Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Maybe My Favorite Story

I ran across an old book once that has now become a prized part of my library. It was a biography, simply titled Borden of Yale ‘09

It told of a man named William Borden who went to Yale University as an undergraduate and afterward became a missionary candidate for China. Heir to the Borden Dairy estate, he was already a millionaire by the time of his high school graduation. As a gift for his graduation from high school, Borden was sent on a trip around the world. As he traveled throughout Asia, the Middle East and Europe, he experienced a growing concern for the hurting and lost of the world. He wrote home to say, “I’m going to give my life to prepare for the mission field.”  

After making this decision, he wrote two words in the back of his Bible: “No Reserves.”

From there he went on to Yale University, but with purpose and determination. During his first semester, he began a movement among the students that spread throughout the campus to gather, read the Bible and then pray. By the end of his first year, 150 fellow freshmen were meeting for weekly Bible studies. By the time he was a senior, 1,000 out of Yale’s 1,300 students were joining together in these groups. Beyond the campus, Borden founded the Yale Hope Mission to reach out to those on the streets of New Haven. Yet all was in view of his sense of call to foreign missions, that soon had a focus on Muslims in China. After graduation, he was offered numerous high-paying jobs, all that he declined, in order to pursue the mission field.  

At this point, he wrote down two more words in the back of his Bible: “No Retreats.”

Borden next went to graduate school at Princeton Seminary, where he was ordained to the ministry. After he finished his studies, he set sail for China through the China Inland Mission, stopping first in Egypt to study Arabic. While there, he contracted cerebrospinal meningitis. In less than a month, William Borden was dead. He was 26 years old.  

But before his death, knowing that the steps of his life would take him no further, he wrote two more words in his Bible—beneath “No Reserves” and “No Retreats” he wrote “No Regrets.” 

Why is this perhaps my favorite story? Because it details the dynamics of a very lost trait.


And not just commitment, but the idea that what makes for a life is not quality, but sanctity. It’s not what we experience or fulfill, but what we submit and invest. 

Was Borden’s a wasted life? By the world’s standards, yes. But by the Kingdom’s standards, it may have been one of the greatest lives ever lived.

James Emery White


Adapted from Mrs. Howard Taylor, Borden of Yale '09: The Life That Counts (China Inland Mission, 1927). See also The Yale Standard, Fall 1970 edition.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.

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