Millionaire to MissionarY
The life of William Borden is not your typical missionary hero story. The beginning of his life was unique not only to many missionaries, but to most people in general. He was born the heir of a million dollar family fortune in the late 1800s, a dairy company worth $2 billion today! He earned his undergraduate degree from Yale and a graduate degree from Princeton seminary. Against all worldly logic, William left his millions and followed the call of God to an unreached Muslim people group. The situation of William’s inheritance was exceptional, but equally remarkable were the circumstances surrounding his death.
William was born in 1887 to a mother who nurtured her son into a faith in Jesus. He gave his life to Christ at a young age, and upon graduating from high school, his parents rewarded him with a tour around the world. As he ventured across Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, God began to burden his heart for the masses of hurting people. Many of them had never heard the gospel of Christ. William’s own passion to follow Christ was growing. He sat under the preaching of Dr. R.A. Torrey, a well known evangelist of the day, and felt the Holy Spirit calling him to commit himself fully to Christ.
William’s father was adamant that his son attend a university, so he obeyed his father’s wishes and enrolled at Yale University. His freshman year, he found his passion for Christ was largely unshared by his peers. So, William began meeting with a friend in the mornings to read the Bible and pray together, and soon another student joined them, then another. The number of students showing up for the morning prayer meetings began to multiply, and over the course of a few years what began as a small group became a campus wide movement. Some report that by the end of William’s first year at Yale, 150 students gathered in groups for prayer meetings, and by his senior year, the movement grew to 1,000 students!
Also during his college years, William founded the Yale Hope Mission seeking to rehabilitate drunkards and others in need near the dock at New Haven. With his family fortune, he funded the buildings and other needs of the mission, but his investment was not merely financial. He was often found near the docks, feeding a poor person and sharing the good news of Jesus with them. Over time, the mission at New Haven changed hundreds of lives.
The Student Volunteer Movement conference in Nashville, Tennessee was another significant point in William’s college career. His missionary convictions narrowed on the Muslim people groups in western China as Dr. Samuel Zwemer spoke about his work among them. The Spirit of God stirred and burdened William’s heart concerning these specific unreached Chinese so much that he decided to pursue a master’s degree from Princeton Seminary and then sail for China to join Dr. Zwemer.
William’s father passed away during his years at Yale, leaving him the family fortune. Upon graduation he had several prestigious job offers, but his mind was still set on China. William followed through with his plan to sail overseas in obedience to God’s call on his life. Before going to China, he first spent time in Egypt learning the Arabic language in preparation for his ministry to Muslims. It was there that he caught spinal meningitis. William died one month later and was buried in Cairo. He was twenty five years old.
William Borden is heralded as a great hero of our faith, with a fiery missionary zeal and a heart for the Muslim world, yet he never made it to the mission field. Some call it a waste of such a young life, but he expanded the kingdom of God in his short time. Hundreds of students at Yale found new faith in God by his example, and downcast drunks found hope through his mission in New Haven. Even to this day those who hear his story are encouraged and challenged to lose their life in light of the promise of finding it in Christ. Though William Borden was born into a great worldly inheritance, he lived and died for the promise of an imperishable and eternal inheritance. After his death, three phrases were found written inside his Bible: “No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.”