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Belfast missionary Bob McAllister who survived a Congo firing squad dies

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Young Bob and Alma McAllister from Belfast who worked as missionaries in the Congo

Young Bob and Alma McAllister from Belfast who worked as missionaries in the Congo

BBC Northern Ireland

Bob McAllister who was a missionary in the Congo for many years pictured at his home in Armagh

Bob McAllister who was a missionary in the Congo for many years pictured at his home in Armagh

Stephen Hamilton

Young Bob and Alma McAllister from Belfast who worked as missionaries in the Congo

A well-known missionary from Northern Ireland who once escaped a firing squad in Africa has died.

Bob McAllister, who was in his 90s, spent over 40 years working in the Congo and passed away peacefully yesterday in Armagh.

The Belfast-born great-grandfather was described as the dearly loved husband of the late Alma and the devoted father of William, David and Ruth.

A private funeral service will be held and a memorial service will take place when circumstances permit.

Mr McAllister moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1952 with his wife Alma.

By 1964, he was caught up in an international hostage crisis at the hands of a Congolese rebel group.

When the rebels reached his missionary village in the Orientale province, Mr McAllister was shot alongside his friend and colleague Hector McMillan, who was killed.

Mr McAllister survived as the bullet grazed his head and he pretended to be dead when he fell to the floor.

It would not be the last attack the family would face, but they still chose to stay to establish churches in the area.

Mr McAllister eventually returned to Northern Ireland in 2009 to settle in Armagh, with his wife dying shortly afterwards.

In 2014, a BBC documentary crew followed his return to the Congo, where he visited Hector's grave and attended a memorial for other missionaries.

Recalling his ordeal at the time, he said: "The rebel groups had been going around the villages, massacring people.

"A lot of them were marijuana dealers, doped up and trigger-happy. The American rescuers had come and told us there were 18 seats reserved for us on the last plane out, but I said, 'We have to pray'.

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Bob McAllister who was a missionary in the Congo for many years pictured at his home in Armagh

Bob McAllister who was a missionary in the Congo for many years pictured at his home in Armagh

Stephen Hamilton

Bob McAllister who was a missionary in the Congo for many years pictured at his home in Armagh

"The Americans said we were crazy and told us to run, but we said we'd stay.

"I remember the plane going by overhead."

After gathering the women and children into a compound, he stood guard with his US colleague.

"When they came, they shot Hector first and he was killed right away.

"I said, 'You have shot my best friend', then they shot me, too. I was only grazed in the head by a bullet, but I fell down and played dead, because I remembered that's what you did when you were playing Cowboys and Indians. I just lay there and held my breath as best I could until they passed us by and went into the forest."

The shooting was not the only time the family were under threat, having previously been forced to flee in 1960 when the country achieved independence from Belgium.

"We lost our earthly possessions three times over with rebellions.

"I mean everything, all our household equipment and bedding and kitchen stuff; lost in rebellions and we had nothing," he said.

Following the Congo mission, Mr McAllister and his family spent 10 years speaking at church services across Europe and the US.

Thousands got to hear about their experience first hand and the family even sang together and recorded several albums.

In 2016, Mr McAllister also shared his incredible story with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at a garden party in Hillsborough Castle.

Belfast Telegraph