Recently I picked up a copy of Eamonn Mallie’s newly published memoir ‘Eyewitness to War and Peace.’ Mallie’s compelling narrative of almost fifty years in journalism poises the tantalising question: What did Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, Mother Theresa and Ian Paisley all have in common? Answer: they were all interviewed by Eamonn Mallie.

For those seeking to find a path of understanding through the burgeoning body of literature exploring our troubled past Mallie offers both a reliable and trustworthy guide. He writes as one who was there. “I felt privileged” he writes, “to have been a witness.”

The word ‘witness’ is a Bible word. Many readers of scripture will be familiar with how the risen Lord commissioned the apostles in Acts chapter 1 with the promise that they were soon to be empowered to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8) – a ministry that would take them across the city (Jerusalem), across the province (Judea), across the border (Samaria), and ultimately across the world.

However, before this work could begin there was one item of business that needed attended to. With Judas meeting his tragic end it became necessary to choose a new apostle. Someone who had ‘been there’. In Acts 1:22 Luke adds the detail that this new appointee would not just join in the work of ‘witness’ in some general sense, but they would join in the task of being a witness ‘of [Christ’s] resurrection.’

From beginning to end New Testament faith is a resurrection faith. This is not the whole of the gospel, but it is the foundation stone on which the gospel stands or falls. As the church in Corinth was reminded if Christ has not been raised  then everything else about Christian faith is useless and in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14).

As a Christian pastor the daily tasks of work bring me face to face with a surprisingly diverse variety of people. Attending to the pastoral needs of a congregation, and seeking to take opportunity, to be out and about, even within the confines of a local parish, has me crossing paths with all kinds of people.

If I am being honest, I often leave conversations with those ‘outside of the church’ feeling a bit frustrated. I have a sense that people think they know what Christians believe, they think they know the kind of concerns that the Bible has, but rarely do I sense that ‘resurrection’ is anywhere on their list.

What does it look like, in my city, in this province, across this island, in this world, here and now, to witness in such a way that people know we believe in the resurrection? It is on the acceptance or rejection of this truth that everything else we seek to communicate hangs.

I remember when I was a student there were a number of overseas students who lived along the landing in our halls of residence. They were from a different culture to me. They professed a different faith than me. I remember as a keen young Christian seeking various opportunities to ‘witness’ to them. I had several goes at telling them what I believed, but it never really seemed to connect.

There is a line in the book of Proverbs (18:13) which says: ‘To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.’ I look back on those university encounters. I tried to offer lots of answers. But, to be honest, and to my shame I am not sure I ever really listened.

That line of proverbial wisdom points out an irony of gospel communication. When we listen to others, we put ourselves in a better place to be heard. When, over time, we take the time to listen to what other people have to say, listen to what they believe, and listen to who they are we find ourselves being drawn into a space of relationship and encounter.

When you read the gospels there’s a huge sense that from the beginning Jesus knew where He was going, but He wasn’t in a hurry. Jesus had time, amidst His daily round, to walk with people, to talk with people, to eat and drink with people, to be a friend to people – and to do so with the surprisingly diverse variety of people that everyday life brought His way.

Could it be that one of the legacies of our troubled past is that we do not easily listen to people who are different to us? Could it be that in a culture increasingly marked by much “non-listening” we do not easily spend time in the company of people whose beliefs, culture, or lifestyles are at variance from ours?

However, if we are to follow the unhurried and purposeful way of Jesus, then surely these are things that we must do and learn to do, as we pursue the promise of the One who says ‘You will be my witnesses.’


Niall Lockhart is the minister of Ballyhenry Presbyterian Church.

Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article of those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.