Sunday, 7 May 2006

I'm Moving to Northern Ireland Today!

"She is led by [L]ove. The world moves for [L]ove, it kneels before it in awe..."-- M. Night Shyamalan

Dear All,

(Pictures of my Spring in England!)

When I was in Northern Ireland over New Year's and called home to wish my family a happy holiday, Mom's first comment was that someone had told her they would never let their daughter go to Northern Ireland and was I alright? Yes, Mom. Quite alright. So alright, in fact, amongst the people and places of that bit of the island, that I will be moving there on May 8th for a five week missions placement with an organisation called Oasis in East Belfast.

Belfast has been, in all actuality, a war zone for the past three decades, wracked with paramilitary activity resulting in guerrilla warfare between the Loyalists (Protestant) and the IRA-- Irish Republican Army (Catholic). The breakdown, as I understand it, is that the IRA wants a united Ireland (and clearly blowing each other up will work toward that end) and the Loyalists are "loyal to the crown" and determined to stay part of the United Kingdom.

You must understand that The Republic of Ireland, primarily Catholic, was oppressed by "the crown" for hundreds of years and only won their independence in 1921. Northern Ireland (or Ulster in relation to the whole island), primarily Protestant because of many Presbyterian church planters coming over from Scotland way-back-when, feared that Irish rule would equal Catholic Church rule and so preferred to remain within the UK's rule. This led to highly preferential treatment of Protestants in N. Ireland and terribly cruel treatment of Catholics-- the jobs going to the Prods, the housing in their favour, and even rigged elections and such. In the 1960's, spurred on by the Equal Rights campaigns in America, Equal Rights issues between the Catholics and Protestants in N. Ireland came to a head, and erupted in a battle that has raged for approximately 30 years.

The tension this has caused in Northern Ireland, known to the people there as "The Troubles," has claimed more than 3,600 lives since 1969-- many of them innocent, unsuspecting civilians, and young men and women on both sides impassioned for a cause they believe in enough to devote their entire lives to; a low, horrid, desperate war going on right under our noses. I certainly hadn't heard more than a light comment or two in passing about these struggles. In 1998, the Good Friday agreement set out a formula for power-sharing and demilitarization and thankfully peace has been coming slowly since. In July 2005, the IRA announced that it was laying down its weapons for good and since then it's been confirmed that the IRA has fully disarmed -- a historic step toward peace. The British gov't has cut its military presence in Northern Ireland by half.

Reading about the bloody battles and lives lost in atrocities next to impossible for me to imagine in this modern western country is appalling. Meeting, knowing and taking into my heart the dear people of this wee tormented but healing nation is an incredible blessing. Oasis does cross-community (cooperation between the Catholics and Protestants) work in East Belfast, a part of the city where 'The Troubles' hit hardest. They operate many community-building activities. I'll start out working in the coffee shop and Fair Trade shop, building relationships with the people of the neighborhood, and then move on to work with children and infants in day cares, play groups, and afterschool groups once my criminal records check comes back. This is a very rough sketch of what the placement will entail and I won't actually know really what I'm doing until I'm doing it. In the meantime, I'm learning to "know nothing but Love," as a visiting lecturer put it last term, and to trust that Love never fails, no matter the circumstances I'm presented with in this new move to the unknown.

I'll be staying with my dear dear friend Jenny's fiance Gary and his housemate Gus, who live just down the road from the Oasis offices, and taking in all that Belfast has to offer in my free time. I hope to glean from the people of Northern Ireland a bit of their culture and history up close and perhaps come to realize the very reasons why Ireland as a whole is so inextricably laid on my heart...

Please pray. I'm realizing again and again that I can do nothing without that. Pray for confidence. Not so much in myself, but in who I am in Him. I have struggled very much in looking at doing Christian ministry to find my place, my gifts. All around me people are so intelligent or so brave or so kind or so good. I live with prophets and preachers and teachers and prayer warriors. Their are people here who speak like Billy Graham and study like A. W. Tozer. There are people who seem to be able to connect with everyone they meet, draw them out and completely touch their lives. There are people who seem to be able to discern the needs around them and problem-solve to meet them. They don't seem to fear their inadequacies, if indeed they have any, but humbly excel at everything they put their minds to. In myself I find I have so many fears that hide from me any excellence of my own. I despair at public-speaking of absolutely any kind, and let's face it, much of the Ministry is exactly that, and even my passion for writing doesn't necessarily equal any talent when it comes to papers and things. Everyone seems to have at least an idea of what their hearts are called to doing to make this world a better place, and they're developing effective methods and techniques to carry that out. I've tried and tested and pricked and prodded and failed and succeeded and laughed and cried my way through so many attempts at ministering this year, and only one gift and burden all rolled into one remains with me through all. I love. I love utterly. Perhaps not in effective methods or fancy words, but in spirit and truth. I think that's meant to be my gift, the spring that all action in ministry flows from. Perhaps I don't excel in eloquence, elegance, intellect or talent, but I do love, and He gives evermore abundantly as I learn to reach out past my fears and give it away... Pray that I will rest in that Gift of Him, in its power; that I will continually open it up and share it around, during this daunting 5 week placement in Northern Ireland and well beyond....

"If I speak the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing..."-- 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

May you know this Love that moves the world, this Love that someday soon all knees will bow before in awe. Prayers for you all...
Leah <><

(Pictures of the past few months)

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