William Borden


Date of Birth:  1888

Date of Death:  1913

Country of Birth:  United States of America

Country of Ministry:  Egypt/ China



In 1904 William Borden graduated from a Chicago high school.  As heir to the Borden family fortune, he was already a millionaire.  For his high school graduation present, his parents gave 16-year-old Borden a trip around the world.  As the young man traveled through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, he felt a growing burden for the world’s hurting people.  Finally, Bill Borden wrote home about his “desire to be a missionary.”

One friend expressed surprise that he was “throwing himself away as a missionary.”

In response, Bill wrote two words in the back of his Bible: “No reserves.”

Even though young Borden was wealthy, he arrived on the campus of YaleUniversity in 1905 trying to look like just one more freshman.  Very quickly, however, Borden’s classmates noticed something unusual about him, and it was not his money.  One of them wrote: “He came to college far ahead, spiritually, of any of us.  He had already given his heart in full surrender to Christ and had really done it.  We who were his classmates learned to lean on him and find in him a strength that was solid as a rock, just because of this settled purpose and consecration.”

During his college years, Bill Borden made one entry in his personal journal that defined what his classmates were seeing in him.  That entry said simply: “Say ‘no’ to self and ‘yes’ to Jesus every time.”

Borden’s outreach ministry was not confined to the Yale Campus.  He cared about widows, orphans, and cripples.  He rescued drunks from the streets of New   Haven. To rehabilitate them, he founded the Yale Hope Mission. One of his friends wrote that he “might often be found in the lower parts of the city at night, on the street, in a cheap lodging house or some restaurant to which he had taken a poor hungry fellow to feed him, seeking to lead men to Christ.”

Borden’s missionary call narrowed to the Muslim Kansu people in China.  Once that goal was in sight, Borden never wavered. He also inspired his classmates to consider missionary service.  One of them said, “He certainly was one of the strongest characters I have ever known, and he put backbone into the rest of us at college.  There was real iron in him, and I always felt he was of the stuff martyrs were made of, and heroic missionaries of modern times.”

Upon graduation from Yale, Borden turned down some high paying job offers.  In his Bible he wrote two more words: “No retreats.”

William Borden went on to graduate work at Princeton Seminary. When he finished his studies, he sailed for China.  Because he was hoping to work with Muslims, he stopped first in Egypt to study Arabic. While there, he contracted spinal meningitis.  Within a month, 25-year-old William Borden was dead.

When news of William Borden’s death was cabled back to the U. S., the story was carried by nearly every American newspaper. “A wave of sorrow went round the world… Borden not only gave his wealth, but himself, in a way so joyous and natural that it seemed a privilege rather than a sacrifice,” wrote Mary Taylor in her introduction to his biography.

Was Borden’s untimely death a waste? Not in God’s plan. Prior to his death, Borden had written two more words in his Bible. Underneath the words “No reserves” and “No retreats,” he wrote two more words: “No regrets.”


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