God’s Great Story

In January I was pleased to speak at my home church, Wallace Memorial Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, as they celebrated the life and ministry of Dr. Bill Wallace, a medical missionary to China for whom the church is named. 

Revelation 7:9-11 (HCSB): After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

Salvation belongs to our God,
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb!

All the angels stood around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures, and they fell facedown before the throne and worshiped God,

Revelation 21:1-4 (HCSB): Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.

Then I heard a loud voice from the throne:

Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity,
and He will live with them.
They will be His people,
and God Himself will be with them
and be their God.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Death will no longer exist;
grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer,
because the previous things have passed away.

Revelation 22:1-5 (HCSB):Then he showed me the river of living water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the broad street of the city. The tree of life was on both sides of the river, bearing 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His slaves will serve Him.  They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.  Night will no longer exist, and people will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever.

My Dad likes to start a book about three-fourths of the way in, read a few pages, and then if he likes how it’s turning out, he will read the entire book. Like my dad, I also love to read. As far back as I can remember, I have loved stories, and as a young girl growing up in a Baptist church and being a member of Girls in Action, some of my favorite stories have been the stories of missionaries: Lottie Moon and Bill Wallace are the two I remember most.

Who was Lottie Moon?
lottie-moon 01Lottie Moon was a missionary to China. She was appointed to Tengchow, China, by the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board in 1873. Lottie served 39 years in China, mostly in Shandong province on the east coast. At that time, China was mostly farmland, and history tells us that although the Chinese people feared and rejected her, she refused to leave. Instead she baked cookies, adopted traditional Chinese dress, and learned the language and customs. She didn’t just serve the people of China. She identified with them. And some eventually accepted her, and the Savior she represented. Lottie died on Christmas Eve, 1912 at age 72 on a ship bound for the U.S. in Kobe Harbor, Japan.

Who was Bill Wallace?
Bill Wallace
Now, fast forward to 1935, when a young surgeon from right here in Knoxville, set sail for Wuchow, China. Bill Wallace was appointed by the Foreign Mission Board to Stout Memorial Hospital in Wuchow, in Southern China, 23 years after Lottie Moon’s death. The China Bill Wallace encountered was very different from the one Lottie Moon served. By the time Bill Wallace arrived in China, Southern Baptist missionaries had been in China for nearly 90 years — China was the FMB’s first foreign mission field — and political conflict was beginning to brew. Little did Bill Wallace (or anyone) know at the time that the Japanese would launch a full-scale invasion of China two years later in 1937.

Bill Wallace and his colleagues continued to serve faithfully through the Japanese occupation, World War II and eventually the communist takeover of China in 1949. The stories of his heroism during those years are astounding – including evacuating the entire hospital in 1944, only a few days ahead of Japanese forces, transporting patients, staff and equipment by boat hundreds of miles upriver. After the war, Wallace returned to Stout Memorial hospital, rebuilt it, and kept treating patients even after the Communist party gained control of China in 1949.

Erich Bridges, a long-time IMB missionary writer, explains that after the communist takeover missionaries were no longer welcome in China and the start of the Korean War in 1950 sparked an intense Anti-American campaign. Bill Wallace was arrested in December 1950 and died in a communist jail cell less than two months later.

After Wallace’s arrest, Erich records, authorities summoned many Wuchow citizens to a public meeting and demanded that they step forward to denounce the missionary. Not a single person did. The only charge they could make stick was that “he went about doing good.”

The Larger Story
These are the stories that captured my heart and my imagination as a little girl. I loved reading Lottie Moon’s biography and Jesse Fletcher’s Bill Wallace of China. And because of those stories, it wasn’t hard for me to picture myself doing missionary work someday. Then, when I did sense God’s call first as a teenager and then again in my early 30s, it wasn’t too big a step to say “Yes” to that call. I was privileged to serve with the IMB – doing a job I loved with people I loved for a cause I loved – for 17 years.

During those 17 years with the IMB – 13 of them in Asia — Bill Wallace’s legacy continued to inspire me. I had the privilege of not only visiting the Wallace Memorial Baptist Hospital in Pusan, South Korea, a number of times but also hearing the stories of doctors and nurses from that hospital who were traveling into difficult places in South Asia to hold medical clinics and share the gospel. Bill Wallace’s legacy continued to inspire them. They inspired me.

But most importantly, Bill Wallace’s story, and Lottie Moon’s story, and my story and the stories of countless others over the years who have served God here in the U.S. and around the world are all just smaller parts of a much larger story – a story of God’s love and redemption and restoration of a world broken by sin. That story goes something like this:

In the beginning, God …

  • In the beginning, God created all nations from one man for His glory.
  • We all sinned and fell short of His glory.
  • God made a covenant with Abraham to bless all nations.
  • God led Joseph captive into Egypt for His glory.
  • Then He called out Moses to rescue the Israelites from Pharaoh to make His name known among all nations.
  • He gave the young nation of Israel commandments to live differently than the nations around them.
  • God sent prophets so the nations would know there is no other God.
  • God so loved the world that He sent Jesus, His Son, to offer forgiveness of sins to all the nations!
  • Jesus sent His Church to all nations to tell His story!
  • Jesus will come again, and the nations will gather to worship and give God glory!

The End.

Ripples of Hope
Lottie Moon, Bill Wallace, and missionaries who have served in hard places and global cities around the world are ripples of hope in a dark, dying world, even when all hope seems lost. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that “God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” The communist takeover of China in 1949 closed the country to missions work, and the China that ended Bill Wallace’s life in 1951 was a dark place. But had God abandoned the Chinese people?

Absolutely not.

Many of you may have read the book or seen the film by Nik Ripken, called “Insanity of God.” Ripken is an IMB missionary who has interviewed hundreds of believers living in persecution all over the world. After his interviews with Chinese believers who have grown up in an atmosphere of oppression, he realized that in the last 65 years, these believers in China have been part of the greatest spiritual awakening the world has ever known.

The number of believers in China in the days of Bill Wallace was in the hundreds. Today, that number reaches into the millions. The growth of the church during fifty years of communist rule in China was even greater than the growth experienced in the church over the first few centuries after Christ.

God did not abandon China after the death of Bill Wallace and the expulsion of Christian missionaries. Instead, he took the seeds that had been planted and He multiplied them in a way that few of us can even begin to comprehend.

What about you?
Where do you fit in this story? In this larger story, we are in the last few chapters. We, the church, have been tasked by God with taking His story to the nations … just as He tasked the early believers in the first century and just as He called Lottie Moon, Bill Wallace and other followers of Jesus through the ages.

God didn’t issue the Great Commission to a select few. He has called all of us to take the Gospel to the nations. Now, those nations may be on the other side of the world, and I know that God is still calling some of you to “Go” to the nations.

But, increasingly, God is also bringing the nations to us. In the United States today, there are 42 million foreign-born refugees, immigrants and international students. More than 300,000 Tennesseans — 4.7 percent of the population — are foreign-born. This is an increase from 1.2 percent in 1990 and 2.8 percent in 2000. Of UT Knoxville’s 28,000 graduate and undergraduate students enrolled this year, 1,268 are international students. The largest number – 520 – are from China. The second highest – 144 – are from India. The nations are living among us, and today we have a unique and unprecedented opportunity to share Christ right here in this city with those who may have never heard the Good News.

So, the challenge and the commission still stand. The same God who called Lottie Moon and Bill Wallace is also calling you to take the Gospel to those who have never heard, whether they are right here in Knoxville or on the other side of the world.

Will you go?


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