 140 Chinese Christians adding their heartfelt blessing. Afterward, they went to Qingdao, the place of Betty’s childhood, for a two-week honeymoon.
The new couple returned to Shucheng, Anhui, at the end of November to resume missionary work, and began also to prepare to move to Jingde. The mission station at Jingde had been opened in 1929; at this time, Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Warren were in charge, but were planning to leave for furlough in the summer of 1934, so they had invited John and Betty Stam to come and take over their work while they were gone. The Stams went to Jingde in February, 1934, to become acquainted with the situation and the area. Mr. Warren took them to the outlying mission stations, introducing them to the church leaders and believers. During the day, they would go to nearby villages to do evangelism; in the evenings, they would go out to lead meetings with Mr. Warren. The region was mountainous, and the inhabitants were poor. The Stams got a taste of the difficulty of the work, even as they rejoiced in the chance to share the Gospel.
As the time for moving to Jingde drew near, Betty was also about to give birth, so they stayed at Shucheng for a while. Helen Priscilla Stam was born on September 11, 1934, at the Wuhu hospital. Since Betty had had a caesarian section, she needed to convalesce for a few weeks, so it was not until the November that the Stams moved to Jingde with their newborn daughter. After the move, Betty was busy fixing up their new home and caring for Helen Priscilla, while John planning the work of the mission station and visiting the local believers. Besides, he had made an appointment with evangelist Lo, inviting him to Miaoshou on December 7 and talking about Lo’s moving to Miaoshou. When things had settled down a bit, John managed to pay a visit to Mr. Peng, the county chief, who assured them of their safety.
Unexpectedly, on the morning of December 6, after Betty had gotten up, and as she was giving little Helen Priscilla her bath, the sound of gunfire broke out. Soon after, soldiers from the Red Army rushed into the city. Chinese Christians reported that the Red Army troops had surrounded the city, and were searching from house to house; the streets were chaotic. Betty quickly wrapped her baby in thick clothing and sowed two five-dollar notes into her coat as provision for food for her child, just as a precaution. Then John led the family and servants to kneel down in a prayer of reliance upon God. Just at the moment, the Red Army soldiers entered the room. The Stams treated them courteously, and gave them all their belongings, but the soldiers still wanted to take them and their baby with them. When a servant tried to go with them, a soldier interposed with a rifle.
When they arrived at headquarters, they were ordered to write a letter to the CIM headquarters in Shanghai. The entire document follows:
To our dear brothers in Shanghai:
Today at Jingde, my wife, child, and I fell into the hands of the Communists. They demand a ransom of twenty thousand dollars for our release.
They have already taken all our possession, but our hearts are at peace, and we are thankful to the Lord for the small meal we were given tonight. May God grant you wisdom to know how to handle this, and may He grant us courage and peace. Nothing is impossible to Him; even at this time, He is our marvelous Friend.
Things happened all too quickly this morning.Many rumors in the past days have become reality at last. Nevertheless, the Red Army took the city in only two or three hours. There was really no time to prepare; it was already too late.
May God bless and lead you. As for us, whether by life or by death, may God be glorified.
Yours in the Lord, John Stam
December 6, 1934. Jingde, Anhui
Early in the morning on December 7, Red Army troops, escorting a large number of prisoners and much plunder, marched towards Miaoshou. John was carrying Helen Priscilla in his arms, while Betty had a horse on which to ride. Upon arrival in Miaoshou, they were confined by themselves in the Post Office building. The postmaster had met John briefly once before. When he saw their plight, he brought some fruit for them to eat. John availed himself of this opportunity to dash off a short letter and asked the postmaster to forward. When the postmaster saw Luo the evangelist three days later, he passed the note to him.
On the evening of that day, the soldiers took them to a big residence and locked them in a room. They allowed Better and her baby to sleep on a bed, but John was tied to the foot of the bed and had to stand, with a sentry keeping watch; they endured this treatment all night long. The next morning, a squad rushed into the room and roughly pushed them out the door. They were led to a small mountainous area outside the town. Lining the way on either side, all they saw was a vast crowd, cruelly mocking them, continuously roaring abuse at them. John and Betty, however, possessed deep inner peace, their faces wearing a smile, as if they were following in the footsteps of Jesus, walking step-by-step up Eagle Hill. At the summit, they were forced to kneel down and stretch out their necks, and were slaughtered thus together as martyrs of Christ. John was 27, Betty 28 years old.
As they were being taken out to their deaths, two-month-old Helen Priscilla was left on the bed. 36 hours later, in the providence of God, she was discovered and rescued.
Originally, after they had been in Jingde for a while, Rev. Stam asked Evangelist C. K. Lo to come to Miaoshou on December 7 and then join in evangelistic work together. On the evening of December 6, Mr. Lo arrived at Miaoshou with his family and lodged in the home of Mrs. Wang, a believer, unaware of what had happened earlier that day. On the next day, Red Army troops suddenly occupied Miaoshou in a surprise attack; Mr. Lo was among those captured. Thankfully, Mr. Chang Hsiu-sheng, a local resident, knew him and testified that he was a good man, so Lo was released. That night, he and his family fled, and spent all day Saturday hiding on a nearby mountain.
On Sunday afternoon, after the withdrawal of Red Army soldiers, Mr. Lo returned with his family to Miaoshou; only then did they learn what had happened to the Stams.
Immediately, they asked about Helen Priscilla’s whereabouts, but everyone kept their mouths shut out of fear. After several setbacks, they finally found the large room in which they had been held captive. After seeing the disordered condition of the place, both inside and out, and entering the room, they heard the very weak crying of a baby. Following the sound, they discovered little Helen Priscilla lying on the bed.
Inside her hooded Western-style two-piece suit they found several diapers, and two five-dollar notes fastened with a safety pin inside her coat. There was some milk powder left beside the bed, along with some sugar and a few cookies. Mr. Lo quickly picked her up and ran to Mrs. Wang’s house, where he gave the baby into the care of his wife. Then he raced with Mrs. Wang’s son outside the village to the mountain where the Stams had been killed, and found the bodies. Mrs. Wang and her son obtained coffins and then with Mr. Lo wrapped the bodies in white cloth and placed them into the coffins. With a number of villagers standing around looking on, the coffins were shut, Mr. Lo said a prayer, and then addressed the crowd:
“You have witnessed what took place here today, and feel pity for what has happened to our friends. You should know, however, that they are children of God, and their souls are already at rest in the bosom of their heavenly Father. It was for you that they came to China and to Miaoshou, in order to tell you about God’s great love and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that you might believe in Jesus and gain eternal life. You have already heard the message they preached, and have seen their sacrifice, which is certain evidence [of their love]. Do not forget what they said: that you must repent and believe the Gospel!”
After administering a very basic funeral for the Stams, Mr. Lo and his family immediately took Helen Priscilla northwards. They used a shoulder pole to carry two large baby baskets - one for Helen and one for the Lo’s own two-year-old son - as they hurried along through Jing County toward Xuancheng, searching along the way for a young, healthy wet-nurse for Helen Priscilla. Mrs. Lo also used the ten dollars that her mother left to purchase milk powder for her. After they arrived in Xuancheng on December 14, George A. Birch at once took a train with them to Wuhu, where they handed over the little girl, as well as the letter that John had passed to the postmaster, to the Rev. William Hanna, the Superintendent of the CIM in Anhui. The contents of that last message moved them deeply:
“Dear beloved CIM brethren in Shanghai:
Yesterday, some Communist soldiers, passing through Jingde, captured us and brought us to this place. I requested that they allow my wife and child to bring a letter from Jingde to you there, but they were not willing, so today we came together to Miaoshou; they allowed my wife to ride a horse part of the way.
They demand twenty thousand dollars for our release. We told them plainly that no one would pay this ransom, so they took from us money we had on hand for disaster relief, the cash we were carrying, and all of our belongings.
May God give you wisdom in all that you do, and support us by his grace, that we may be able to stand firm with indomitable courage. He is almighty God!
Yours in the Lord, John Stam
Miaoshou, December 7, 1934.”
From this letter, we clearly see John Stam’s steadfast faithfulness and trust in God, as well as his steady and composed attitude in the face of danger and even death. The Rev. William Hanna, deeply grieved, hurriedly found Dr. Robert Brown at the Methodist Episcopal hospital, who examined Helen Priscilla carefully. When they realized that she was all right, they finally felt relieved of a heavy burden, and dubbed her “the Miracle Baby.” Dr. Brown then turned her over to Miss Laura M. Woolsey, a nurse, to nourish and care for her, and then to take her to Jinan, Shandong, where she was given to her maternal grandparents to bring up as their own.
Betty’s parents were in Jinan at the time. As soon as they learned of the capture of their daughter and son-in-law from a telegraph from CIM headquarters in Shanghai, they wrote a letter to John’s parents in America:
“If it is God’s will for them to remain alive on this earth, please pray earnestly for their release John and Betty love the Lord Jesus; they cherish in their souls a love for others and a heart to lead others to Christ; they are radiant with zeal to use every moment to preach the Gospel; they are filled with a heavenly hope. Therefore, if they are to endure brutal torture or suffer any other harm, they will absolutely not deny the Lord; they are elite soldiers of Christ.”
Not long afterwards, when they had heard the news of the Stams’ martyrdom, Mr. Scott, filled with faith, said,
“They most certainly did not die in vain. ‘The blood of the martyrs’ is still ‘the seed of the church.’ Because of their consecration to the Lord, it seems that I have heard the voice of our beloved child even now praising the Lord in the presence of our heavenly Father, that they had been counted worthy to suffer for the sake of his name.”
In his reply to the telegraph from CIM, John’s father also expressed his consolation:
“Though it seems like a great sacrifice, it still does not compare with the grace bestowed upon us by the God’s gift of His own son for us. We firmly believe the words of Romans 8:28, ‘We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are the called according to his purpose.’ What could compare with this glory? Our beloved children, John and Betty have already gone to be with the Lord. They loved Him, served Him, and now they are finally with him!”
Both Chinese and foreigners were shocked by this tragedy. The governor of Anhui Province issued an order for the Stams to be re-buried. An army truck escorted by officers and men took the bodies in their coffins to Wuhu for a solemn memorial service and burial on January 2, 1935. The Wuhu hospital was crowded with Chinese and foreigners, including representatives from the government, the American consul and other consular representatives, along with Chinese and foreign Christian leaders. After the memorial service, they were interred in the cemetery for foreigners in Wuhu. Thus, John and Betty Stam became the 73rd and 74th martyrs of the China Inland Mission.
The sign of the cross was inscribed on their tombstone, and under which were the words:
December 8, 1934. Miaoshou, Anhui.
To the left of the cross, “John Cornelius Stam, January 18, 1907. ‘May Christ be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death’” (Philippians 1:20).
On the right of the cross were the words: “Elisabeth Scott Stam, his wife. February 22, 1906. ‘For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain’ ”(Philippians 1:21).
On the foundation stone was written, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
The Bible says, “Unless a Kernel of Wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24). After the news of their death was announced, telegrams and letters from China and overseas flooded the China Inland Mission headquarters in Shanghai. A few excerpts follow below:
“If we can serve God more effectively by death than by life, we are willing.”
“We devoutly pray that what has happened will result in the salvation of souls and the glory of God. If more souls may turn to the Lord, or more young people be moved to offer themselves for lifetime service of the Lord, then we too are more than willing to share this same experience of suffering.”
“What an honor for our children to be working for the Lord among lost souls! Among such a company, for these two young people to have gained the martyrs’ crown is even more glorious!”
The death of the Stams shook the Christian world in Europe and North American. Aside from the flood of letters of condolence and monetary contributions, many people donated money and other gifts to Helen Priscilla, and a number of Christian families expressed a willingness to adopt her as their own child. Even more striking was the increase in numbers of people offering themselves for missionary service in China. At Moody Bible Institute 700, and at Wilson College 200 students consecrated themselves to God’s service, vowing to be faithful unto death.
A young Christian in England, after reading The Triumph of John and Betty Stam, by Mrs. Howard Taylor’s wrote,
“I am sure that no one can read this book without being deeply moved, for it is just like another chapter in the book of Acts!... In the annals of missionary service, perhaps none can compare with this pair. After the briefest life as a married couple, they were called to pay the highest price! I deeply believe that widespread dissemination of the fragrance of this book is a heaven-sent blessing from our Lord.”
A letter sent from Qingdao in Shandong expressed the grief, remorse, and profound respect of a Chinese person:
“As for this inhuman, cold-blooded murder, all of us Chinese are distressed by such a calamity. These two people came to China to bring the Gospel to us, but were cruelly murdered; this lays upon us Chinese a great debt to your family. We wish to express our deepest respect to them for their willing and courageous offer of their lives.”
In Yingzhou city, all who knew the Stams were greatly distressed by their death, especially the believers at the mission station in Shucheng. Hearing the news, they knelt down as a group, repenting of their lukewarm service toward God, and their resolve to imitate the martyrs’ example, live sacrificially, and preach the Gospel.
As of 2002, it is reported that Helen Priscilla was still alive, but for various reasons would not accept any interviews, so little is known of her life. We do know that many who care for her do not cease to pray. From an article written by church historian Chen Yi-ping, “To Helen” we gain some sense [of her condition]. Regardless, Ms. Chen’s words represent the feelings of many Chinese Christians:
“We know that you wish to remain unknown and obscure. You have refused all requests for interviews, and will not read letters sent by those who cared for your parents In all this, we beseech you to forgive us Chinese people, who are in debt to you for the blood of your parents, your lonely childhood and adult life (for who could know of your inner world, or how you felt that night when you lay in your swaddling clothes in Miaoshou, with no one aware of what you were going through). We even owe you a gospel debt, if you have stumbled and fallen in your faith Please accept our heartfelt apology, and please believe that your parents’ blood was not shed in vain, for from the hard, blood-stained ground of China has sprouted fields of lovely flowers - the souls of many who have been saved.”