November 18, 2017

Remembering Wally Tope A Martyr on American Soil

November 21, 2013

Remembering Wally Tope: A Martyr on American Soil

Martyred for his faith during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. In Remembrance of his passing into glory twenty years ago on November 24, 1993 after suffering eighteen months in a coma.

by James C. Stephens

“He knows the way I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”

~Job 23:10

In May 1992, a friend of ours, Wally Tope was dramatically struck down in the prime of his life by two looters he was preaching to in the L.A. Riots. For three days no one knew of his whereabouts and then one Sunday afternoon, I received a call from hospital officials who had found my business card in his personal effects.

They asked, “Are you James Stephens?”

“Do you know Wally Tope?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Why?”

“He’s been hurt badly. Would you mind coming down and identifying him?”

“Certainly.” I was in shock. It seemed that just days before we had been talking about his latest research project on Tibetan Buddhism and the apologetic he was working on.

The next 48 hours were among the most difficult hours I recall in my life. Awaking at 2:00am, I began chronicling the damage in my journal, “For the last two days in Los Angeles there have been over 42 people killed, 1700 people injured; 300 on the critical list, over 3,000 separate fires set to structures, and over $500,000,000 worth of damage to property, not including the tremendous shame of looting, taking of innocent blood, and political opportunism. God has allowed judgment of this City of Los Angeles & County and country rightly.”

The streets of Los Angeles had been deserted because of martial law and the curfew. As I drove, it was through mostly deserted eerie smoke filled streets passing barricades to the hospital where he lay.  I took the elevator up to intensive care, not knowing what I would find.  The bright flourescent lights of the room strangely illuminated the partially shrouded body of what appeared to be Wally Tope who laid in an unfamiliar stone silence on the narrow hospital bed. “Yes. It is Wally.”  I provided a positive identification of his body. From that first moment when I knew it was Wally, I felt I was standing in the presence of one of the first martyrs on American soil. I witnessed firsthand the price of preaching the Gospel and the graphic and brutal hostility of the world to the redeeming truth of Jesus.

Unconscious, black and blue from the blows he received on his head, swollen almost beyond recognition, his brother now arrived and tearfully pulled back the sheets to look at his legs where more bruises were applied by his attackers after being struck on the head and falling to the ground at a Sav’ On Drug in Hollywood. As we spent time in the room before Wally’s body his brother wrestled with his grief attempting to make sense of this tragedy. The old hymn raced through my mind, “By the blood of burning martyrs, Jesus’ bloody feet I track.”  Was this Wally, or was it the light of Jesus now in this man I saw? A witness fulfilling the sufferings of Jesus. Eighteen months later never having regained consciousness, he left this world into the presence of Jesus, where he will receive a martyr’s crown.

The footprint of the legacy that Wally left behind is immense. Well-researched, incisive, accurate, and Biblical characterized each piece of literature that he crafted to convey the Gospel to Mormon’s and Jehovah Witnesses whom he desired would know the Savior Jesus Christ. Often accompanied by one tract, “Hell, Suppose It’s True After All?” evoked a solemn warning about the price of rejecting the message of the Messiah.

There are lessons here for us. One couple realized that the pursuit of the America dream was not along the “King’s highway.” They choose instead to dedicate their lives to service in Asia. Wally had given up a lucrative career as a brilliant engineer and lived a frugal life operating out of  a small studio apartment in Pasadena. Saving money to do the LORD’s work wherever it took him around the world.  Tragedies inspire deep reflection in those who have known the afflicted or have since heard his testimony around the world. I have one of his bookshelves near my desk, a quiet monument reminding me of the cost of discipleship.

His memorial service on November 24, 1993, some twenty years ago­­ was attended by several hundred people who had been touched by his ministry to the LORD. It can be said that he finished well and heard from His Master, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”