Today’s post was written by Kate Witvliet

After breakfast and checking out of Bushmills youth hostel, we rode the bus to Kilbride, which was the perfect time to observe the beautiful scenery along the way and engage in good conversations. At Kilbride, we watched a documentary on the concluding peace agreement of the troubles. The stories represented really enhanced our understanding of the pain and the cost of violence, as well a the cost of peace. Our lunch was wonderful and the tray bakes were certainly a highlight.

We had two wonderful sessions at Kilbride. Mary Potter’s session helped us think through conflict patterns and styles, and what it takes to go beyond stereotypes, avoidance, or a single encounter to build transformative relationships over time. We were encourage to think through how we might engage in restoration and reconciliation.

Session 2 was led by Rev. Steve, a Presbyterian Minister, and Father McGill, a Catholic Priests. It was amazing to hear their stories, experiences with the troubles, and how they strive to live as peacemakers. They emphasized that reconciliation is at the core of the gospel, and the cost of peacemaking is a part of the call to “take up your cross”. Their friendship and collaborative work is truly inspiring. One of their key initiatives, called the Four Corners Festival, works to bring Protestants and Catholics from all backgrounds together, to be present in all corners of the city, who would otherwise be divided among different parts of Belfast. We were challenged to consider what a Four Corners Festival might look like in Grand Rapids and the ways that we experience division and segregation. 

In the evening we experienced the warmest welcome from our host families in Kilbride. Molly, Madeline, Meg, Celia, and I have the pleasure of staying with Lowry and Maurine, and getting to know three of their grand daughters; Bethany (12), Hannah (8), and Emma (7 months). Bethany and Hannah are an absolute joy and were the best hosts to us!

We spent the evening at Summer Madness, a large Christian youth festival in Northern Ireland. Many of the students we worshiped with will spend an entire week camping, building community, worshipping, and having many sessions with their youth groups. It was cool to see how the festival also works to support organizations like IJM that are doing good work.

We are so grateful for the deep experiences of learning and community that we experienced today. We’re excited for the rest of the weekend to get to know our church family members in Kilbride!