Fittingly, most of the records held in the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Archives document the work of global missions and evangelism. But, as an archive of people’s lives, as well as their ministries, our records can also provide fascinating windows into the experiences and adventures of past generations. This week, we feature a scrapbook from Collection 330: Records of Moody Church that chronicles the 1905 world travels of William Borden, future missionary and board member of Moody Church.
William Whiting Borden was born November 1, 1887, the heir of a well-to-do Chicago family. When he graduated from secondary school at the age of 17, his parents thought he should see something of the world instead of immediately enrolling as a Yale student. So they sent him, along with companion Walter C. Erdman, around the world on a journey that lasted just about a year.
Borden and Erdman set out from San Francisco in September 1904 and traveled leisurely through the Hawaiian Islands, the Pacific Ocean, Japan, coastal China, Hong Kong, Siam (present day Thailand), Malaysia, and the Strait Settlements (present day Singapore). After landing in Calcutta, they traveled up to the Nepalese border to see the Himalayas, then down to southern India and Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka), back up to Calcutta and then through central and northern India before sailing from Bombay. Then it was on to Egypt, Palestine, Asia Minor (present day Turkey, then the heart of the Ottoman Empire), Greece, Italy, Switzerland, and finally a long stay in England. They returned to the United States in late July or August of 1905.
As he traveled, Borden sent back what those in United States still called “private mailing cards,” but what the rest of the world called “post cards.” Most of these cards went to his mother Mary or his sister Alice Joyce Borden. Due to the postal restrictions of the day, Borden wrote all his messages on the front of the card, with the back of the card reserved solely for the address. His cards also often had two or more postmarks, one from when it was sent, another from when it arrived.
Erdman also sent a few cards, and these represented the cutting-edge technology of the time – photographs he had taken himself and then had developed and printed onto a card, using equipment he took with him. Like most cutting edge technology, a century later it looks rather faded. Eventually Borden or his family put the cards into a special scrapbook for post cards.
At the end of his tour in England, Borden attended a meeting in the evangelistic campaign being led in London by American evangelist R. A. Torrey Sr. This meeting was part of Torrey’s 1902-1905 tour, holding evangelistic campaigns in many countries across the world. At the meeting, Borden, who was already thinking of becoming a missionary, committed his life to Jesus Christ and Christian service.
When he returned from his journey, he was educated at Yale University and Princeton Theological Seminary. While a student at Yale, Borden wasted no time in fulfilling his pledge to Christian service, founding the Yale Hope Mission to aid those in need in the surrounding community of New Haven, Connecticut.
An encounter with Samuel Zwemer, advocate for missions to Muslim communities, at a Student Volunteer Movement convention led him to commit to a missionary career working among Muslims. He applied to China Inland Mission (now known as OMF International), hoping to serve in northwest China with the Uyghur Muslims. To prepare for the field, Borden sailed for Cairo in 1912. There he learned Arabic, and under Samuel Zwemer’s supervision studied Muslim literature, distributed Christian literature, and was active in the YMCA. His dream of working in China was derailed, however, when he contracted spinal meningitis in Cairo on March 21 and died on April 9, 1913, never completing the journey he had begun.
Borden’s legacy, however, extended beyond his life. Besides his work founding the Yale Hope Mission, he bequeathed one million dollars to various Christian missions, including China Inland Mission, Moody Bible Institute and Moody Church, Princeton Theological Seminary, several Presbyterian mission boards and other agencies. China Inland Mission also established and dedicated Borden Memorial Hospital to ministry in Lanzhou, Gansu Province in northwest China, an area populated with Muslims like those Borden had hoped to serve.
Several Archives’ collections have information on Borden’s life, death, and influence, most substantially the scrapbooks from Collection 330: Records of Moody Church, on whose board Borden briefly served. These large volumes include the photos, letters, notes, clippings, articles, pamphlets eulogies, and more created by Borden during his life or others afterward. Records documenting his growing interest in missions and preparation for mission work in China can also be found in Collection 215: Records of the China Inland Mission.