A Legacy of Squandered Wealth

Legacy Matters!

In 1904 William graduated from a Chicago high school.  His family was wealthy - extremely wealthy - from their long-standing business.  And he was to inherit that wealth.  William had nothing to worry about. Yet, it would be revealed soon, that William wanted nothing of that kind of wealth.

For his high school graduation present, his parents gave the 16-year-old a trip around the world. As the young man traveled through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, he felt a growing burden for the world's hurting people. The trip changed the trajectory of his life.  At the conclusion of the trip, William wrote home about his desire to be a missionary.

After receiving William’s letter, one friend expressed disbelief that William was "throwing himself away as a missionary."  Undeterred, William wrote two words in the back of his Bible: "No reserves."

Upon his return to America, even though William was wealthy, he arrived on the campus of Yale University in 1905 trying to look like just another freshman. But William had changed. Very quickly, Williams's classmates noticed something unusual about him. One classmate wrote: "He came to college far ahead, spiritually, of any of us. He had already given his heart in full surrender to Christ. 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."

During his first semester at Yale, William started something that would transform the campus. He, initially with one classmate, started an early morning prayer group.  That action gave birth to a movement that soon spread across the campus. By the end of his first year, 150 freshmen were meeting weekly for Bible study and prayer. By the time William was a senior, one thousand of Yale's 1,300 students were meeting in such groups.

William had a charismatic personality, was sociable, athletic, and fun loving, but was also an intense and hardworking natural leader. At Yale, he was elected president of Phi Beta Kappa and was active in several collegiate sports, especially wrestling and crew. He also became the master of his own sailing yacht.

Additionally, William did not stand on platitudes and could not tolerate the less fortunate’s plight. He made it his habit to seek out the most "incorrigible" students and try to comfort and enlighten them. His outreach was not confined to the Yale campus. He rescued drunks from the streets of New Haven to try to rehabilitate them; he founded the Yale Hope Mission. One of William’s friends wrote that he "might often be found in the lower parts of the city at night, on the street, in a cheap lodging house or some restaurant to which he had taken a poor hungry fellow to feed him."

William’s missionary call did not die.  Through his studies he began to narrow his unique love to the Muslim Kansu people in China. Once he fixed his eyes on that goal, William never wavered. He also consistently challenged his classmates to consider missionary service.

Upon graduation from Yale, William turned down some high-paying job offers - the biggest from his father.  In his Bible, William wrote two more words: "No retreats."

William went on to do graduate work at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey. Professor Charles R. Erdman wrote that no other student had exerted a greater personal influence over him than William. "His judgment was so unerring and so mature that I always forgot there was such a difference in our ages. His complete consecration and devotion to Christ were a revelation to me, and his confidence in prayer a continual inspiration."

When he finished his studies at Princeton, he sailed for China, as planned. Because he was hoping to work with Muslims, he stopped first in Egypt to study Arabic. While there, William contracted spinal meningitis. Within a month, the 25-year-old was dead. William Whiting Borden is buried in the American Cemetery in Cairo. On his grave are inscribed the words suggested by Charles Erdman: "Apart from faith in Christ, there is no explanation of such a life.”

William was the heir to the Borden family and its tremendous wealth. He was the third child of William and Mary DeGarmo Whiting Borden of Colorado. Borden's father had made a fortune in Colorado silver mining, but the family was unrelated to the Borden Condensed Milk Company, an advantage for young William. If asked about his wealth, he could honestly reply that his family was often mistaken for "the rich Condensed Milk firm that bears the name of Borden.”

When the news of William Borden's death was cabled back to the U.S., nearly every American newspaper carried the story. "A wave of sorrow went round the world. Borden not only gave away his wealth, but himself, in a way so joyous and natural that it seemed a privilege rather than a sacrifice,” wrote Mary Taylor in her introduction to his biography, Borden of Yale. (Mrs. Howard Taylor, Moody Press, Chicago)

Prior to his death, Borden had written two more words in the back of his Bible. Underneath the words "No reserves" and "No retreats," he wrote: "No regrets.”

What is your motto?  What will be your legacy?  What are you holding back?  Are you retreating in your business today? Do you have regrets?  What can you do about those regrets?

For William Borden, although short, his was a full life of meaning, service, and impact. During his college years, William Borden made an entry in his personal journal that defined what his classmates were seeing in him. That entry said simply: "Say 'no' to self and 'yes' to Jesus every time."

And this is why, Legacy Matters...


Featurette No.17 (c) www.legacyletters.xyz

Legacy Matters! A featurette on interesting individuals and brands, that have stood the test of time and will entice you to be intentional and purposeful about your own legacy.  Join us and create! Tell Your Story.