A godly family
William Waddell was born in Scotland in the mid-1800’s. His parents loved God, helped in the church, and taught young William about God and the Bible. William’s mother loved to read missionary stories and eagerly retold them to her children.
Quiet and humble
William had a sensitive nature and was very quiet and humble. He did not feel comfortable playing rough games with the other boys and they often made fun of him because of it.
William could build and fix things
Sickness kept William from attending school regularly. He was not a very good student, but he was very good at figuring out how machines worked. He spent many quiet hours in his workshop building with wood and rebuilding mechanical things. Neighbors soon learned that William had the exceptional skill of understanding how machines worked. They brought their broken machines to William and he was happy to repair as many of them as he could.
Good, but still a sinner
William liked to be good, but just like everyone else he was a sinner. At age fifteen he asked Jesus to save him from his sin. Jesus did save him and will save you or anyone else who asks.
God made it clear that He wanted William to be a missionary in Africa. But the boy wondered if that could ever be possible since he wasn’t smart like other young people and had such a hard time studying from books.
In those days someone who was not good at studying from books could be apprenticed to a tradesman who would teach him a specific skill. William was apprenticed to a joiner, a type of carpenter, and became very good at his work.
To finish his apprenticeship William was sent to a ship building company. The other men who worked there were crude and ungodly. They did not like the young man’s quietness or his faith in God. Many of them taunted and threatened William as he worked.
William stands up for God
But even though William was a quiet person, he was not afraid to stand up for God in front of these men. God gave him a quiet confidence and helped him to know how to answer the mocking words.
One day William saw an advertisement looking for workers to build a church in South Africa. He answered the ad and soon left for his new job. Maybe God would lead him to missionary work once he was in Africa!
William settled in to his work and joined a local church. Hi pastor became a close friend. One day William’s pastor told him about a missionary nearby named Francois Coillard who was praying for a godly man to work with him. He particularly wanted someone who could build and repair things.
A missionary in Africa
When the missionary met William he saw a quiet frail-looking man. He was not sure the young man knew how hard the work would be in remote African areas. “Do not come unless you are certain God is calling you to this work.” But William was absolutely certain God wanted him to help the Coillards. He was thrilled that God gave him exactly the right skills that the missionary group needed!
The missionaries traveled north to begin work in the area now called Zambia. Sickness, tribal wars, bad weather, rough roads, and wild animals made it hard for them to travel quickly. Finally they arrived! William was able to begin building houses and other buildings for the mission station. Soon he was not only building, but making the tools they needed and repairing almost any tool, machine, or vehicle that broke.
Showing God’s love
The African people there had never heard of Jesus and did not seem interested when Mr. Coillard preached and taught them. But a wonderful thing happened. The young men who helped William cut down trees and build things were impressed with the quiet man’s bravery and skills. As time went on he was able to show them God’s love. These boys began to listen and some asked Jesus to save them from their sins.
William was very happy in his work and he and Francois became close friends. Both men loved God and God used the different abilities of each man to establish a mission station. These men showed the love of God to the Africans in many ways. Because the African people saw that they were loved and not just preached at, some were willing to listen to the gospel and become Christians.
Back in Scotland but not forgotten
After many years of serving God in Africa, William became ill with a tropical disease. The disease made him so sick he had to return to Scotland where he was told he would never get better. The last years of his life William could no longer be with his beloved African friends. But God’s work continued in Zambia and his friends and helpers never forgot the quiet man who could build anything and who showed them the love of God by the way he lived.
Verse: Isaiah 30:15 In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.
Ten Questions for young readers:
- What kind of a person was William?
- Was William a good student?
- What did he spend time doing?
- Was William a sinner?
- Where did God want William to serve as a missionary?
- Was he afraid to stand up for God when other people mocked him?
- What does it mean to be an apprentice?
- Do you have to be a preacher to be a missionary?
- How did God use William on the mission field?
- What did William show the African people that helped them want to be Christians?
Bibliography: MacConnachie, Rev. John. An Artisan Missionary on the Zambesi: The Story of William Thomson Waddell. Edinburgh and London: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, 1910.