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.

Aimee Semple McPherson – Evangelist

This is the day that …  Aimee Semple McPherson disappeared, in the year 1926!

On that day Cecil B. DeMille expected to pick up the morning newspaper and read front-page headlines of his latest cinematic masterpiece.  Instead of which “the front pages were pre-empted by a lady who was the most vocal enemy of the moving pictures.”

Aimee Semple McPherson was known to thousands of admiring followers as “Sister Aimee”.  Her “four-square gospel” was sounded forth dynamically by this flamboyant female evangelist, both from the pulpit of her Angelus Temple (seating more than 5000 people), and over the air-waves of her own radio station – KFSG, Los Angeles.  Time Magazine dated 12 October, 1970, spoke of “her 750 satellite churches and radio parish of millions”.

Then came the fateful day, at 1.00 p.m., when Aimee and her secretary went to the beach.  The secretary saw Sister Aimee enter the water.  But no-one saw her emerge.  Hence the headlines!

A Memorial Service was held at the Temple – a crowd of 25,000 thronged the area. 

Then, on 25 May, a ransom note!  “$500,000 was demanded for the release of Sister Aimee,” said the kidnappers.

Almost a month later, on 23 June, at 1.00 a.m., Aimee walked in from the desert explaining that she had escaped!  She was given a triumphant welcome home to Los Angeles, where 50,000 followers waited to catch a glimpse of her.

But rumour and suspicion made much of her disappearance and she was eventually charged with fraud. She endured an eight month grand jury trial and came out of the whole process triumphant.

She declared in her autobiography:  “To my dying day I must proclaim my story of the kidnapping and the escape is true.  It DID happen.  It really did happen just as I told it.” (The Story of My Life, by A.S. McPherson, page 190).

Suspicions and rumour distract from the impact of this amazing young woman who preached to enormous crowds, birthed the Church of the Foursquare Gospel denomination, motivated thousands of young couples to go to the missionfield and saw wonderful conversions and healings in her meetings.

It is said that her mother, sensing God’s call on her own life, asked God to take and use her daughter, Aimee, in her place. There is no doubt that this one individual was given great influence and achieved more in her short life than many others who preached God’s word over a greater span. Aimee died at age 54.

It is interesting to note that great men of the Bible, such as Jack Hayford, are not ashamed to be part of the Foursquare Church and to acknowledge the wonderful contribution and work done by this firebrand woman.