On April 10th 1998 I was an almost one year old baby living in Johannesburg, South Africa; a country recovering from the Apartheid; a system of institutionalised racial segregation and discrimination that existed in South Africa between 1948 and 1994. As a one year old I knew nothing of this, I loved my white Father who was from England and came home every day from work providing. I adored my coloured Mother who also went out to work and came home to look after me and my brother. My nanny who was black that looked after us kids while my parents were at work would make us laugh so hard until we cried. These were all just people I loved, I didn’t care what colour skin they had so why would their religion title also be a measure of my love for them?
When we moved to Northern Ireland in November 2001 the Good Friday Agreement had been in place for a number of years now and the prospect of peace was high. But now 20 years on the same cannot be said. As the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement being signed draws near our Province is slowly deteriorating away from the once promised peace. As the six o’clock news comes on, we sit down to the hope that the parties at Stormont have resolved their issues and once again would become a beacon of hope, prosperity and most importantly peace. But day after day we are faced with more anger, violence and disappointment.
Am I optimistic for peace? Despite everything, yes. Recognising that God calls us to live faithfully, I am optimistic that change can occur because we are told in Jeremiah 29:11 that God has a plan for us, plans to give us hope and a future. Northern Ireland is in need of hope right now as Stormont remains dormant resulting in schools losing funding and the health service coming under further strain. My hope for our country is that however hard the past was, it is time to live in the present in order for our future and the future of our younger generation to never experience what went on over 20 years ago. However, it seems that the stalemate we are now experiencing is, in a different kind of way, just as draining for the society as the violence was; it could be the smoke before the fire.
For the past five years I have been working as a Christian volunteer in a predominantly Catholic area helping to facilitate the running of a Christian Kids Club for all children of the area; simply with the intention of sharing the love of Jesus through songs, games, stories and crafts. I have seen kids and leaders from both sides of the community come together with questions, love, joy and understanding but most importantly, peace. If a seven year old Protestant boy and a seven year old Catholic boy can come together and play games together, cheering each on and laughing, seeking to win for their entire team, then I simply cannot comprehend why adults cannot do the same. What we are experiencing now is not peace, but as Jesus said in John 16:33 (NIV) “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Therefore I see my job as part of the Good Friday Generation to take this as the slogan for my life and that of the children in my ministry, that although we may not have peace now, Jesus has already made peace with us all, it is now our responsibility to carry on this peace to those around us.
The church over the past 20 years has learnt a lot and I feel it is still continuing to educate itself on how to address the situation. Peace-making is an underlying theme throughout the Bible so therefore it should be the Church’s mission now to fulfill this and I believe it has been better than before but like most things, there is room for improvement. Ways of tackling this may be by simply using appropriate language within the Church and also promoting and providing more opportunities for cross-community peace programmes.
As the 20th Anniversary draws nears cannot help but think of the 40th Anniversary, 50th etc. I find it hard to believe in the generation that are currently in charge of the Good Friday Agreement because quite frankly it is non-existent so the possibility of a 50th Anniversary seems very distant and bleak. However, with my work with the youth and children of this generation my optimism in them is strong as I believe God is preparing a generation of young Christian men and woman to help lead this small but wonderful country back to the peace that was once promised. I am proud citizen of South Africa that has a coloured mother and a white father that came out peacefully from the Apartheid, but I am also a proud citizen of Northern Ireland where I have spent my life growing up happy and at peace due to the protection of the Good Friday Agreement. I want the same for the kids in my Kids Club, in my church and for the future generation.
Tove Lappin is a student at the Institute for Children, Youth and Mission currently on placement at Reach Mentoring.
Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.