“No reserve, No retreat, No regrets” – History Bit for April 9


At the young age of 25, American millionaire and philanthropist William Borden died in Egypt on April 9, 1913.  Despite never making it to the mission field in China, Christianity Today once called him “the most influential missionary of the early 20th century.”  Borden’s story has inspired Christians and missionaries ever since.

As an heir to his family’s fortune from silver mining, William Borden had many opportunities in life, yet shortly after high school he became interested in missionary work.  Some said he was “throwing himself away,” but while a student at Yale, he quickly gained a reputation for his sense of purpose and dedication to Jesus.  He established a Bible study and prayer group that eventually included about 1,000 of Yale’s 1,300 students.  Off campus, he funded the Yale Hope Mission in New Haven with his own money and was often seen with widows, orphans, homeless people, and drunks, providing for their needs, and telling them about Jesus.  It looked like God was preparing him for a fruitful future as a missionary.

After graduating Yale, Borden turned down attractive job offers, choosing instead to study at Princeton Seminary, intending to minister to Uighur Muslims in China.  He finalized his plans and set sail, stopping in Egypt to study Islam and Arabic in preparation.  However, he contracted cerebral meningitis in March 1913 and died a few weeks later on April 9.  Did God take him too soon, before his work was done?  Borden didn’t seem to think so.

After his death, family reported that in his Bible were written the words “no reserve”, referring to his willingness to put everything aside for Christ, then later “no retreat”, after turning down job offers upon graduating Yale, and finally “no regrets”, apparently written shortly before his death.

Skeptics deny this note exists, citing “no evidence.”  However, friends and family claim to have found the note, and testimony is evidence.  Even if the note doesn’t exist, he still made the choices he made, living a life which declared that the salvation given through Jesus Christ was worth more than all the earthly benefits a young millionaire could have.

Skeptics may also say Borden, and God, failed because Borden’s life didn’t go according to his plans.  What was the point?  But as they say, the LORD works in mysterious ways and His plans are not always our plans.  Borden impacted many during his days at Yale before leaving for Egypt, and by events he couldn’t control, he may have become a better witness for Christ by death than from living as a missionary.  In his will, he left his fortune to several Christian agencies, including China Inland Mission, which named Borden Memorial Hospital in Lanzhou, China, in his memory.  Seized by the government in 1951, the hospital is now the Lanzhou Second People’s Hospital, but locals know its history.

During his short life, William Borden lived with a dedication to Christ that continues to inspire believers over a century later.  Even though he never made it to China, his testimony made it there and provides hope for persecuted groups and those who Christ calls to serve them.

Having all this world could offer, he chose to live for the next world.  Engraved on his gravestone in Egypt are the words “Apart from Christ, there is no explanation for such a life.”   Even if the note is just a legend, “No reserve, no retreat, and no regrets” summarizes the life of William Borden well. 

Interested in more History? Select “History Bits” from the “Blog” drop down menu at the top of the page.


Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Whiting_Borden
https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2017/february/forgotten-final-resting-place-of-william-borden.html
http://home.snu.edu/~HCULBERT/regret.htm

Missionaries Saved By Mysterious Army: History Bit for March 28


Even people who believe in angels and demons may not see how they are relevant.  The Bible contains a lot of hints about a spiritual world we can’t see, but not a lot of detail about what it all means to us.  One of these hints is in the Old Testament book of 2 Kings during a war between Israel and Syria.  Trying to kill the prophet Elisha, the Syrian army surrounded the city of Dothan where he was staying.  Elisha’s servant saw the army, was worried and asked Elisha what they should do.  Elisha (and the LORD) responded:

“He said, ‘Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” – 2 Kings 6:16-17

On today’s date, March 28th, in 1953 something happened in Kijabe, Kenya which may be eerily similar to the events of 2 Kings.  I know several solid, Christian, professional people not known for sensationalism who were at the site of this event a handful of years later, and who spoke to people who witnessed it.  For this post, my primary source is the book “School in the Clouds: The Rift Valley Academy Story” by Phil Dow[1], but I could have written it entirely from second-hand accounts from people I know.  So, what happened?

In the decade of the 1950’s, Kenya was a British colony, but was embroiled in what is known as the Mau Mau, an extremely violent uprising against British rule.  Colonialism had added a new facet to tribal animosity in Kenya that existed long before the “Scramble for Africa”[2], where some Africans embraced and defended British efforts, while others strongly resented it and endorsed any means to repel the British and restore the “pure” African culture that existed before.

As part of a broader pattern of atrocities designed to scare the British into leaving, the Mau Mau planned an attack on Rift Valley Academy (RVA), a boarding school for children of missionaries.  Not only was the school symbolic of unwelcome outside influence in the eyes of the Mau Mau, but the school had also opened its doors as a refuge for Africans fleeing Mau Mau threats elsewhere.  On March 26th, Mau Mau fighters attacked a Christian group of Kikuyu (one of the Kenyan tribes) a few miles from RVA, killing 97 villagers and wounding 32 others, largely with machetes.  The Kikiyu tribe, historically a lower socioeconomic group, was divided between those who joined the Mau Mau for independence and those who backed British involvement because they saw Christianity and other Western influences as a positive.

RVA was on high alert, knowing the campus of schoolchildren and their caregivers were the Mau Mau’s next target.  Phil Dow wrote in his book:

“The sun rose Saturday morning accompanied by a host of rumors that confirmed an impending Mau Mau raid on RVA. Convinced that they would be attacked, several high school girls took time in the afternoon to write letters they hoped would be read by their parents if they were to be killed. That night the students went to bed under a star-filled sky fully clothed and expecting to be awakened by the sounds of gunfire and angry voices.”

They were awakened in the middle of the night to the sound of an alarm, some distant gunfire, but soon followed by an “all clear” bell.


Weeks later, some Mau Mau were caught hiding near the school and questioned about what happened on the night of March 28th.  They confirmed that an attack on RVA was attempted with the intention of burning the school to the ground and killing anyone they found there, but the attack was repelled by lines of British soldiers encircling the campus.  Later, other witnesses claimed the same.  However, “in March of 1953 there were no British soldiers at Kijabe.”  Multiple sources on RVA’s campus and among British authorities attest that the campus was vulnerable and mostly undefended, but something happened that spared the community and the lives of everyone in it so that the missionary work could continue.  The attempted attack raised the awareness of the British and provided time for them to install “protection of the very worldly kind” for RVA, including limited troops stationed there, along with defensive walls, barbed wire, and guard posts with mounted machine guns.

Dow concludes: “Whatever did happen that night, the Christian community at RVA was convinced that they had been kept safe by supernatural intervention. Indeed, the night’s events continue to be remembered as an example of God’s provision for the devoutly Christian community.”

What Elisha said in the Old Testament as:
Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them”

Paul echoes in the New as:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” – Romans 8:31-32

Amen.


Interested in more History? Select “History Bits” from the “Blog” drop down menu at the top of the page.


[1] Dow, Phil. School in the Clouds: The Rift Valley Academy Story.  (2003).  P. 130-132
[2] See summary at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scramble_for_Africa

The Affair of the Sausages: History Bit for March 9


The idea that the Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther nailing the ninety-five theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany is fairly well known.  Less known is that the spark for Reformation in nearby Switzerland was a controversy over sausages.

March 9th was the first day of Lent in 1522, and Huldrych Zwingli, a pastor in Zurich, Switzerland, was the guest of printer Christoph Froschauer, who published some of Zwingli’s sermons and later his translation of the Bible into German.  Froschauer, working long hours with his staff, invited Zwingli to dinner on March 9th and served slices of smoked sausage to fortify everyone for the work ahead.  However, during Lent eating meat was illegal under the Catholic church-run government at the time, and Zwingli was arrested along with others at the dinner.

Zwingli said he did not eat any sausage and so was spared the indignity of arrest, but the event was a turning point for him, and about one month later he preached a sermon titled “Freedom of Choice and Selection of Food” where he argued for freedom of conscience regarding observance of Lent.  The sum of the sermon was: “if you want to fast, do so; if you do not want to eat meat, don’t eat it; but allow Christians a free choice.”[1]

Zwingli, having previously been only loosely connected to Martin Luther and other Reformation figures and ideas, was appalled by the prioritization of state and priestly authority over the authority of God in each person’s heart:

“If you would be a Christian at heart, act in this way. If the spirit of your belief teaches you thus, then fast, but grant also your neighbor the privilege of Christian liberty, and fear God greatly, if you have transgressed his laws, nor make what man has invented greater before God than what God himself has commanded…You should neither scorn nor approve anyone for any reason connected with food or with feast days whether observed or not.”

Also in the sermon, Zwingli emphasizes the “why” a Christian does what he does over the “what”:

“Here is another sign of the times. I think that there is danger of this age being evil and corrupt rather than reaching out towards everlasting righteousness. Further, simple people think everything is all right if they go to confession in Lent only, observe the fast, take Communion and thus account for the whole year. God should, however, be acknowledged at all times and our life should be one of piety, whereas we act to the contrary when we think that it is quite enough if we pay attention only to the times of fasting whereas Christ says, ‘Be vigilant: for you know not the day or the hour’”

In an earlier post on Lent, I wrote that whatever our liturgy, it is useless as a “bargaining chip” with God, and that “if we do not value the prize – God Himself – nothing we give up for Lent will make us – or God Himself – happy.”  Zwingli became a forceful voice during the Reformation arguing that external pressure from church and state can strip us of grace and enslave us to legalism, but he also recognized with Paul that “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things[2]  Self-control cannot be forced by others, but in search of an “imperishable” prize, each should prayerfully consider the disciplines that help them better serve God, in accordance with His word, while showing grace towards others who God may ask to behave differently.  Not all athletes compete in the same events and train the same way.

Closing Note
I once considered naming this blog “Lenten Sausages” after the events described above, but that might have defined the blog as what it’s against.  Instead, the current name emphasizes the common destiny of all for whom Christ was crucified.  Every Christian became one because of Christ.  Before there were Protestants there were Christians.  Many of them.  After there were Protestants there are Catholic believers and Protestant nonbelievers, and vice versa.  One man’s liturgy is sometimes another man’s legalism.  Regardless of what’s on the sign in front of your church, it’s what’s inside that matters.

Soli Deo Gloria


[1] Zwingli, Huldrych.  “Freedom of Choice and Selection of Food.”  (1522)
[2] 1 Corinthians 9:25

Victory by Storm: History Bit for March 5


During the American Revolutionary war, British troops besieged Boston leading to a long stand-off with troops led by George Washington.  Seeking a decisive move to gain advantage and end long weeks of inactivity that weighed on troop morale, George Washington ordered his men to fortify Dorchester Heights, a hill overlooking Boston, in the middle of the night.  These fortifications included artillery that had been painstakingly snuck down from Fort Ticonderoga over rough winter terrain by boat and sleds pulled by oxen.  These cannons had earlier been abandoned by the French.  The date of March 5th was intentionally chosen by Washington in part because it was the 6-year anniversary of the Boston Massacre, giving it symbolic meaning and motivating the troops.

On the morning of March 5th, the British awoke to find the Heights fortified, “with an expedition equal to that of the genie belonging to Aladdin’s wonderful lamp”, according to an unattributed letter to London newspapers.  Some, remembering losses sustained at Bunker Hill, urged retreat, but British General Howe was determined to drive the Americans off the Heights.  However, sudden, sustained storms including high winds and sleet, caused Howe to reconsider, leaving no option but to evacuate Boston.[1]

Because of this sudden change in weather, a long, deadly battle was avoided, and Boston was surrendered by the British without loss of life on either side.  This would not be the last time that weather – or Providence – would play a key role in the American struggle to break away from British rule.

Let every people and nation seek the LORD this day, who can wield nature itself in favor of – or against – the very nations.

“Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain?
            Or can the heavens give showers?
Are you not he, O LORD our God?
            We set our hope on you,
            for you do all these things.” – Jeremiah 14:22


[1] McCullough, David.  1776 (2005).  P. 90-97.

Let Justice Roll: History Bit for January 15


On January 15, 1929, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia.  A leader in the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1950’s and 60’s, he is the only non-president to have a national holiday in his name, celebrated on the 3rd Monday of every January.

During this holiday, many will cite positives and negatives from King’s life and legacy, and here I will focus on one, specific positive.  His father and maternal grandfather had both been pastors of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and he carried this religious heritage into his own studies and activism.  In pastor Tim Keller’s book “Making Sense of God” he writes that the strength of King’s arguments comes from his knowledge “that human rights have no power if they are simply created by a majority or imposed by judicial fiat. They have power only if they are really ‘there,’ existing on their own, dependent only on the fact that the wronged person before you making the claim against you is a human being.”[1]

King applied the teaching that “God created man in His own image” from Genesis 1:26-27 to argue that this image gives every person: “a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him a dignity. And we must never forget this as a nation: there are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God.”[2]

In one of my favorite quotes from King, he cites the American institutions of democracy and its founding documents, but knows that even these must be rooted in religious truth to be effective:

“One day the South will know that when these dis­in­her­ited chil­dren of God sat down at lunch coun­ters, they were in re­al­ity stand­ing up for what is best in the Amer­i­can dream and for the most sa­cred val­ues in our Ju­deo-Chris­t­ian her­itage, thereby bring­ing our na­tion back to those great wells of democ­racy which were dug deep by the found­ing fa­thers in their for­mu­la­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion and the De­c­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence.”[3]

Keller continues in his chapter titled “A Justice That Does Not Create Oppressors” that “Martin Luther King Jr. did not ask white America to make African Americans free to pursue rational self-interest, their own individual definitions of a fulfilling life. Rather, quoting Amos 5:24, he called them to not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’[4]  God provides, and demands, more than “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

While His justice and righteousness will only be made fully manifest in eternity, when we bring a bit of it into this world, we provide something available no other way to our neighbors, communities and beyond.  We should not be satisfied with anything less.


[1] Keller, Timothy.  Making Sense of God (2016).  P. 199.
[2] From a sermon King preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia on July 4, 1965.  Cited in Making Sense of God, P. 199.
[3] From “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, dated April 16, 1963.
[4] From King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963.  Cited in Making Sense of God, P. 199.

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