|Posted on:||Thursday, 11th May, 2017|
Born to missionary parents from Northern Ireland, Bill McAllister joined CBM International in 1994, working in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was asked to set up CBM UK in 1996, becoming its first Director until 2012. Here he describes how from its earliest days CBM responded to some of the world’s most challenging humanitarian crises with world class expertise and Christian love.
“I was born in the Belgian Congo as my parents were missionaries in that country. I spent the next 18 years, off an on, in Central Africa. It was a period of intense political upheaval.
We returned finally to Northern Ireland in 1970 just in time for the bombing campaign. My girlfriend Norma, who became my wife, trained as a nurse in the Royal Victoria hospital in Belfast and she treated many bomb victims.
Norma and I went out to Congo to work in a theological seminary. Seeing the poverty and disability, I soon began to work with Christian agencies working to improve the lives of the most abused. This is when I came across CBM.
A massive response needed, Rwanda 1994
Over one million refugees had fled into Eastern Congo and many were suffering from orthopaedic trauma. CBM was asked by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to set up a support programme to the other front line medical agencies, such as the Red Cross, in orthopaedic trauma.
We also upgraded a surgical facility run by the Baptist church and built a prosthesis manufacturing plant at the disability centre run by the Catholic church.
We had not only to run the screening sites, ambulances, theatre, prosthesis manufacturing and rehabilitation centre, we had to fly in surgical teams on a ten day rotation as well as fly in all our medical supplies.
It was CBM’s first refugee programme ever. My lasting memories are of the many patients we treated who would have died without our help.
It was also risky. On one occasion I survived a hijack attempt and returned home with bullet holes in the front of my Land Cruiser. Norma was not happy!
Starting from scratch, CBM in the UK
There were over 30 UK medical specialists working overseas with CBM. They wanted to know why there was no office in the UK to which they, and their supporting churches, could relate.
CBM realised there were no other Christian prevention of blindness organisations based in the UK and working in the developing world.So CBM International asked me to set up, and lead, the first CBM UK office. I started CBM UK in my back bedroom and well remember getting my first fax machine. I remember standing and looking proudly at the machine and thinking this is my link to the world.
After a lot of research and wondering what the best way was to get our name and message across, we did an insert campaign in 27 Christian publications. The response was so good that inserts in magazines became our major income stream for the next three years.
Of course we encouraged speaking engagements so I spent a lot of time taking church services all over the UK. In time we developed a good media profile as a specialist organisation.
A plan to help that reaches other faiths
We took a strategic decision to support projects in which the UK medical specialists worked.
In this way we not only supported them in their work, but we could use each person as a focus for accessing their home churches, and media in their home localities.
One of our earliest projects was at the northern tip of Ghana, in a place called Bawku. This was a Christian hospital but working in a Muslim community. Not only did it provide excellent medical care, but it was seen as an outreach to other faith communities. I was really pleased about that.
Inspiring long lasting support
Christian Blind Mission is seen by many of our supporters not only as a professional organisation but also as an outreach to other faiths and also to people with no faith.
We follow the biblical command to love God and to love our neighbours. The message of love and reconciliation is still what motivates me and I had always tried to convey that message to our CBM supporters.
I believe that is what CBM supporters have responded to: professional service with Christian love.
The fact that many of our earliest supporters are still supporting CBM means that, by and large, we got things right.
I like to think that our supporters feel that they not only give to CBM but that they, in some profound way, feel part of the CBM global ministry.
21 years of expressing Christian love with support
I am proud that I was able to grow CBM UK from scratch into a multi million pound charity with over 50 projects supported overseas.
Over the last 21 years CBM UK has been involved in training people at home and overseas, in curing thousands through interventions such as surgery in cataract or club foot, in preventing many others from contracting debilitating disease such at trachoma or river blindness, in rehabilitating persons with disability into their communities.
Through this all, CBM UK has maintained the passion of its founder, Pastor Ernst Christoffel, to demonstrate love in action.
Every person is created in the image of God who cares for all. We ask why God does not do something to ease the suffering around the globe? God does, and CBM is one of God’s instruments of love in a brutal world. Many of the people helped through CBM around the world say precisely that and this is a great achievement.”