After meeting at church and sorting through final paperwork, our intrepid group of COSers prayed for our upcoming trip to Northern Ireland. Pastor Karen led us in prayer, asking God’s care and protection over our trip. She also prayed that God would work in our hearts and minds as we learn more about the history of Northern Ireland and what it means to be peace builders in God’s Kingdom.

Loaded into the COS van, and dragging behind a trailer of luggage, we made our way to O’Hare International Airport. We allowed plenty of time to account for Chicago traffic and O’Hare security screening. We grabbed some snacks for the flight, boarded the plane, and left Chicago behind, making our way to Dublin. We flew through the night, leaving Chicago at 9:30 pm (CDT) and arriving in Dublin at 11 am (GMT+1). Some of our group did a great job of sleeping through the flight. Some, less so. Whether we got a good night’s sleep or not, we were all excited to have made it to Ireland!

After boarding another bus, we made our way north along the Irish motorway. A few of us were occupied by an Irish bingo card that David and Karen Campbell put together. Most others, however, were occupied by catching up on a bit of the sleep they missed on the plane. Whether we were awake or asleep, we likely had the same reaction to crossing the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland: we barely noticed it. Karen and David remarked just how astounding it is that the same border that would have had armed guards years ago, is now crossed over like a state border in the United States.

Our two-hour journey culminated in our arrival at Bloomfield Presbyterian Church in Belfast. There, we ate lunch (baked Potatoes), got ourselves situated for a few moments, then toured East Belfast, guided by David and Karen Campbell.

Our Brief walking tour included learning about some of the political and social history of Belfast, explanation of different flags and symbols we see in the neighborhood, and insights into some of the many murals we see painted on the sides of buildings. It also included a stop at CS Lewis Square, where we of course needed a group photo with the statue of Aslan. But then, like Aslan, our group was on the move.

We continued our tour down Newtonards Road. On the way out, we were encouraged to notice the murals that spoke of deep divisions and violence. On the way back, we were encouraged to be attentive to images and examples of inclusion, community, and multiculturalism. It helped us realize and appreciate the complexity of the place and the nuanced history that we would be learning about over the coming week.

After returning to Bloomfield Presbyterian, our tired group of travelers went off to their various host families for what will likely (or hopefully) be an early night to a very long first day. Tomorrow, we’ll worship with Bloomfield Presbyterian, and will likely feel right at home listening to a sermon delivered with a Northern Irish accent.