Irish Hearts Are Smiling

Shamrocks are sprouting in store windows, and despite its annual controversy, the St. Patrick's Day parade will wind its way through the streets of New York City tomorrow. In this season our thoughts turn to Ireland—that tiny country torn by centuries of bloody civil strife in the name of religion. Yet the hidden story behind the headlines is that God is doing a remarkable work in Ireland. Every day, the volunteers in Prison Fellowship of Northern Ireland witness the power of God bringing reconciliation to that country. Take the story of Mary and Joan (not their real names). Mary was once a member of a Marxist paramilitary organization—a group that even the IRA regarded as radical. Mary helped plant a bomb in a nightclub, setting off an explosion that killed 18 people and injured 66 others—one of the worst atrocities in the history of the Irish conflict. Joan, on the other hand, was a soldier in the Ulster Defense Regiment, part of the British army stationed in Northern Ireland. She was sentenced to prison for murder. In prison both women met Prison Fellowship volunteers; both converted to Christ. Today they have become fast friends, meeting frequently for prayer and fellowship. These two women, who once represented opposite sides in Ireland's armed conflict, now live in the peace of God. Similar stories are happening all across Ireland. Peter, a Catholic, was hitchhiking to Belfast one day when he was picked up by a man named David. With alarm, Peter noticed that David's arms were decorated with loyalist tattoos—slogans and symbols used by Protestant terrorist groups. Peter nearly panicked. He knew his life could be in danger. But David, it turned out, was a Christian, converted in prison and now working for Prison Fellowship. Before Peter climbed out of the car that day, he had given his life to Jesus Christ. Today the two men are inseparable friends, their lives a vivid message of the reconciliation that comes from God. Prison Fellowship does not work alone. Perched on the border of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is the Christian Renewal Center, which draws Protestants and Catholics together to pray, worship, and heal their divisions. Then there's the Clonard Monastery in Belfast, whose meetings bring together believers of all denominations. Many who attend have to cross a barbed-wire barricade—walking right past British patrols with blackened faces and automatic rifles. But God is proving that He is stronger than rifles and bombs. This is the message Christians should be bringing throughout the world as we commemorate the missionary work of St. Patrick so many years ago. God's all-inclusive love is the healing balm so desperately needed in war-torn Bosnia, in Somali tribal conflicts, in Germany's neo-Nazi ethnic tensions. And even here in the United States, where extreme forms of multiculturalism seem to define our primary identity in terms of racial and ethnic differences. The Bible teaches that our primary identity is that we are children of God—and that fundamental unity overrides all our differences. This is the biblical message of reconciliation Christians bring to a divided world.


Chuck Colson


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