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William Whiting Borden
Evangelist William Whiting Borden

'No Reserve,' 'No Retreat,' 'No Regrets'
William Borden Chose a Life of Service over Family Fortune
Posted October 29, 2009
By Eileen Scott, Senior Staff Writer, Ivy League Christian Observer

One hundred years after his graduation from Yale, William Whiting Borden (Class of 1909) is still having an impact upon the campus. Recently, the International Church at Yale, in cooperation with other campus ministries, commissioned the reprinting and distribution of 500 copies of Borden’s biography, Borden of Yale, by Mrs. Howard Taylor.

The purpose of the book distribution, which was partially funded by a grant from Christian Union, was to inspire students and scholars with the example of Borden’s total commitment to Christ. According to Hugh Hedges, founding elder of International Church at Yale (www.yale.edu/icy), the effort was more than an evangelistic one.

“This was a discipleship thing,” he said. “When young Christians read this book, their hearts are stirred.”

As heir to the Borden family fortune, Borden had wealth and opportunity; but his passion was serving God. “In spite of [his] being a millionaire, in everything he had and everything he did, he said ‘yes’ to Jesus and ‘no’ to self,” said Hedges. And that passion for Christ was born in Borden’s heart at a young age.

When William was just six years old, his mother asked the Borden children to write down what they wanted to be when they grew up. “I want to be an honest man when I grow up, a true and loving and kind and faithful man,” wrote young William Borden.

By all accounts, that’s exactly the man Borden grew to be. He was dedicated to his family and hard work and faithful to his belief in Jesus Christ.

For example, in Borden of Yale, the author wrote of a time when Borden visited an uncle at his Indiana farm. Borden, who was only ten at the time, wanted to make cider; but his uncle explained that the cider-press had been neglected and couldn’t be properly cleaned for use. Undaunted, however, young Borden relentlessly took on the task of cleaning the press, carrying two buckets of hot water at a time and scrubbing the machine until it was “spotless and cider-making began.”

Borden spent much of his time inclined toward manual labor on his aunt’s farm and the nearby McKinley sawmill. His aunt Taylor “wondered if there ever was another boy so humble, with a heart so full of love and a mind thinking such pure thoughts.”

At Yale, Borden’s thoughts turned toward ministering to his classmates. As one student was quoted in the book, “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.”

But Borden’s compassion didn’t end at Yale’s gates; he also reached out to neighboring New Haven. It was there that, according to The Yale Standard, “Borden felt something needed to be done so he gathered his friends to pray, rented a room in a dive on the strip, and began to hold evangelistic meetings. Thus was born the Yale Hope Mission.”

Borden’s heart for mission work grew even broader while touring the world at age sixteen. His heart was touched by the barren hearts of others throughout the world who did not know of Christ’s saving grace. He decided to bring that knowledge to them. And, given his love for hard work and a good challenge, he chose to bring the Gospel to Chinese Muslims.

In 1912, Borden was accepted into service for the China Inland Mission. However, while studying Arabic in Cairo, Egypt, he contracted spinal meningitis. He died at the young age of twenty-five.

Reportedly, in Borden’s Bible (which was found after his death) he had written “No Reserve” shortly after turning from fortune to the mission field. In another portion of the Bible the words “No Retreat” were inscribed shortly after he learned of his meningitis diagnosis. He wrote “No Regrets” shortly before his death.

But even after his death, the humble, vivacious servant of Christ continued to touch hearts, not only through Taylor’s book, but also through the vast sum of money Borden bequeathed to Christian causes.

Today, a full century after he left Yale, the echo of his testimony inspires current graduates to pursue a life of dedication and service. One graduating senior remarked after receiving one of the distributed copies of Borden of Yale, “I’m excited to follow in Borden’s footsteps and spread God’s Word to Asia.”

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