The names John and Betty Stam may be as unfamiliar to some as they were to the writer of this article. But grab a copy of The Triumph of John and Betty Stam and let that writer, Mrs. Howard Taylor, take you back to the time when their names were front-page news around the world. Published in the mid 1930s, just months after the martyrdom of the young missionary couple, this book relays “a simple narration of facts” with a freshness and sensitivity regarding the events of their triumphant lives and tragic deaths.
The personal history recorded of both John and Betty is interesting on its own. Those in our generation active in ESL outreach would be encouraged to read of Mr. Stam’s (John’s father) compelling conversion resultant in part from being handed a bilingual Bible. “Keen to learn English, he studied it eagerly; it was just what he needed. But before long he forgot his quest for English in the far deeper quest for salvation.” In his words, “The Book told me that I was a sinner. Of course, my proud nature rebelled. It told me I was lost. I tried not to believe it.” John’s conversion story of gospel preaching, the conviction of sin, and the reality of hell would also connect with many today. The author enjoyably traces the Lord’s leading in John and Betty’s lives from adolescents through Bible school and onto the mission field and marriage in China. One can almost hear father Stam bursting with joy as he exclaims, “Those children are going to have God’s choicest blessing! When God is second, you will get second best; but when God is really first, you have His best.”
The quotes found often throughout the book, and the numerous gleanings from both John and Betty’s writings, uniquely relay an intimate perspective of their lives. Gazing upon his hometown city of Paterson, New Jersey from Garret Mountain, John said, “There are scores of cities in China, as large as this one, in which they do not have the gospel.” One appreciates the heavy burden he felt for souls, especially in China. He said in a letter to his father, “A million a month pass into Christless graves over there.”
One can only be impressed by the spiritual interest apparent in the poems of young Betty. Though John and Betty never reached thirty years of age, their level of commitment to our Lord and His gospel has only been matched by those who likewise have given all, even life, for His blessed name. But they expected persecution. John himself, when asked to speak at his graduation from Moody Bible Institute, raised this very point. “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.” His whole address is one of the most challenging sections of the book. His observations and comments on the age and Christian living would lead a reader to wonder if it were just written yesterday. The author adds, “It is good to remember that this was no veteran speaking, but a young man moved by the constraining love of Christ, and one ready to seal his testimony with his blood. How our hearts should be stirred by the appeal of the young leaders God is giving us, here and in other lands, the hope and glory of our fast-closing age!”
In the closing chapters, the author delicately and with great respect recounts the events of their martyrdom, the urgent race of the locals to save their infant daughter, and the impact their experience has had on a generation. But that was their generation. What about this generation? What impact could the account of the life and death of a couple committed to their Lord have on this generation? Being dead, yet speaking.
Read or recommend the book, and perhaps like the present writer, another generation will be left with eternal impressions. As is etched on John Cornelius Stam’s tombstone, “that Christ may be glorified whether by life or by death.”