The Martyrdom of John and Betty Stam

The following is a transcription of a letter written by Frank H. Connely, missionary with the North China Mission, S.B.C., that he wrote to friends from Jining, Shandong, China, on Feb. 15, 1935, after having met Helen Priscilla Stam with her grandparents, Dr. & Mrs. Scott. Connely’s nephew, Stockwell, also an orphan, was a distant cousin to Mrs. Scott. In this letter, Connely recounts the martyrdom of the Stams as related to him by the Scotts. John and Betty Stam were put to death by Chinese Communists on December 8, 1934.

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Dear Friends:-

A few days ago I had one of the most inspiring visits it has been my privilege to make in a long time. I went to Tsinan [Jinan], the capital of our Province, to assist in the ordination of two new pastors for our work in that section, and while there wen to call upon Dr. & Mrs. Scott. She is a cousin of Stockwell’s (our orphan nephew who lives with us) mother. Their daughter and her husband, Rev. & Mrs. John Stams [sic; here and throughout he wrote Stams instead of Stam] were brutally murdered by Communists shortly before Christmas, as you doubtless read in the papers. Their baby, Helen Priscilla, was miraculously saved and was brought to her grandparents to be cared for. As I gazed into the face of that beautiful happy baby, my heart was stirred as it has never been stirred before. I could only think of the many horrible experiences through which she had passed and yet had not suffered one bit of harm, for the protecting arm of our Father was over her.

We stood there enjoying her smiles and gurgles and watching her kick her heels in the air, while her grandparents told of the many miracles in connection with her rescue and showed us the tiny garments in which she was clothed all those days. Truly this is still a day of miracles. We gazed upon the last letters written by John as they were being led away captive by the communists, and again the next day as the two were being led out to slaughter. Not a care nor a fear seemed to have entered their hearts. With a smiling face, he was able to look at the Postmaster as he delivered his last earthly message to be sent out to his fellow Missionaries, and calmly replied to the query as to where he was going, “I am going to Heaven”.

A year or two before a Chinese woman, wife of Evangelist Lo, went to the Missionary Hospital at Wuhu to give birth to her baby. As she had no milk to feed her baby, she was carefully trained by the Missionary Doctor in the art of feeding a baby with dried milk bought in cans from foreign countries, and shown how to properly care for a baby.

A couple of weeks before the martyrdom of this young couple, Evangelist Lo received instructions from his superiors to go to the village of Miao Shao, fifty or a hundred miles from his home, and there await the arrival of Missionary John  [Stam], who would join him in that village for his first Evangelist tour of the surrounding villages. Evangelist Lo also took his wife with him, a thing seldom done by a Chinese Evangelist. Truly God’s hand was in that planning to send the two to that particular village.

At about that same time, John and Betty [Stam] moved to the city of Ching Teh to establish their new home and center for Christian work. Before they were settled in their new home, word was sent them by the Magistrate that the city was in danger from an attack by Communists and that they should flee to a safer place. But they would not flee from danger. Shortly before the Communist hordes poured into the city bringing death and destruction on every hand. They entered the home and were courteously received by John and Betty and given tea and refreshments. Finally the Communists demanded money. John went to the money box and gave them all there was in it, a few tens of dollars. The Communists were sure that all foreigners were immensely wealthy and that they must be secreting more money elsewhere. On being assured there was nor [sic] more, they took John off with them as a prisoner. Later they came back and told Betty that if she would give them more money, they wouldn’t bother her; so she took the few bills which she had secreted on her body for emergencies and gave them all she had. They were still not satisfied, so carried [sic] her off with them. She took her little three months old Helen Priscilla in her arms and followed them. Before leaving the city, they allowed John to return home to attempt to find some tins of dried milk for the baby, as she was being fed that. On arriving at his home, he found their faithful cook still there, but not a thing remained in the house, not even one tin of milk. The brokenhearted cook told the story of how everything they possessed was looted. He was distressed because there was no food left for the baby, but John, his face wreathed with smiles, comforted him saying, “Don’t worry, our God will provide for her”, and went off as though he hadn’t a care in the world.

Thus there were led out of the city, to which they had just come to bring the “Tidings of Peace and Goodwill to all men”, as prisoners. Part of the time, Betty was allowed to ride a horse, but the rest of the time they walked, traveling about fifty li [a li was approx. 1/3 of a mile, though it was not an exact measure at the time]. They stopped at the village of Miao Shao for the night. The two prisoners were locked in an empty house, formerly, the home of a wealthy Chinese family, and kept there bound.

Sometime during the afternoon, the Communists, to further torture the young parents, started to kill the little baby, but one man, a convict just released that day from prison, remonstrated, and begged them not to kill the baby. The Communist leader called out, “Then who will give his life for the baby?” The convict stepped forward and replied, “I will”. So he was ordered killed and the baby’s life was saved.

The next morning, John and Betty were led out to be executed as common criminals, even as their Lord before them. On the way, they passed the Post Office. John having penciled a note on thin Chinese paper, handed it to the Postmaster as they passed and asked him to send it to fellow Missionaries in Wuhu, several days journey away. Seeing the Postmaster talking to him as an old friend, the Communists asked him, “What is this foreign devil to you?” He denied knowing him, even as Peter denied the Master of old, but as soon as the Communists passed on, he hastily attached special delivery stamps to the letter and sent it off so the word would get to his friends.

At the outskirts of the village, with a few villagers who had not fled looking on from afar, John and Betty were forced to kneel. The last words of John were to beseech the executioner to spare Betty’s life and let his be a ransom for her’s, but all to no avail. The heavy sword came down on the back of his neck and his head fell to the ground. The next instant a second stroke fell on Betty’s neck and she fell across the body of her beloved husband. Her head wasn’t quite severed from her body.

When word had first reached Miao Shao that the Communists were coming, most of the people of the village, Evangelist and Mrs. Lo included, hastily fled to a nearby mountain top for refuge. The next day word sifted up the mountain that the two foreigners had been executed in Miao Shao. All wondered who they could be. Evangelist Lo was led to leave the safety of the mountain top to investigate the rumor. Arriving at the edge of the village, he beheld the head and body of the beloved Pastor whom he was to meet in this spot to commence an Evangelistic tour of all that region. Little did he ever dream that he was to commence his preaching standing over his dead body. As he gazed upon the lifeless forms of the two martyrs, his heart was stirred as never before and the Power of the Holy Spirit came upon him. Crowds gathered around and that preacher preached on that other whose death on the Cross brought forgiveness of sins to ALL who would believe. Hearts were stirred.

With the help of an old woman, the only Christian in that village, he secured two coffins, washed the mutilated bodies, carefully sewed the heads back in place and tenderly laid them in the coffins. The coffins were at first left there outside the village, but later they were led to secret them in the home of old Mrs. Wang. Just a short while after they had hid them in her home, a band of communists returned, looking for the bodies to further mutilate them. No one in the village would give away their hiding place, however, so they were safe till government forces arrived, who later sent the bodies back to Wuhu to their Missionary friends.

After the bodies were cared for, then the thought occurred to Evangelist Lo, “The Pastor and his wife have a little baby, what has become of it?” His first inquiries failed to elicit any information, but later a person told him that different ones had heard the cries of a baby from a certain building. Going to the place mentioned, he found, just as her mother had left her twenty nine hours previously as she was led out to be executed, the little baby Helen Priscilla, warm and snug, seemingly no worse for the cold weather or the long fast. Inside the little baby bunting bag in which she was wrapped, were clean clothes, and among the clothes, a ten dollar bill carefully pinned. Evangelist Lo hastily sought out a Chinese mother with a babe that age, and baby Helen Priscilla was allowed to break her long fast. As soon as arrangements could be made, he and Mrs. Lo started out on foot for the distant Missionary center at Wuhu. Two baskets were hung from the two ends of a pole. In one end was placed Helen Priscilla while in the other end was placed their own little child, and Evangelist Lo thus carried them on his shoulders as they trudged the weary miles day after day. Every three hours, they would stop at a village and search out a Chinese mother who was willing to divide her milk between her own child and the orphaned foreigner. At one village, to their great delight, they discovered one lone tin of the dried milk which Mrs. Lo had been taught to use in the hospital, so, using the money provided by the mother before her death, they purchased this precious tin, and the food supply for the baby was thus assured for the rest of the journey. Arriving in Wuhu, they turned Helen Priscilla over to the doctors and nurses in the Hospital, the baby being in as perfect health as if she had spent all of those days in the arms of her own mother, eating her regular food. Not one bit of harm had come to her from the long exposure to the cold, the hours and hours without food or attention nor from all the changes of food as she was carried from one mother’s breast to another or fed from the tin of dried milk.

Truly her salvation was a modern miracle, or I should say ‘MIRACLES’, for many miraculous things took place. The one Chinese mother out of millions, who knew just how to care for such a baby, was sent miles and miles from her home, to be ready for her divinely appointed task. Evangelist Lo was sent to the very village out of the thousands of surrounding villages, to meet his foreign Pastor, days before the martyrdom, to care for the martyred bodies and save their orphaned baby. A convict was released from prison that very day, who would offer his life as a ransom for the baby’s life, though he had never seen nor heard her before. One lone tin of powdered milk, the brand on which the baby was raised, was placed in a small village shop far from all centers of civilization, but on the road which Evangelist Lo and his wife traveled with the precious load, ready for the baby’s use. As her grandfather remarked, “When God performs a miracle, He does a thorough job of it.”

I write about this incident to you because we have known Betty Scott [Stam] since she was a little girl and felt that she was surely one of God’s anointed. The tragedy of her life, the loss of her life to the cause of Christ, comes close to our own hearts. We feel in a peculiar way attached to little Helen Priscilla and pray that God may use both the death of her parents and her own life to greatly glorify his name.

We who are left feel so much less worthy than they, to carry on the work of the Kingdom here. Pray for us that God may use us more richly in carrying His Message of Salvation to the people of this land.

Most Sincerely,

Frank. H. Connely

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For more on this story, with references to other primary source documents, see http://www.bdcconline.net/en/stories/s/stam-elisabeth-betty-alden-scott.php

[photo taken from the link just provided]

1 Comment

Filed under China, History of Missions

One response to “The Martyrdom of John and Betty Stam

  1. bridget

    I just recently went to a yard sale and came across a letter and a picture of Rev. frank H. Connely. The letter is from his mission in North China. (Tsining, Shantung) It is dated and signed June 7 1939. If this is something you would like to have for historical records please let me know.. I would be happy to give it to you if it is something you would like to own!! God’s Love, Bridget Wyant

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