By Luke Holmes
The surgeon stood over a patient in the Wuchow hospital as bombs dropped around him. China was at war, and Japanese planes roared overhead.
The hospital shook violently as an ordnance ripped a hole in the roof just 50 feet from where the surgery was taking place. The surgeon finished the operation and got the patient to recovery before beginning another.
This isn’t the wildest story in the life of Bill Wallace.
Wallace surrendered his life to missions as a 17-year-old while working on an engine in his parents’ garage.
After medical school and a surgery residency, he was appointed as a medical missionary with the Foreign Mission Board (now the IMB) in 1935 to serve at the Stout Memorial Hospital in Wuchow, China.
Wallace served the Chinese through a time of great upheaval.
After the war with Japan, there was a brief period of peace before the rise of Communism. But then Wallace was arrested and falsely charged in 1950. He died in prison the following year.
Since then, his life and martyrdom have inspired best-selling books, movies, a hospital in China, and even a church named in his honor.
Those stories center on the life and work of a great doctor. But his great work and endurance through hardship would not be possible without the support of many friends and family.
One of his greatest encouragers, Dr. Robert Beddoe, was with him from the moment he stepped foot in China.
A ‘minor’ character in a major story.
As a young doctor, Wallace was skilled at surgery but not at administration. For this reason, Beddoe often picked up the slack while teaching Wallace how to lead a hospital.
Wallace owed a great debt to Beddoe as he taught him to be a leader, both spiritually and administratively.
In the world eyes, Beddoe’s story looks like a mere subplot in the story of the more well-known Bill Wallace. We have just one book about Beddeo’s life, and no movies have been made about him or churches named in his honor.
Beddoe is one of the hundreds of thousands of missionaries who have served faithfully over the years, but who have been mostly forgotten after their death.
Served and died forgotten.
It’s common to read a story like Wallace and imagine ourselves to be the one who makes a difference, whose name is spoken in reverence for years to come.
The story of Wallace grips and inspires us, as well it should. But the life of Beddoe should too. He was only a minor character in the book about Wallace, but he served the Lord faithfully for over 40 years on the mission field.
God may have a future for us that will inspire the masses. But it’s far more likely God just wants us to be faithful, to share the good news, and then to die and be forgotten.
Similarly, the book of Acts draws us to characters like Paul, who wrote letters, healed others, and faced persecution for the name of Christ.
These are men who served faithfully, and their work and words still inspire us today. We’re not, however, as quickly drawn to the life of a man like Barnabas.
But What About Barnabas?
Barnabas left no recorded letters in his name. Nothing is known from Scripture about his death or even much about his life. Instead, most of what we know about Barnabas’ ministry centers around Paul.
Called the son of encouragement, Barnabas is often in the background in Acts, serving faithfully behind the scenes.
History is full of men and women like Beddoe and Barnabas. These are people who encourage the gifted, promote others ahead of themselves, and understand something greater than their own praise is at stake.
Lord, Make Me a Barnabas.
Everyone wants to be a Paul, but do we ever pray for God to make us a Barnabas? We’re willing to be martyred for our faith like Wallace, but are we willing to serve and be forgotten?
If God calls us to be a minor character in a major story, will we gladly give our lives to encourage those who are more gifted and skilled than we are?
What if God’s plan for us is to be the unknown fill-in preacher who leads a young Spurgeon to Christ, or the Sunday School teacher who leads Moody to Christ in a shoe store?
Will we be satisfied to be a Beddoe and never a Wallace? A Barnabas and never a Paul?
Of course, we’re all minor characters. In the grand narrative of God’s redemption of mankind, our 80 or 100 years are but a vapor.
But when we put others ahead of ourselves, we’re following the example of Christ. He took the robes of majesty off and took on robes of human flesh.
The most exalted name in the universe became as helpless as a baby. In Christ, we have the example that shows us how to lay down our life and be obedient unto death for the sake of others.
The World Needs More People Willing to Be Forgotten.
The world needs more people like Wallace. It also needs more people like Beddoe.
To be a Barnabas to those around us doesn’t take special skills, talents, or callings. It takes a heart that’s willing to put others first.
Pray that God will make you a Barnabas. Pray that God will give you the heart to serve where needed as you see God work mightily through others. Pray that God will allow you to serve faithfully and be forgotten.
Lord, make me a Barnabas.
LUKE HOLMES (@lukeholmes) is husband to Sara, father to three young girls, and pastor to many at First Baptist Church Tishomingo, Oklahoma since 2011. He’s a graduate of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and can be found online at LukeAHolmes.com.