Over 850 people gathered in the Main Tent on Tuesday afternoon to watch a powerful BBC documentary following Bob McAllister on his journey back to the Congo where he served as a missionary for 40 years. There were few dry eyes as the hour-long story unfolded. In the Simba rebellion of 1964, many missionaries were martyred. In 2014, Bob (then 89 years old) and his three children returned to the country to mark the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.

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Bill McAllister, Bob McAllister and Tim Macgowan (left to right)

When rebel soldiers advanced on the capital, dozens of missionaries were kept as hostages for over four months. The rebel “lions” claimed they would wipe out Christianity and as tensions mounted they threatened the lives of their captives. Facing a firing squad, the McAllisters prepared for death but were miraculously spared. On another occasion, a fellow missionary was shot dead but Bob escaped by dropping to the ground in a hail of bullets.

After the compelling narrative, Bob and his son Bill chatted with Tim Magowan from Tearfund NI to answer questions from the audience.

Tim Magowan

I first saw this film sitting in the BBC a month before it was broadcast. I watched it with a group of hard-nosed NI media professionals. The film stopped and I turned to the woman beside me and she was speechless. It took her two minutes to compose herself. This is a story of tears. There is a sense of the tragedy and yet in the middle of that horror there is this amazing sense of hope.

This is a conference about the kingdom and the lost. Can you tell us back in the early days, what was it that gave you a strong sense of call?

Bob McAllister

A call is hard to describe because people have different experiences but there is one thing in common about a call to the work of God. Those who are called have the inner witness of the Spirit of God. It is better felt than “telt” but you know it is there. Hallelujah!

Tim Magowan

You made the decision to stay during the 1964 rebellion. The last plane left and you were held captive for four months. Did you ever feel a sense of doubt about your decision or about God’s ability to bring good out of the situation?

Bob McAllister

We never doubted God. We were cautious and careful and watched out for the children but in our heart of hearts we had the peace of God. We were about the king’s business. We were not fearful. We were waiting on the deliverance of God. Hallelujah!

Bill McAllister

I was 12 years old when we were held hostage. Children have an ability to have fun wherever they are. During those months, we had fun and that is thanks to my parents. They knew the reality and the potential problems we could face. Mum set up a makeshift school. They tried to make life as normal as possible. We didn’t really know what was going on. When the time came, my parents were also very honest with us so that we were prepared to face death. Kids have an amazing capacity to accept reality as far as they can understand it.

Tim Magowan

Do you ever feel that your parents should not have taken you?

Bill McAllister

No. There were understandably some disadvantages. I went to a Belgian boarding school, an American boarding school and a British school as well. Any educationalist will tell you that it is not a good thing to move around so much but we learnt a massive amount by living and growing up overseas. I would not change one day of it. Stability is not all it is cracked up to be.

Tim Magowan

The widow of the missionary who was killed chose to forgive. How about you? How do you feel about the killers now?

Bob McAllister

They were killers but God is the same yesterday, today and forever. We pray Lord, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. They were misguided, doing the devil’s work. We don’t blame them. We are leaving the judgement to the Lord. We have no ill feeling at all. The six boys who lost their father did eventually find the man who shot their father. Before he died, he put his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord opened up the way for them to meet the man personally and they had the joy of knowing that he had come to know the Saviour – a murderer saved for eternity.

You saw in the film that the rebel leader forced my wife to deliver his wife’s baby and how the baby was born dead. He had threatened my wife that if the baby was born dead, she would be killed. We firmly believed that the baby was dead but we prayed and the baby started to move. We praised the Lord for that.

Some years later we went to visit the church that had been built on the site where the rebels murdered my friend. An African lady came to my wife and said, “Mama, do you remember the boy who was born dead?” She pointed to a big African boy in his 20s. She said, “He is now the superintendent of the Sunday School in this church. Over there is his mother. She is a deaconess in the church.” Hallelujah! God does all things well.

Tim Magowan

The story is so full of resurrection imagery. In the life of the individuals and in the life of the church in the Congo but what impact has it made on your lives?

Bill McAllister

My sister says that explains why us three kids are crack pots because we never had any post traumatic stress counselling. David and I have been involved in medical work all over the world. We have been continuously facing violence. There comes a point when you think that this is what the world has to offer and it doesn’t surprise you any more. As Christian however, we have the antidote, which is the love of Jesus.

Unless Christians show love we have to question what Gospel we are preaching. The love of God saves us from violence. Unless we act out our lives in an attitude of love then our whole faith is questionable. Sometimes we get angry with people who talk the talk and don’t walk the walk and at the bitterness we detect in our own society here. We have no reason to have bitterness at all because Jesus took care of it. If we show bitterness we have not yet knelt at the cross. If we have bitterness in our hearts, we are, in effect, still lost.

The one country in the world that gives me the heebie-jeebies is Congo. I have flashbacks. I don’t crack any jokes when I hear that language and see the soldiers in uniform. I keep my eyes down and pray. When I meet the ordinary people, I can relax.

Tim Magowan

I was struck by in the film was that your brother David said that the violence cause him at times to doubt his faith.

Bill McAllister

The Holy Spirit is colour-blind. We must not be so arrogant to think that just because we are Irish missionaries working abroad, we are the ones with the answers. My brother was saying something provocative. There are times when Irish missionaries get down and discouraged. If you are facing rows of dead bodies – there are refugee camps on TV but you can’t smell them on TV! At some point, you get down. At that point, some local believer will come to you and say, “God is good.” They are missioning to us. Mission is a global thing and it is a two-way street – us to them and them to us!

Tim Magowan

When you returned to Congo on this recent visit, what did you find?

Bob McAllister

The crowded churches took me by surprise. I was amazed to see every church service overflowing with young, middle aged and old people. The generations have changed since we were first evangelising. They are so enthusiastic. I keep reminding myself of what the rebels told us. They said, “We are going to stamp out the church of Jesus Christ.”

There are more churches today in that area of the Congo today, than there ever were before. That thrilled my soul. In particular, every place where missionaries were murdered there is a new church; a brick church built by the Africans. Hallelujah!

Bill McAllister

Congo has a very numerically large church. But it is the second poorest country in the world. It has seen the death of up to six million people as a result of violence over recent years.   You have a large successful church in a country that is known around the world for violence. African Christians ask what has gone wrong?

Sometimes we have focused so much on the afterlife but we have forgotten that we are not dead yet. There is a reason for us to be here. We are to be light and salt. Are we salt? Are we good for our country and our society?  It the country is going to rack and ruin, then the church is not doing its job! That is what my brother David is doing with Tearfund, trying to help them have an abundance of life in the here and now by providing food, jobs and training and supporting the church in being salt and light to the society around them.

Tim Magowan

David described how they came into a village and found that 33 girls had been savagely raped just one week earlier. The church there did not have the skills that were needed so Tearfund provided funds to get professional counselling, medical care and long-term support for those 33 girls. We are working through folks that came to know the Lord through the ministry of Bob and his wife.

Tim Magowan

Is there one piece of wisdom that you would pass on to the folk here?

Bob McAllister

When I was 14 years of age and started to serve my apprenticeship in Belfast I told myself, “You have all of life before you, providing you don’t have an accident or serious disease. If God cannot satisfy you throughout your life then nobody else can. God must be first. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.

I could keep you here for another two years telling you how God met our needs; miracle after miracle of God’s bountiful provision. We lost all our possessions three times over and were left with nothing but God gave us a bountiful supply. Ultimately, we have lost nothing and we have gained everything. To God be the glory. Hallelujah!

Bill McAllister

The message I think that the Congolese would have for us is the same thing they told my dad after the rebellion. They emerged from the forest and they build churches before they built houses. They told my dad, “Only God matters now.”

When you hit rock bottom that concentrates the mind. The Congolese people have hit rock bottom. Thankfully, they are beginning to claw their way out of it. Don’t wait to be forced. Turn to God now and live for God seeking after justice because only God matters.

Bob McAllister

No young person who has health and strength and ability should be on the dole. You need employment. God needs you. The world needs you. Don’t think you can be unemployed when there is a world of activity waiting for you. Rise up you men and women of God and praise the Lord. Young believers should have their eyes on Calvary and on the needy world and get involved Don’t say you cannot do it.

After one of our meetings a young girl came to my wife and said, “God has called me to be a missionary and my mummy says I can’t go.” My wife asked, “Why?” She replied, “I’m only a typist.” My wife told her, “I could place six typists in mission work right away!”

Whatever your job, you can use it for Lord Jesus Christ. We simply need to say, “Here am I Lord, send me. But be careful because God may answer that prayer for you. But if He does, you will be the happiest young man or woman in the northern parts of Ireland. God bless you!

Hallelujah