A prayer community in West Belfast issued the call through 24/7 Prayer International (which I have been following online) and I heard it as the Holy Spirit’s word to me to reconnect with what God is doing in Belfast… and to offer “words of encouragement” as in today’s morning reading.
Four of us, from Scotland, England, Slovakia and USA, responded to the world-wide invitation. We’ll meet each other, and the West Belfast community, for the first time on Sunday in Belfast. Our team’s different backgrounds, experiences and wide age span (23, 33, 43, 73) will provide the West Belfast community with a rich variety of perspectives… and will be a learning experience for us all.
I’ve been to Belfast four times before. The first time was in 1992, on an official Presbyterian (PCUSA) Reconciliation Mission to assess NGO funding possibilities in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland was in the thick of “The Troubles,” and under the direct rule from London… it was an armed camp. We were given access to high level people on all sides of the divide – political, religious and social. It was was truly a once-in-a-lifetime insight into the conflict.
Following up, I participated in two month-long, summer pulpit exchanges with a Presbyterian Pastor in Belfast. My family accompanied me and we were welcomed and received most warmly by the church community. It was a wonderful opportunity to personally connect with good, decent, Christian people who were trying to make a positive Christian witness during difficult times. My last visit to Belfast was on a quick layover from other travel.
But all of that was before 1998, when the Belfast “Good Friday” Agreement was signed. A lot has changed since then, but deep wounds remain and mutual trust is low. And, Northern Ireland is currently going through difficult economic times.
It’s a curious time to be traveling to West Belfast on a mission of encouragement and prayer. But the Holy Spirit has his own way in these things, and that’s good enough for me.
I’ll keep you posted.