Bill Wallace and the Hidden Treasure in the Field
At 17 years old, a question nagged young Bill Wallace: What would God have me do with my life? He found his answer in the scriptures: he would be a medical missionary. Over the next ten years, Bill would give himself to the task of studying to become a doctor, even declining a lucrative offer to remain in the United States. He knew what the Lord had called him to do and that just wasn’t it.
For Bill Wallace, it all came down to value. What did he value more? Comfort and safety in the U.S. or life as a citizen in the Kingdom of God. For Bill Wallace, to go was obedience and to stay was to not. What did he value most of all?
In Matthew 13, Jesus uses parables to convey something about value. There He says:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” – Matthew 13:44-46
I think what Jesus is communicating here is pretty clear. The person who believes in Jesus gives up everything to be known by Jesus, to receive Him as Lord and Savior, and to take possession of eternal life as citizens in His Kingdom. Nothing else in this world holds greater value to them than to have what Jesus is offering to hopeless sinners.
But we push back on this, don’t we? I think, often times, our gut reaction is to start arguing “yeah, but this doesn’t apply to me. I don’t have to give up everything. I just have to be WILLING to do so”. But that’s not what Jesus says. Just three chapters later we read: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24-25). The cost of following Jesus is greater than we will often allow ourselves to believe. Undoubtedly, this will look differently in the life of one believer to the next but the call is all the same: followers of Christ desire to possess life in His Kingdom above anything else.
Across the globe, while Bill Wallace studied to become a doctor, Dr. Robert Beddoe was praying for help at Stout Memorial Hospital in Wuchow, South China. Dr. Beddoe would write to the Foreign Mission Board requesting such help. Nearing the end of his studies Bill Wallace also wrote a letter to the Foreign Mission Board, saying: “Since my senior year in high school, I have felt God would have me to be a medical missionary, and to that end I have been preparing myself… I must confess, I am not a good speaker nor apt as a teacher, but I do feel God can use my training as a physician. As humbly as I know how, I want to volunteer to serve as a medical missionary under our Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board. I have always thought of Africa, but I will go anywhere I am needed”. Nearly ten years to the day he surrendered to the call to medical missions, he would be appointed to serve in Wuchow, South China at Stout Memorial Hospital.
Bill Wallace would serve in China for 15 years through political uprisings, the Japanese invasion of China, and the Communist takeover. He would perform surgery with bombs going off overhead. He even kept the hospital going on a boat when when they had to abandon Wuchow and move the hospital up a river. He was urged to leave but said "I will stay as long as I am able to serve". Bill Wallace spent himself in service to the Chinese out of obedience to the Savior he loved. Of his devotion, one Chinese believer described his life as: "he actually lived before us the life of Christ".
Dr. Beddoe spoke of revival breaking out in the hospital, saying people were being healed and saved in that hospital. This movement of the Spirit, he said, dated back to the arrival of Bill Wallace.
Bill Wallace was willing, able, and ready to go serve wherever the Lord would have him. It seems quite evident that Wallace found his joy in the Lord and in spending Himself in service to Christ’s Kingdom. That leads me back to Matthew 13 and something of great importance we need to see in that text.
What was the attitude of the man who sold everything to have the treasure in the field? He didn’t begrudgingly sale everything he owned in order to have the treasure in the field. Jesus says that he did it with joy. It made him happy to sell off everything he had so he could buy that field and possess that treasure.
Joy isn’t optional here. It’s called for. It’s one more litmus test for the health and even genuineness of our faith. That’s the rub. We think “if I just do it, give up whatever it is, then Jesus will be happy with me and I can be satisfied that I was obedient” but that’s wrong. Your attitude in obedience determines whether or not it is worship or hollow moralism. Joyless obedience is not obedience at all. It’s an attempt to earn God’s love and favor and that is to deny the truth of the gospel.
That doesn’t mean it won’t be hard. That doesn’t mean you won’t wrestle and fight with competing desires over what makes you the happiest. We must pray: “Lord, Jesus, give me joy in following with you. Help me to see you as my greatest treasure, my only desire”. We plead with Him to change our desires and to give us new affections. We have to because our natural bent is to push away from complete devotion to Him. We must pray, depending on the mercy of God and power of His Spirit to flood us with new desires that exalt Him. But we’ll only do this when we understand what Jesus is saying in this parable: the one who has life in the Kingdom gives up everything happily because they know what they have found and received in Jesus is far better than anything they could have in this world.
On December 19, 1950, Chinese communists lied their way onto the grounds of the hospital where Dr. Wallace served. Upon their entry, the soldiers began to accuse Dr. Wallace of being an American spy to which, Dr. Wallace simply replied: "We are what we seem to be. We are doctors and nurses and hospital staff engaged in healing the suffering and sick in the name of Jesus Christ. We are here for no other reason."
However, the soldiers planted evidence against him and took him into custody. In prison, Bill Wallace would be berated over and over with wild accusations about malpractice and claims that evidence had been mounted against him. The intense brainwashing and physical abuse were meant to cause Bill Wallace to deny his reasons for being in China and in turn cause those who believed his testimony about Christ Jesus to doubt him but he would not recant. He would cling to his faith until the end, never denying that he had come to China to tell people about the love of Christ Jesus. But the abuse took its toll and, alone in his cell, Bill Wallace would go to be with His Lord on February 10, 1951. His interrogators attempted to paint the picture of a guilty man hanging himself to escape his torment, one last effort to cause those who loved and followed him to doubt his testimony, but they knew better. Bill Wallace was a martyr and he died as he lived – in devoted submission to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Following his death, Dr. Theron Rankin – executive secretary for the Foreign Mission Board – had this to say: “To give his life in love and service for the people whom he served fits so naturally and harmoniously with Bill’s life… Bill’s death was not the result of his being caught by a situation from which he could not escape. He deliberately chose his course with a committal that made him ready to take any consequences that might come.” Bill Wallace found the treasure in the field and sold everything to possess it.
The call of obedience is not an easy one but how good it is to know Jesus, be known by Him, to be a citizen of His Kingdom, and to possess the life He offers us in it. It is worth giving up whatever temporary treasures this life might offer us.
Do you find your greatest joy and satisfaction in devotion to Christ and mission of His Kingdom? What would you be willing to give up to have what He offers to you?
You have but one life to live. Will you live it for the glory of Christ Jesus with an eye towards the eternal joy you may have in Him?