Growing up the daughter of Chinese missionaries, Betty grew to love the Chinese people and felt her own call from the Lord to serve in China. At a prayer meeting at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, she met a man named John Stam who also planned to serve God by joining the China Inland Mission (CIM).

They fell in love, but had to put plans of marriage on hold since only single men could venture into the uncharted areas of China where the mission was expanding. Things were too unstable for women. So they trusted God with their relationship, waiting for His timing. Things moved much faster than they expected when Betty left for China first because she was a year ahead of John in school. When she arrived, the post where she was assigned was deemed unsafe after another missionary there was killed by communists. In the 1930s, China was on the brink of a revolution while the Great Depression colored the American landscape.

CIM sent Betty to Shanghai because of her poor health. Meanwhile, John had finished his studies and had set out for Shanghai to begin his service. They reunited and quickly became engaged and then married. Many believed the communist threat to have lessened, and they were stationed at a post in Jingde Province. Their daughter Helen was born in October of 1934.

When Helen was three months old, a city magistrate informed them the Communists were coming. The Stams should evacuate immediately. John made plans for his wife and child to leave. Before they could safely get out of the city, the Communists invaded more quickly than anyone anticipated by traveling through the mountains.

They arrived at the Stam’s home demanding money and taking John with them to a local jail. Later the Communists came back for Betty and Helen. Their original plan was to ransom the family for $20,000, and they forced John to write a letter with the demand. The next morning they moved them to the city of Miaosheo, 12 miles away. John carried the baby, but Betty was still weak from the inflammatory rheumatism she battled, so she was able to ride a horse part of the way.

Once in the city of Miaosheo, John saw the postmaster that he knew from previous trips and was able to slip him a personal letter to his family. When asked where he was going, John replied, “Heaven.” That night they were kept in a house where John was tied to a post, but Betty was allowed to tend to the baby. The next morning the Stams were paraded through the streets without baby Helen. With their hands tightly bound and their outer garments stripped from them, they were stopped and ordered to kneel. They entered heaven that day after single blows from a sword ended their lives. They became martyrs for standing firm in their faith in Jesus Christ.

In the hills surrounding the city, some local believers met for refuge. Among them was a Chinese Christian evangelist who heard reports of two foreigners executed in the city. He went and asked questions to try to learn what had happened to their three-month-old child, realizing it could only be the Stams. People were hesitant to talk, but eventually someone pointed to an abandoned house. As he searched the house, the man heard a whimper. He found baby Helen tucked in right where her mother had left her two days earlier. She was hungry but alive.

The evangelist took Helen to his wife. They made plans to flee with their own four-year-old son who was very ill. Everything they owned had been stolen from them, so they didn’t know how they would survive. As they unwrapped little Helen, they found diapers and clothes with ten dollars pinned into them. It was enough to save them.

For eight days they traveled, finding Chinese mothers to nurse Helen along the way. Finally they arrived at the home of a missionary. Helen was eventually brought to her grandparents in another Chinese province. She was sent to the United States when she was five years old and took a new name to avoid the publicity that her parent’s deaths attracted.

John and Betty Stam stood firm in their faith in Christ even in the face of death. Betty had written this in a journal entry before leaving for China, “I want something really worthwhile to live for. Like most young people, I want to invest this one life of mine as wisely as possible, in the place that yields richest profits to the world and to me … I want it to be God’s choice for me and not my own. There must be no self-interest at all, or I do not believe God can reveal His will clearly … I know very well that I can never realize the richest, most satisfying, life Christ meant for me, if I am not giving my own life unselfishly for others. I want Him to lead, and His Spirit to fill me. And then, only then, will I feel that my life is justifying its existence and realizing the maturity in Him that Christ meant for all men, in all parts of the world.”

Betty Stam inspires us to follow Christ wholeheartedly even on the most difficult of journeys. Her heart for the lost and desire to invest her life wisely for the sake of the gospel leaves a legacy of standing firm for Christ.


Huizenga, Lee S., John and Betty Stam: Martyrs (Zondervan, 1935)

Pollock, John, Victims of the Long March and Other Stories (Word Publishing, 1970)

Taylor, Mrs. Howard, The Triumph of John and Betty Stam (China Inland Mission, 1935)