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Son tells of ‘immense blessing’ having Bob McAllister as dad and of growing up in Congo

David thanks Armagh I readers for their 'wonderful and heartfelt' messages as father Bob (95) is laid to rest in Markethill

Bob McAllister with his sons, David, (right) and William (centre).

The son of Armagh man Bob McAllister, who along with his late wife Alma dedicated over 40 years working as a missionary in the Congo, has said it was “an immense blessing and pleasure” to have them as parents.

And David McAllister, who was inspired by them to continue Christian outreach work in some of the world’s poorest and most dangerous regions through the charity Tearfund, has promised that Bob’s legacy will live on.

Bob McAllister, who lived at Patrick’s Fold in Armagh after the passing of his dear wife, Alma, passed away on Wednesday.

He had only celebrated his 95th birthday on Tuesday of last week.

Bob – a devoted Dad to David, William and Ruth – was laid to rest this morning (Friday), after a funeral service at Markethill Presbyterian Church.

When we shared details of his passing on Wednesday morning, hundreds of people reacted quickly to the news, recalling fond moments and happy memories and offering their personal expressions of sympathy.

Son David has said the family greatly appreciated the sentiments and took comfort from them.

He told Armagh I: “On behalf of the McAllister family, we would like to convey our sincere thanks and gratitude to those hundreds of kind folks who made such wonderful and heartfelt comments.

“As I am one of Bob’s sons, I can tell you that it is an immense pleasure and blessing in having Bob and Alma as my mom and dad.

“They were truly incredible people and a true living example of the love of Jesus to my wife, Sabine, and our own kids, Daniel, Philip, Patrick and Christina.”

David and his wife, Sabine, and their family are currently in lockdown in Ireland and will be returning to the Congo “as soon as we can” to continue their valuable work through Tearfund.

With the passing of his father this week, David has reflected on what it was like for he and his family growing up in Congo, the dangers they faced daily, the horrors witnessed.

He has spoken too of the unbreakable bonds and friendships that formed and endured in the face of that adversity.

But above everything else, he has told us of how blessed they were to have had the shining example of two wonderful parents, Bob and Alma, and the joy of having Christ at the centre of their lives to shine His light upon them and guide them on their path.

Bob McAllister with son David (right)

That faith, he says, is needed now more than ever at this time of global emergency, with coronavirus claiming hundreds of thousands of lives and Tearfund working to do all it can where needed most.

David very kindly shared with Armagh I his cherished memories of his family life growing up and his hopes for the future, as he aims to continue this work.

He recalls: “I was born and grew up in the jungles of Congo. Playing with my Congolese friends in this wonderful jungle was an amazing adventure every single day.

“Even simple childhood games like hide and seek were different. I remember one time, I was dutifully counting with my wee eyes closed firmly shut as my friends went to hide.

“Following my announcement of, ‘Coming, ready or not’, after I’d reached the magic number, I opened my eyes to begin my search and was surprised to see a very large and big old daddy Chimpanzee five metres away from me – he was looking at me, wondering what this little human child was up to!

“To be honest, I have been wondering the same about myself for 65 years…My childhood was quite simply immense and filled with happiness, excitement and joy in my forest home village.

“That is, until the day I was told I must leave – and leave very quickly to go back home to safety. Home? Safety? The adults used a word called evacuation and that was a big word for a wee boy of six. Apparently it’s what one does in order to find ‘home and safety’, even though I thought I was already home and safe.

David McAllister in the Congo

“A few years later, when I was 10, I remember being taken hostage by some very bad men who shouted a lot and beat us and even killed some of us. And as a wee boy, seeing – day after day – the terrible violence and hatred people can do to other people disturbed me greatly.

“I asked my dad, who had been wounded in the gunfire, if we were going to be killed. And this wonderful man replied, ‘Ach my wee son, we just have to wait and see what Jesus will do’.

“And then a group of very heavily armed men called mercenaries came through the forest shooting and shouting to where we were and told us they had come to evacuate us to safety. That word again. Apparently, ‘safety’ is always back there in that other country called Ireland and attained only by ‘evacuation’.

“And upon arrival back in Ireland I remember being told by good and well-meaning Christian people that I was safe now, and ‘those savages’ could not get me anymore. I was told that safety was in Ireland, not in Congo.

“And all through my adult life, with Sabine and our own kids we have sought to carry on where mom and dad left off. Trying to do our very best to help in some small way, while the Congolese continue to suffer and die.

“Yet, I was always in the position of knowing I could go back to ‘safety’ any time I wanted to. Congo has been in the grip of terrible, and ongoing violence, for decades.

“And as a family we have witnessed, time and time again, the horrors of massacres and raping and pillaging. And there is Ebola and malaria and yellow fever and cholera. And now this terrible Coronavirus.

“Is there no end to the suffering of the Congolese?

“But how things have changed now. Oh my. How things have been turned completely upside down as I write these thoughts.

“I am in lockdown in Ireland and we are all wondering what will happen to us with this invisible enemy that kills so indiscriminately and I ponder – where is safety?

“And I have learned much, very much, over the years living and working with countless Congolese brothers and sisters in Christ that safety – true safety – is exactly that. In Christ.

“And this Christ centred life is the example and legacy of Bob and Alma McAllister.

“And as my wife and I, working with Tearfund in Congo, continue the legacy of my parents, we can only thank God for having blessed us with the example of their lives.

“’The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe’. – Proverbs 18:10.”

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