Friday, February 1, 2013

Protests and Prayer Requests from the East Belfast Mission

By Alison and Britt Gilmore

February 1, 2013

Alison and Britt Gilmore are missionaries serving at the East Belfast Mission in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This post is an excerpt from their blog post from January 15, 2013.

January 27, Update on the Unrest in Belfast
On January 17th, a meeting was hosted by East Belfast Mission where 41 local organizations (churches, community groups and paramilitary groups) agreed that the violence related to these protests was harmful to the community and needed to end (see article from UMConnections). Since that time, there have been ongoing protests related to the British flag at Belfast City Hall, but we are thankful that the violent clashes have subsided. Alison and I, along with all the people of East Belfast Mission, certainly appreciate your prayers.


Britt Gilmore

January 15, 2013
Alison and Britt Gilmore are missionaries serving at the East Belfast Mission in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This post is an excerpt from their blog post from January 15, 2013.

Over the past months you may have read about protests and unrest in Belfast. This post will attempt to give an update about what is happening in our community and share ways that you can pray. It has been difficult to write, as there is a deep complexity to the situation, with many perspectives among the local people.

Belfast City Hall with the British flag
On December 3rd, Belfast City Council decided to change its policy on flying the British flag at Belfast City Hall. There have been over 50 days of protests against this flag decision.

While some protests have been smaller, the largest of these was the evening of January 11 when many coordinated protests involved approximately 4,000 people around Northern Ireland. Several main roads in Belfast were blocked from 6-8pm.

Some of these gatherings have turned violent, resulting in clashes between loyalist protesters and police. Only a fraction of those who are protesting have engaged in violence – and this group contains many teenagers and children as young as 10. This is a saddening thing to witness.

The violence does not affect Northern Ireland equally, but has been largely concentrated in a section of East Belfast close to the Mission. EBM is about a quarter mile from an ‘interface’ with a nationalist community called the Short Strand. During the month, there have been increasing tensions between loyalist protestors and residents in this neighborhood, as groups have marched from East Belfast into the city and back. This situation has grown more fragile, and there were direct confrontations between these communities on January 12 and again on the evening of January 14.

Prayer Requests
We would appreciate any prayers that you would offer, including the following: - pray for meaningful dialog between local politicians, community leaders, the police, and those involved in protests. Pray for key leaders at EBM who are involved in these conversations, especially Gary Mason and Mark Houston.

- pray for protection for residents who live along the interface between the loyalist area of East Belfast and the Short Strand community and feel varying degrees of oppression, uncertainty and fear. We have been visiting and checking with those connected to the congregation and wider mission who live in the areas immediately affected.

- pray for the young people who are caught up in the fascination and excitement of the disturbances. In some cases, this involves children as young as 10. In many ways, they do not understand the complexity of the issues or the consequences of their actions, but are captive to the circumstances and emotions of these moments. Of course, by being involved in rioting, both their lives and their future is in danger.

At the outset of Jesus’ ministry, after he is baptized by John and then endures 40 days of temptation, he comes to Nazareth and reads these words from Isaiah 61. I am conscious of the conditions of oppression, captivity, and poverty in our community. When we seek to act as disciples of Jesus, our ministry looks to address these conditions in the world, wherever we find ourselves.

Of course, this is not just for Belfast, where the needs of our community have become suddenly obvious in a fresh way. I also remember the struggles of people facing homelessness in Orlando, the families in Sandy Hook continuing to grieve over the tragic loss of their children, and many who suffer from a lack of hope in their lives – for so many reasons. Some situations are dramatic and well-documented, while others hurt quietly.

Right now, the people at EBM are asking themselves – God, how can you use us this day to contribute to the healing of our city and our neighborhood? The answer is not always obvious, especially in a situation of crisis. Wherever you read this, it is a good question to consider.

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