William Borden (1887-1913):  The Millionaire turned Missionary

William Whiting Borden was born in Chicago, Illinois, on November 1, 1887.  He was born into an extremely wealthy family.  His father, William Borden Sr, earned his wealth through silver mining in Colorado.  Borden Sr. later became the founder of Borden Dairy Products.  This company is today worth over 2 billion dollars!  Due to their affluence, the Borden family was one of the most prominent families in the city of Chicago. 

Borden’s Early Relationship with Christ

William Borden’s mother, Mary, was a godly lady.  She diligently taught her son to love the Lord and took him to church faithfully.  They attended the Chicago Avenue Church, today known as The Moody Church, named after its founder, the great evangelist Dwight L. Moody. 

It was in a special meeting at this church that William Borden responded during an altar call and gave his life to the Lord for salvation at the age of 7.  The preacher whom God used that evening to touch Borden’s heart with the Gospel was another great man of God named R. A. Torrey. 

Borden Sees the World

After graduating from high school, as a gift, his family sent William off on a trip to see the world.  At the young age of 16, William toured Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.  As he traveled the world, he developed a great burden for the salvation of souls as he witnessed firsthand the great spiritual needs of different people across the globe.  His eye affected his heart.  The flame was lit in his soul to one day become a missionary.

Borden’s Great Impact at Yale

William Borden’s father insisted that he further his education.  So he was sent off to the famous Yale University (in New Haven, CT). 

Though William was obedient to his father’s wishes to go to college, he refused to wait until afterwards to serve Christ.  In his freshman year he became vexed in his soul to see in his fellow-students a lack of devotion to God.  So he started to gather students together every morning before classes to have prayer meetings and Bible studies.  This gathering grew rapidly.  By the time William was a senior, his prayer group grew to over 1000 students! 

Borden was a natural born leader.  He influenced many students to dedicate their lives to God’s will.  Concerning Borden, one of his fellow students 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 more modern times.”

Another student said, “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.”

Borden’s Contribution to God’s Kingdom

A common practice for Borden was to go to the streets and witness to the homeless.  He would many times take some vagabond to a restaurant to buy that individual a meal and then lead him to Christ. 

While studying in Yale, William’s father passed away, leaving him all of his family’s great fortune.  However, instead of using this wealth for worldly pleasures, he decided to use it to further the cause of Christ.  He would send large amounts of funds to aid missionaries around the world.  For example, he once sent $1 million dollars to China Inland Missions, the organization founded by Hudson Taylor. 

He also saw his inheritance as a means to enhance his evangelistic work in the streets.  So he decided to start a rescue mission in New Haven, Connecticut for the purpose of rehabilitating alcoholics as well as providing shelter for orphans, widows, and the homeless.  It was called the Yale Hope Mission.  He used his own money to fund this mission and to purchase the property and buildings needed.

Borden didn’t just spend money.  Evangelistic meetings were constantly conducted at the rescue home and he and other college friends were personally involved in the work.  One convert, who was rehabilitated through Borden’s rescue mission, testified, “Not till the books of heaven are opened will you know what Bill Borden done by opening Yale Hope Mission…. He’d hasten through his address and get to work with the men. As soon as the invitation was given to come forward he would be off the platform and right down among the men…. He had a habit of putting his hand on man’s shoulder and they’d almost always break down when he spoke to them. I never knew a feller just like Bill. I’d like to get hold of one of his pictures. Seems to me if I saw one I’d ‘most try to steal it. He could talk to anyone; didn’t matter who they was. And he’d get down with his arms round the poor burly bum and hug him up. Never knowed his like in this world. I know he must have done for hundreds, just what he done for me.”

Borden’s Plans for the Mission Field

It was during his college days when William Borden made the final decision to dedicate the rest of his life to serve as a foreign missionary rather than work in the family business.  Due to his massive inheritance, everything the world had to offer was there for the taking, yet he instead chose to serve God on the mission field. 

Also, in those days, he decided where he would serve.  One day he attended a conference in Nashville, Tennessee in which Dr. Samuel Zwemer, missionary to China, was the speaker.  Dr. Zwemer’s preaching inspired him.  As a result, Borden made the decision to work with Dr. Zwemer in China.  His plan was to graduate from Yale, finish his graduate studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, and then set sail for China.

When word got out about his decision to become a missionary, one of his friends criticized him, saying that Borden was “throwing himself away”

An Unfortunate Turn of Events

After graduation, Borden was offered many lucrative business opportunities as many saw the potential that he possessed.  He turned them all down, however, as his heart was fixed and his mind was made up to serve God in China.

Borden’s goal was specifically to work with the Muslims in China.  So for this reason, he first traveled to Egypt to study the Arabic language.  Unfortunately, it was during his time in Egypt when he contracted spinal meningitis.  A month later, William Borden died.  He was only 25 years old.  He was buried in Cairo, Egypt.  Dr. Samuel Zwemer preached his funeral.

No Reserves!  No Retreats!  No Regrets!

When William Borden’s belongings were shipped back to the US, in his Bible was found these words, “No reserves.  No retreats.  No regrets.”  This was a young man who put his hand to the plough and refused to look back.  He was determined to serve Christ no matter the challenges or consequences. 

Many might think of William Borden’s life as wasted potential.  This is not so in the Lord’s eyes. 

In a short time span, William Borden was used of God in a mighty way to impact many young people for Christ, to aid missionaries around the world with financial support, to rehabilitate many alcoholics and provide shelter for many orphans, widows, and the homeless through the rescue mission that he established with his own resources.  Concerning Borden, one of Yale University’s most prominent professors said, “No undergraduate, since I have been connected with Yale, has done so much for Christ in four short years than he did.”

William Borden did more in less than a handful of years than most Christians accomplish in a lifetime.  His impact was undeniable.  What may seem like a short life, was a powerful life, wholly devoted to God.  A life fully consecrated to Christ is never a wasted life.  It is the best life one can possibly live!  William Borden could have easily enjoyed a life of luxury; he chose rather to invest his life in eternal riches.  Today, he is enjoying the everlasting dividends of that investment as he walks on a street of pure gold.

Matthew 6:19-21 “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

How fitting, that although William Borden never made it to China, his influence still reached his mission field of choice because a hospital in China was named after him in Lanzhou.  It is called the Borden Memorial Hospital and it still exists today.  Revelation 14:13, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.”

How about you my friend?  Are you making the most of what God has given you to bring glory to His name?  Perhaps your excuse is, “But I don’t have the resources that William Borden had!”  Perhaps not, but surely you have something.  God has given us all “something” by which we can honor Him with.  Though it may not seem like much to you, always remember that “little is much when God is in it”!

More William Borden Quotes

“Say ‘no’ to self and ‘yes’ to Jesus every time.”

“I want to be an honest man when I grow up.  A true and loving and kind and faithful man.”

“If ten men are carrying a log — nine of them on the little end and one at the heavy end — and you want to help, which end will you lift on?”

“There must be a definite determination to do God’s will. Do you lack power? Ask yourself, ‘Have I ever truly surrendered? Have I definitely consecrated myself? Have I put myself at God’s disposal, to be used as He deems best?’”

“Obedience, which is the price of power, must not only be absolute but daily. Are we paying this part of the price?”


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