What would you think about a missionary who never made it to the mission field? Could he be a success? Christianity Today calls William Borden the most influential missionary of the 20th century, yet he never made it to the mission field. In 1887, William was born in Chicago into the very wealthy Borden family. While growing up, his mother began bringing him to services at the Moody Church where he was saved at age 7 under the preaching of R.A. Torrey. His high school years were spent away from his family at The Hill School, a boarding school in Pottstown, PA.
For his graduation present, his parents gifted him a trip around the world! On this trip he saw the great spiritual need of unreached people groups. At first he desired to reach the Hindus in India, but God later directed him to the Muslim Kansu people in northwestern China. When hearing of his decision to pursue God’s will, one of his friends was appalled at the fact that he was “throwing his life away as a missionary.” It was about this time that he penned the phrase in the back of his Bible — “no reserves.”
In Fall of 1905 he began training for the ministry at the prestigious Yale University. Once a center of the Gospel, Yale’s student body was mostly backslidden or unsaved. During his freshman year, Borden became burdened for his fellow classmates and began meeting with his friend Charlie Campbell each morning to pray. As this prayer meeting grew he and his friends began divvying up the student body to reach each one with the Gospel. By his graduation, this prayer meeting & Bible study was attended by 1000 of the 1300 students at Yale — many of whom were personally reached by William!
After graduating from Yale, William Borden turned down some prominent job offers, choosing rather to continue his preparation for ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary. Many thought this decision was foolish. About this time the Lord led him to add two more words to the back of his Bible — “no retreats.”
On December 17, 1912 he set sail for Cairo, Egypt. This was his last step of preparation for a life of missionary service in China. During the day he studied the language, and at night he spent his time befriending and witnessing to many in Cairo. In March, he contracted meningitis. This dreaded disease took his life a couple weeks later on April 9, 1913 at the age of 25. While battling his illness he added another two words in the back of his Bible — “no regrets.”
Outside of his friends and family would anyone care about his death? It seemed that the whole world mourned the death of this young missionary. News of his death spread like wildfire. The story was published in nearly every American newspaper. Memorial services were held in Egypt, Japan, Korea, India, and South Africa, as well as across the United States.
The concrete tombstone (see below) in Cairo, Egypt is a small memorial for a young man who had such great influence. Thousands surrendered their life to Christian service as a result of his testimony. Jon Hinkson’s response to the life and death of William Borden is fitting, “I have absolutely no feeling of a life cut short. A life abandoned to Christ cannot be cut short. ‘Cut short’ means not complete, interrupted and we know that our Master does no half-way jobs. We must pray now, that those to whom God wants this to appeal, may listen.”
Today young adults everywhere are striving to be influencers. Some amass thousands of followers in an attempt to influence them to buy a brand or support a cause. Our generation knows little about being a true influencer. Stay tuned to the next couple blog posts to find out how William Borden became an Ideal Influencer.