During the 1960s, Zaire (formerly the Belgian Congo), was in turmoil. Just a few years before, Belgium had granted the nation its independence after years of corrupt colonial rule. The Belgians had not trained Africans to run the new country. Compounding the problems of running the large nation were age-old differences between rival African ethnic groups and the ambitions of European settlers in the Katanga province.
Then as now, the central government could not control the rebel groups who roamed the countryside. The Simba rebels committed numerous atrocities. Several Christian missionaries died or were brutalized during this violent period.
Bill McChesney was one of them. Bill was born on this day, July 21, 1936. Just five feet two inches tall, he was a wiry young man with a sunny heart. In fact, everyone who knew him called him "Smiling Bill," and the one word which best described him was "exuberant." He became a missionary with the Worldwide Evangelical Crusade.
Before he left as a missionary to the Republic of Congo (as Zaire was then named), he wrote a poem which he titled "My Choice." His poem was not a masterpiece of English literature; great poets might sneer at it as doggerel; but it was the sublime submission of a Christ-centered soul. In it Bill described the comfort he would like to live in. Then he hung his head in shame, remembering all that Christ had done for him. He concluded by saying,
If He be God, and died for me, no sacrifice too great can be
For me, a mortal man, to make; I'll do it all for Jesus' sake.
Yes, I will tread the path He trod; no other way will please my God;
So, henceforth, this my choice shall be, my choice for all eternity."
The Simba held a number of missionaries captive with Bill McChesney. Several times, they made terrifying visits in which they rehearsed killing Bill and the other missionaries. But each time, the rebels left them unharmed.
On November 24, 1964, the rebels took Bill McChesney to prison. His friend Jim Rodgers, a solemn British missionary, would not be parted from Bill and leaped into the truck with him. Bill was seriously ill with Malaria and needed someone to help him. Even so, the rebel soldiers beat him mercilessly the whole way. Jim had to carry him into the prison.
The next morning, when Bill acknowledged that he was American, a rebel colonel ordered him killed. Jim stood beside him. "If you must die, brother, I'll die with you." Attacking Bill mercilessly with clubs and fists, the rebel mob quickly killed him. He was just 28 years old. Jim laid his body gently to the floor. The rebels then knocked Jim down and trampled him to death.
- McChesney, Bill. "The Choice." various web sites.
- "Walk of Repentance." http://www.mountzion.org
- Various encyclopedia and internet articles.
- [Bill's story was told by Audine McChesney in the book Through Congo Shadows, Story of the Life and Martyrdom of Bill McChesney in the Congo, 1968. Many accounts are based on this.]
Last updated July, 2007