Southern Baptist medical missionary and martyr Bill Wallace suffered profoundly in his last weeks on earth, but he had long been prepared. “There is no sacrifice in all the world too great for a man to make for the Lord Jesus Christ,” he wrote in an emotional letter shared with his home congregation just before he left for his fateful mission to China in 1935.
Photo courtesy of SWBTS
Missionary surgeon Bill Wallace set forth his call to China in a letter to his home church in Knoxville, Tenn. Wallace died in 1951 while under Chinese imprisonment.
Now, Wallace’s farewell message and many other papers from his life will be on display in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (SWBTS) new Mathena Hall along with his previously acquired portrait.
“The Bill Wallace collection represents the outstanding devotion and effort by the members of the Wallace Memorial Baptist Church of Knoxville, Tenn.,” said Craig Kubic, Southwestern’s dean of libraries who requested a permanent loan of Wallace’s papers including the historic letter.
The church has “collected and preserved a genuine tribute to the legacy of one of the SBC’s most notable missionary doctors who was martyred in China,” Kubic said.
Wallace’s zeal for foreign ministry puzzled many. “You may ask, why do I want to go to China, that heathen nation, and there spend my life and energy,” he wrote to his congregation in his legendary letter. “You might say there is much to be done in this country, and many have said you can do a lot of good here. Why should I go when there are such hardships and inconveniences? The only answer I have is that it is God’s plan that I go.”
The lengthy letter in Wallace’s handwriting will also be digitized and available online through Southwestern’s J.T. and Zelma Luther Archive.
Wallace was a dedicated surgeon with a heart for spreading the gospel, and his life story is familiar to generations of Southern Baptists. Born in Knoxville in 1908, Wallace completed medical school and a surgical residency, all aimed at being called as a medical missionary.
Photo courtesy of SWBTS
Portrait of missionary surgeon Bill Wallace, killed in China in 1951, to be displayed at Southwestern Seminary.
In 1935, he was sent to Wuchow (now Wuzhou) in southern China to work as a surgeon at the Baptist-operated Stout Memorial Hospital. On receiving his assignment, he delivered his heartfelt testimony to Broadway Baptist Church in Knoxville, his home church. Then, bags packed, he immediately walked to the train station with fellow church members accompanying him and stepped onto a train to begin his journey.
In China, Wallace worked through Japanese bombing raids, but in 1950, the start of the Korean War initiated an intense anti-American propaganda campaign, and missionaries were no longer welcome. His arrest came that December.
Wallace was detained as a spy, then jailed and tortured. Less than two months later, on Feb. 10, 1951, Wallace died a martyr.
In 2015, Mike Boyd, senior pastor of Wallace Memorial Baptist Church in Knoxville and a member of Southwestern’s board of trustees, acquired Wallace’s portrait from the University of Tennessee medical school, which Wallace attended.
When Boyd learned that a room at Mathena Hall – which will house the Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions and Scarborough College – would bear Wallace’s name, he and the church knew that Southwestern should house the portrait. This year, Kubic arranged the permanent loan of Wallace’s papers to be on display with the portrait.
Wallace never questioned his call to China. In his legendary letter, he wrote: “God’s call was so definite to me, and I think He made it definite so there would be no doubt in my mind as to God’s plan, so that through the long years of preparation there would be no doubt that I was doing God’s will.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Julie Owens writes for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)