It’s been a couple of weeks since our group returned from Northern Ireland. We’re thankful for a good last day with our friends from Kilbride Presbyterian, and a smooth return journey back home. For this final blog, members of our trip share some of their reflections:

The people we met in Northern Ireland were so kind and friendly. Getting to stay with host families was especially meaningful. It was also great getting to know the COS group better. It’s hard to imagine now the terrible conflicts that they went through not that many years ago. As our own country grows more divided it was good to be in a country that is working through differences.

– Elise Harlow

I really valued forging new friendships with our group. I also was very surprised at the degree of hospitality we were shown. Everyone was so welcoming and generous! Something I hope to carry with me moving forward is to really try to move towards people instead of away when in conflict. Moving away does not leave room to seek to listen to the other and without listening reconciliation cannot be reached.

– Celia Kort

Learning about The Troubles and the continued conflict in Northern Ireland broke my heart. It amazes me that despair and hopelessness do not stop so many from working toward peace and reconciliation. Through our learning process, I have been challenged to show intentional love to my neighbors whom I sometimes find hard to love, and to listen to understand.
I was blown away by the hospitality lavished on us by the wonderful people at Bloomfield Presbyterian and Kilbride Presbyterian. The folks at Kilbride felt like family from the moment we met—a truly unique experience. I was so moved by their selflessness and love. I feel challenged to reflect their hospitality in my daily life at home in Grand Rapids.
Returning home to Michigan, I find myself reflecting on the words of St. Francis of Assisi:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
I wish to reflect these ideals in my daily life, living each day with a posture of humility, selflessness, and love.

– Madeline Witvliet

My time in Northern Ireland challenged me to grow in the virtues of reconciliation, hospitality, and gratitude. Our experiences have empowered me to build bridges in the midst of conflict, welcome in those beyond my inner social circles, and celebrate the joy these practices bear.

– Luke Witvliet

I learned the value of listening to others. When you take the time and effort to listen and hear other people’s opinions and their perspectives, you can experience growth in both knowledge and mind. I found it helpful to listen to the speakers on the trip and learn about all the different ways that they are trying to create peace in a segregated country.

– Sophie Bartels

Something that really stood out to me on our trip was a part of the sermon we heard at Kilbride which said, “we’ve done enough of creating divisions, it’s time to follow Jesus.” It struck me because I am often guilty of choosing sides in divisions and allowing my biases to justify unwillingness to interact with and understand the other side. It was a good reminder that to solve conflicts like those in Northern Ireland, the United States, and our communities, we must try to act as Jesus would instead of solely trying to be on the winning side.

– Molly Jackson