Our brother, who was affectionately known as Bill, served the Lord for 54 years in Rhodesia/Zambia. Born in 1919, he was privileged to have a loving father and mother and a good home life even though in those days money was scarce. His father died when Bill was just eleven and this was a tremendous loss. Some years later, while he was employed as a works engineer, a colleague informed him that he was a sinner and was going to hell. This shocked him greatly and left him unable to sleep for some nights until another friend told him about the love of God who gave His Son to die for him. Eventually, in great distress, while working on the roof of an air compressor house, he cried out to God to save him. It was only after this that he discovered the verse, "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Rom 10.13). In his own words he said, "I heard and I believed; I called and I was saved". This great event took place in May, 1938 when Bill was eighteen years old.
Right from the moment of conversion he had a deep interest in seeing others saved. He taught a Sunday School class in the church to which he belonged. Very soon Africa was impressed on his mind and he yielded his life to the Lord for missionary service. Soon after the beginning of the Second World War Bill became concerned about the things practised in the church he attended. While he had many good and appreciated friends there, he decided to visit other companies of Christians. One day, he found himself at the Gospel Hall in Adam Street, Belfast, in the company of the late Robert Gordon to witness the Christians remembering the Lord in the Breaking of Bread. After a few weeks he approached the elders there and was received into the fellowship, having already been baptised elsewhere. He joined wholeheartedly in what became known as "the village work". This was an open air gospel outreach to the various villages on the outskirts of Belfast. Along with Johnny Walker, who later went to serve the Lord in India, he was responsible for the commencement of an open air work each Saturday night in Fountain Lane in the centre of Belfast. This work continued until "the troubles" in the Province made it impossible.
After the war ended Bill left for Africa with the hearty commendation of the assembly at Adam Street. He travelled alone for three weeks by troop ship to Durban then inland by train through Botswana to Bulawayo. In due course, wearied with the journey, he arrived at Chitokoloki and made his way to Dipalata to the warm fellowship of the local brethren there. Our dear brother was on his own for a number of months before Mr and Mrs Geddis and other missionaries arrived. He immediately began to learn the Lunda language by spending time with the local people in the surrounding villages. He had met Mary Geddis briefly in Ireland, and on 25th January, 1950, she became his beloved wife and help-meet, serving the Lord together with him.
When he went to Dipalata Bill loved nothing better than to visit the villages every day. He would sit and talk to the people in order to get to know them and to preach the gospel. He would spend his days going to several villages during the course of each day. One of the local witch doctors used to follow him to try to disrupt the meetings. Bill cycled miles through the bush in the heat doing this work. He extended it beyond the Zambezi River and into Angola, to areas that had not been evangelised before, and saw a number of assemblies established which still continue. He also built a number of gospel halls. Being a missionary in the bush required him not only to be a builder, but also a carpenter and a car mechanic. Before leaving for Africa our brother had completed a years training in tropical medicine in London and he was able to apply this training in Africa, helping his wife Mary with dental extractions and treating tropical sores among other things. His construction skills allowed him to build a dispensary and maternity wing which Mary was able to put to good use. During this time they were blessed with a daughter and a son, Elizabeth and William.
The 1960s were particularly difficult years due to the political unrest when African countries were attempting to get independence. Bill was placed on a number of death lists because he taught the Christians not to get involved with politics. It cost many of the believers dearly when they refused to join political parties. There were many occasions when the local people came to warn Bill and Mary that they were going to be burnt out, but God intervened and the family were protected and preserved.
They finally left Dipalata in 1968, and in 1970 Bill returned to Africa alone for long periods while Mary stayed in the homeland to facilitate the childrens education. This was a time of great sacrifice on the part of Bill and his dear wife but God sustained and blessed until he and Mary were able to go back together and labour for the Lord in the Copperbelt.
In 1999 Mary was very frail and they had to return to N Ireland where, in 2006, she went home to heaven. This was a tremendous loss to Bill and his family and only the comfort and consolation of God and His Word sustained them.
During his times at home on furlough our dear brother was active in ministry and gospel preaching, and door to door visitation. Some of those series of gospel meetings were conducted with Jim Martin who became a very close friend. Their first series together was in 1972 when God was pleased to bless. Bill was also a great exhorter of the Christians, especially those who were younger. He had tremendous zeal and determination and a lively sense of humour which allowed him to be straight so far as principles were concerned but never to give offence. Many in Africa will rise to call him blessed, but likewise many here in the homeland will thank God for his memory, his care, and his encouragement. Missionaries and local Christians presently in Zambia bear witness to the legacy our brother has left behind in assembly work.
Bill spent the last ten years in almost daily contact with the Zambian believers exhorting them and helping to build halls, and provide seating and books. His heart was still in Zambia and he was greatly focused on the work there even from these shores. He was tireless in his labours while he was in Africa and even after he left. Bill never stopped serving. The last thing he did was to provide seats for a new gospel work in the Copperbelt and he was overjoyed on hearing that the seats had arrived safely.
He celebrated his ninetieth birthday in October, 2009 with a number of close friends and fell ill shortly afterwards. Bills funeral service took place in Newtownbreda Gospel Hall and, despite the early hour and the heavy snow, the packed hall and overflow was a testimony to the high esteem in which our dear brother is held. The memory of the just is blessed.