By Julie Owens
FORT WORTH, Texas — 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.
Now, Wallace’s farewell message and many other papers from his life will be on display in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s 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,” said Craig Kubic, Southwestern’s dean of libraries who requested a permanent loan of Wallace’s papers including the historic letter.
Wallace Memorial started as a mission of Arlington Baptist Church as Clinton Highway Baptist Chapel in 1952. The church was constituted on July 5, 1953 and took the name Wallace Memorial at that time in honor of the martyred missionary.
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.
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 (now retired) 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.
“We are excited to join with Southwestern in this preservation and presentation of information and materials related to the life and ministry of Bill Wallace,” said church member and retired pastor Jim McCluskey.
“Wallace Memorial Baptist Church desires to keep the story alive. We are concerned that many Baptists do not know anything about Bill Wallace’s life and sacrifice,” he said.
Wallace’s story has been chronicled in the book Bill Wallace of China written by Jesse Fletcher.
McCluskey noted the book has been out of print, but with the cooperation of Fletcher, the church has reprinted the book. It is now available for purchase for $15 from the church. For more information about the book, call 865-250-4533.