John and Betty Stam Martyred in China

This is the day that John and Betty Stam married, in 1933.

John Stam was born in 1907 in Paterson, NJ, and Betty (Scott) Stam was born in 1906 in Albion, MI. They met during their years at Moody Bible Institute where both felt a call to China. Both decided to go under the auspices of the China Inland Mission.

Betty had graduated a year earlier than John and sailed for that distant land in the autumn of 1931. The following year John completed his studies and sailed for China, but was stationed in a different region to Betty.

They met again … and were united in marriage just over a year later.

Baby Helen Priscilla was born in a Methodist hospital in Wuhu in September 1934 at a time when the civil war between government forces and the communist Red Army had already begun.

In November the Stams returned to the remote brick-walled village of Tsingteh, in South Anhwei, where they had set up a small shopfront house as their preaching chapel. Tsingteh was accessible to the outside world only by stone paths cut through the mountains.

John proved to be an able linguist, not only learning the language but being able to reproach conference messages he had heard, in Chinese.

In early December rumours ran rife that communist rebels were in the area. The village leaders hastily fled, fearing for their lives. The Stams were unsure what to do or even if the rumours were true.

The bandits entered the village through the unguarded East Gate and then beat down the door to the Stam’s home. John urged the invaders to sit at the table while he served them tea.

The couple were ordered to leave and then paraded down the street in their underwear, with Betty holding baby Helen. They journeyed for 12 miles and were then locked in a mud hut overnight. A ransom of $20,000 was demanded – to no avail.

Overnight John wrote a letter to the CIM leaders. “My wife, baby and myself are today in the hands of communist bandits. Whether we will be released or not noone knows. May God be magnified in our bodies, whether by life or by death. Philippians 1:20″

Betty fed and wrapped her baby, putting money and food into her blanket, then hid the child in a pile of heavy winter bedding. On 6 (or 8?) December, 1934, they were beheaded.

A courageous Christian, Mr Lo, followed the trail, once he thought it was safe to do so, and found the Stam’s bodies. He did not know what had become of the baby but found her quite by accident. The baby had slept without a cry for 27 hours, saving it from death.

All that remained of this heroic couple was laid to rest by faithful Chinese believers, who also cared for baby Helen Priscilla until she could be returned to the United States.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Baby in the Womb

A lovely young couple are currently expecting their first child. I recently felt to encourage the young dad to speak to his unborn baby. I asked if he spoke to the baby in the womb. He replied that his wife spoke to the baby at times, but he didn’t do it.

That prompted me to reflect on how we respond to the baby in the womb, especially the first one coming along.

New Relationship

Each new baby opens up for us a new relationship. With the first child we open up a whole new level of relationship. And like all new things we often face them with no real preparation. Often we don’t know that we have left things undone until many years later.

I have seven children and I have a unique relationship with each one of them. I can’t say that I have built the most exemplary relationships with them. In fact, at first, I assumed that relationship would just happen automatically. As a consequence the relationships are not as sweet or deep as they could have been.

Learning to Relate

I stumbled into relationship with my children. Because I didn’t have a concept of building relationship I ended up having to maintain relationship as a reaction to what went wrong, rather than as one building correctly from day one. My relationships grew out of the upsets, the good times and the bad times along the way. I thought that was the normal way to build relationships.

Many people do not have strong relationship skills. We usually have weaknesses in our ability, based on our own past failed relationships.

It is important to learn to relate to the child, as a conscious skill development. The new relationship is very important and needs to be pursued with intention. For those who are about to enter into relationship with a child about to be born it is important to promote the relationship rather than to just let it happen.

How to Build Relationship

Here are some suggestions for getting started on a good relationship, even whieh the baby is in the womb.

Value the relationship. Good relationships with children are incredibly valuable. Just ask anyone who lives with a broken or poor relationship with their child. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t be too casual about it. Be determined to build relationship and to so connect with your child that you are closely bonded for the rest of your lives.

Speak to your baby. There are lovely testimonies of people who have been strongly influenced by what they heard before they were born. One testimony speaks of a newborn baby in distress who settled immediately on hearing their father’s voice in the hospital ward. The baby had heard the father read the Bible to it each day as it formed in the womb. That baby knew its father’s voice from the womb and felt security from it once it was born.

Speak comfortably to your child. Over the years and from an early start, tell your child how valuable and special they are in your life. Speak of your love for them and your commitment to them. You are your child’s champion and hero, so speak into that role and encourage your child to walk in confidence because of your commitment and support.

Cast Godly vision for your child. Speak often to your child about your vision of their on-going place in your life and your on-going place in their life. Talk to them about how you are going to introduce them to God and often take them into God’s presence with you. Talk about how you are going to help them find God’s wisdom in the many challenges they will face through their childhood and youth. Speak about the times you will hug them and comfort them in the future and wipe away their tears.

If you have a daughter you can cast the vision of walking her down the aisle on her wedding day, to marry a young man who you have tested out to be suited for her. If you have a son you can cast the vision of them walking into their own areas of responsibility with the skills which you have taught them over the years and with your active support.

Love Your Child

The new relationship you will enjoy with the baby about to be born will be a relationship of love. You will have a new person to love for the rest of your life.

If you are casual about the relationship then it may never become a healthy and happy relationship. A love relationship requires that you love the child and encourage them to love you in return.

Don’t see this child as just a ‘baby’ or ‘another mouth to feed’. This child is potentially the most special person in your life. While the marriage union is always to be held above relationship with the child, yet the bond and delight that can come from the child can be incredibly enriching to your life.

Alternatively you can raise a child who despises you, cannot relate to you and who brings great pain and trouble into your life.

Get Started Now

Don’t wait until your child is old enough to help you in the kitchen or workshop. Don’t wait until they are adult. Don’t wait until they have gotten past their childish ways.

Get started now. Start building close and intimate bonds with your child from the moment they are conceived. Build it for life, not for a temporary moment.

If you are a new parent please take it from me as an older dad, that you need to take the relationship seriously, not for granted.

You have no guarantee of the child’s affection for you. If you send them to pre-school and school they will be sorely tempted to bond with their peers and not with you. When you let them down, or they feel like you have – even if you haven’t – they will pull back from you.

Make a priority of building special relationship, right from the start. Get connected with that baby in the womb.

The Curse of Beneficial Systems

We create systems to facilitate good practice, but those systems create artefacts and outcomes which become a curse to us. I have an example in mind and you may be able to relate to it. So let me take you on a reflection and observation walk through the subject of ‘systems’.

Let’s Hear it for Systems

Just about everything works best if the processes are understood and the best practices are followed. That fact is where we get such notions as benchmarking, world’s best practice, time and motion studies, efficiency and so on. A good system is a means of streamlining a process and setting in place appropriate checks and balances to ensure that things are done properly.

Jet pilots must go through a disciplined check-list process before take off because so much is at stake once they get into the air. Henry Ford revolutionised vehicle manufacturing through his production line system churning out black Model T Fords. Good salesmen have a mental check-list which they are attentive to as they guide their client toward the sale. Courts, distribution businesses, hospitals, schools, garbage collection and just about all other processes of life are governed by some form or systematic regulation and process.

So let’s hear a big cheer for systems! Without them many things would fall into disarray – the loss of proper array, or order. We enjoy speed, accuracy, efficiency, reliability and service, among many other benefits directly due to good systems. Systems are incredibly beneficial.

Systems Impose Limitation

For all the obvious benefit of systems, however, they impinge on many processes a form of limitation. Every routine and regulation prescribes a preferred process and outcome, but automatically restricts or denies other outcomes, which may have their own inherent benefits.

The process and outcome of a system, assuming it can be properly regulated and achieved consistently, effectively removes variety, diversity and creativity from the process. The choice of process and outcome is made by someone who may not have the best view in mind. Once a system is in place it may work against the discovery of better process and outcome, simply because it limits the possibility for discovery and exploration of other outcomes.

School systems seem to be failing to produce a high level of academic and personal ability in many students. The system itself militates against some exploration of better options. Traffic flow systems are the product of studies and analysis and the best option that seems to be available at the time. But how many times have you been frustrated by a red light that holds you back from an empty intersection? I find it frustrating to stand at a pedestrian light, being held back from walking across a street where there is zero traffic. The system is in place to protect me, but it creates an artificial limitation of freedom which earlier generations enjoyed readily.

Systems impose limitation. Your only hope is that the benefits of the system outweigh the downside imposed by the limitations.

The Smell of a Baby

Last month my tenth grandchild was born. This grand-daughter will be often talked about in the annals of our family history, as she managed to be born on the kitchen floor! Baby Acacia came faster than her mother expected. Before the parents could get off to the hospital my daughter-in-law, Katie, found herself in second stage labour. So she proceeded to give instructions to her husband and promptly gave birth on her father’s kitchen floor. A dinner event turned out to be much more than expected.

When we caught up with the mother and baby the next day my wife, Susan, was in awe of something she had never noticed before. The baby had a most wonderful fragrance on the skin. Susan kept drawing in long breaths to enjoy the amazing scent. It was reminiscent of a lovely powdery perfume.

Baby Acacia had not been bathed by then and so the natural fragrance from the birth was still on her skin. And that’s when the whole impact of systems hit us.

Hospital Births

Susan has given birth to seven children. She is no slouch when it comes to childbirth and mothering. But she had never smelled the lovely fragrance of the baby like she did with baby Acacia. Why not? Because of the “system”! Susan gave birth to seven babies in various hospitals. Hospitals rely on systems to make sure everything that needs to be done is done and nothing is neglected. Those systems may not be perfect, but they are a guarantee against neglect, malpractice, and so on.

In order to mechanise processes and teach systems to a wide range of people so consistent and uniform practice is maintained, the systems need to be fairly straight-forward and as simple as possible. The hospital system for dealing with newborn babies is such a system.

I recall being in the delivery ward when our children were born. With the earlier births the process was taken over by the nurses who weighed the baby and checked various things before the mother was given much time with the baby at all. Washing the baby was seen as an important early process to tick off the list.

So that’s what happened to that lovely newborn baby fragrance on the skin of each of my children. That fragrance was taken from us, by the System! We had had idea we had missed it. The system gave no attention to it and we had no idea of our loss.

Rippling Repercussions

With that one case in mind consider the question of how many other impacts are imposed onto us by systems. The repercussions of these systematic processes and their prescribed outcomes ripple through our society and impact our lives constantly.

We are under constant impact from systems. Roads create regions of higher exhaust pollution. Waiting rooms create highly infectious environments. Schools frustrate highly intelligent children who must stay in step with the class average. Courts employ legal processes not understood by the average citizens they are there to serve. Mass distribution provides variety, but only of the most marketable kind, not the way you may want or need it. Got the picture?

Systems that Blind

Systems also blind us to what else may be possible. The existence of a system that has regulated processes and predictable outcomes imposes a certain stricture on our thinking. People tend to stick with what they know, for better or for worse, and so the existent system imposes itself on the thinking of the populace. This has the effect of blinding us to what else may be available.

Just listen to a conversation where someone announces they are going to do something outside the system. What you will hear is a chorus of protest from people who accept the prevailing system as something like a gift from the gods that is not to be challenged. The person’s choice might be a home birth, running their car on home brew, representing themself in court, owner building, or whatever. If you are near such a conversation listen in to the responses from those who feel bound to the systems.

And mull over the fact that while we are blessed by beneficial systems we are also cursed by them as well. That might help you improve on the systems in your life. It might lead you to help us all enjoy more beneficial systems. Good Luck.

Husbands help your Wife

In an earlier post I recommended the book Baby Wise, by Gary Ezzo, and I also warned that I would post a word to husbands. I’m picking that up here. To get this in context you may wish to check the post this month on Baby Wise.

My daughter-in-law, Ruth, pointed out to me that many young mums get trapped in the application of practical guidelines. An insecure mum, for example, could follow a set of guidelines rigidly, even excessively, without thinking of them as ‘guidelines’ at all. This can be inappropriate and even absurd at times. I have seen older women at times try to suggest a change in routine to a younger mum, only to be met with the protest, “But the Dr said…” or “the health nurse told me to…” or “the book  I read it has to be done this way”. While there are some procedures which must be followed in detail, there are also many things which exist in principle, and the guidelines are simply that – ‘guidelines’.

A new mum’s best ally (at least in theory) is her husband. Then, of course, her mum, mother-in-law, friends and so on can all make wise contribution. Since dad is usually on hand, even in the wee small hours as mum struggles with some issue or other, the husband can be his wife’s greatest asset. You will note that I said “can be”, since many husbands are known for sleeping through their wife’s toughest hours, or being dismissive when their wife calls for their assistance. My dad called such people “knuckle-head” – I guess because the only way to get anything into the head is with some knuckles.

Anyway, in a perfect world, where husbands are actually useful, not the other kind, the husband can and should be his wife’s greatest ally. This is especially valuable when the husband cares enough about his wife to help her think through the issues. If a wife is getting caught up in the practice of a principle she may need to review the situation, with the help of ‘hubby’, to sort out the practice from the principle. If a mum is burdened by maintaining a particular routine, as if everything depends on her sacrificial diligence, this is a good place to review. She can be helped to understand the principle at stake, and to be reassured that the exact detail of the practice can be more flexible than she might expect, especially if the principle is still intact.

I have observed a tendency in women at times to be very faithful to the rules and regulations. Men tend to be more willing to test the rules. While this leads men to break the law more often, it also causes men to look for the principle, rather than the practical guidelines. A woman is more reliable in following instructions and is more faithful overall in getting things done (generally speaking). But a woman is also more prone to being caught in routine and inefficient patterns, without successfully thinking through the bigger picture issues or principles involved (generally speaking). The husband’s alternative way of looking at the wife’s challenges empowers him to bless her with re-tuning her thoughts and practice, so the principle is served but the pressure of the practical application is minimised.

OK, I know what some husbands are going to say. “What if she doesn’t want to listen?” Many a wife misses the blessing that is hers through her husband, because she feels put down by his advice. This can come both from her own pride and insecurity, or the husband’s arrogance and uncaring attitude. If both husband and wife are attentive to their own weaknesses, and work together as a God-given team there is much to be gained. If they pull against each other they will both suffer, and their whole family will suffer too.

Husbands – take up the challenge to be a blessing to your wife. Once you have navigated the aligator infested waters of your attitudes and her vulnerabilities, you can move toward a mutually rewarding cooperation that blesses you both.

Baby Wise – A Good Start

Getting off to a good start with a new baby will make all the difference in the months and years to follow. A contented baby in a good routine will make life so much easier for both mum and dad. If the baby is settled the whole household is able to get on with its various routines. If a baby is distressed and unsettled then the family is under constant pressure to settle the baby. That robs the parents of time they would otherwise apply to the house and family needs.

I recommend the book, Baby Wise, by Gary Ezzo. Having met the Ezzo’s in Australia, and been impressed by their practical application of Biblical wisdom I happily bought their Baby Wise book to share with friends. When my daughter-in-law, Ruth, presented me with my first grand-child I presented her with Baby Wise. She found it wonderfully helpful and has since ensured that her friends have the book to assist them.

I spoke with Ruth today, asking her thoughts about the book, now that she has five children. She advised that each of her friends who have used the book have all been happy with it and found it very helpful. She pointed out, however, that young mums can tend to be insecure. They then take up a principle and turn it into a rigid practice. This may account for some poeple who have not benefited as much from the book.

One of the key principles in the book is that of the Parents, not the Child, setting the tone and program within the home. The baby is welcomed into the parents’ world, rather than the parents becoming servants in the child’s world. The first practical expression of this principle is applied in the feeding routine of the baby. Wise parents set the feeding routine and settle the child into a rhythm that flows with the overall function of the home. As the child adapts and fits in, the first major hurdle in accommodating the baby has been crossed.

For a new-born baby a three-hour feeding pattern is common. Ruth applied the practical guidelines from the book with her first baby, Grace, and all worked well. Her second baby, however, ended up having colic. Upon investigation she discovered, after six weeks of an unhappy baby, that her son, Justus, only needed a feed every four hours. The principle had been confused with the practical guideline. The principle is that of parent-directed feeding. The guideline is that of a three-hour feed, since that is most common. However, in her case the practice of the principle needed to be four-hourly feeds.

Her third baby was also quite happy to operate by a four-hour feeding routine. Ruth by this time was quite relaxed about applying the principle and quickly adapted to the baby’s personal needs, yet maintaining her own overall control of the feeding routine. Her fourth baby was a hungry baby, and the three-hour feeds were back in full-swing again.

There’s an observation to be made there about learning principles, needing practical guidelines, then being able to separate the principle from the guidelines and act in wisdom about how the principle is applied. I might reflect on that further in a few days, since I think it is wise for husbands to help their wife in maintaining an effective distinction between the two – so look out for a post for Husbands some time soon.

So, if you are struggling with a baby, or have a friend or relative who is soon to have a baby, I suggest that you bless them with a copy of Baby Wise, by Gary Ezzo. The rest of the series, Child Wise books, etc, will also assist parents in the maturing challenge.