Nehemiah 2 v 1 – 5
Ireland – From Darkness to Light
There are many aspects of Ireland that fascinate me, I love Irish music, the intoxicating blend of Irish pipes, fiddle and drums. The Irish language, as with the Welsh tongue, is lyrical and from the throat so different to the English. I find the Celtic influence intriguing particularly in their art and religion but also I find the past turbulent history of the Irish people both interesting and disturbing. From battles with invaders, to famine and persecution, to mass exodus to other lands and the internal turmoil of recent years, throughout history I think the people of Ireland can best be described as bruised but never broken.
Despite my interest in Ireland, I have never visited the South but I have journeyed to the North of Ireland on three separate occasions.
My first visit was in the mid-1970s at a time when the involvement of British troops as peace keepers was at its height. Along with one or two other youth leaders I accompanied a group of teenagers, who had successfully won their way to the finals of a national quiz organised by the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs, (MAYC), to the previous year’s quiz winners in Northern Ireland.
The finals were held in a place called Dungannon, not too far from Belfast. We flew from Luton airport to Belfast, and then boarded a coach for the short journey through the city to a boarding school in Dungannon which would serve as our accommodation and the quiz venue.
Driving through Belfast it was hard not to notice the boarded up shops, bars and restaurants that had been the victims of the bombers and similarly in Dungannon we passed the burnt out shell of what had been the main post office. Evidence of the army presence was unavoidable with fortified towers and barbed wire in the streets of some parts of the town. One evening we came across an army patrol moving through the town centre. The soldiers looked to be not much older than the teenagers we had brought to the quiz.
The atmosphere in the town felt very uncomfortable although there was nothing that could have been interpreted as being threatening, in fact the enthusiasm and hospitality of the Irish organisers was second to none.
My second and third visits were both to the City of Belfast, the first to a National Conference and the second to a ‘Core Cities’ meeting representing Nottingham City Council. These visits were in the early 2000s and the difference that thirty odd years had made was remarkable. The centre of the City had been transformed since my Dungannon experience, with new shopping complexes, leisure facilities, hotels and a state of the art conference centre which doubled as music venue and during our visits there was no sign of any military presence, or was it that we were we not taken to the relevant areas of the City?
Nehemiah was a troubled soul. He was living at a time when the Jewish nation had been scattered across Babylonia, with only a few ‘undesirables’ left in the ruins of Jerusalem. Nehemiah had been fortunate insofar as he was serving the King in his palace as a wine waiter (slave), but his thoughts constantly took him back to the city of his ancestors.
When news reached him from Jerusalem to say that despite the passage of many years no work had been done to restore or rebuild the ruins, he was devastated. He knew that God was calling him to return and rebuild the City walls but would the king permit him to leave the palace and go? Not only did the king give his permission for Nehemiah to go, but he also gave him letters of authorisation in order to obtain materials to complete the work.
We could say that Nehemiah is the patron saint of project managers as he successfully returned to Jerusalem and in the power of God he organised teams of people to rebuild the City walls, despite facing opposition from rebels.
When the work was complete the scattered nation could return to the place of their ancestors and their spiritual home where God could reside with them again.
After the quiz in Dungannon, which incidentally we lost, we returned to Belfast via a visit to a Peat Bog, where we viewed some artefacts that had been uncovered then boarded the plane to return to Luton .On arrival we were met by anxious parents as it transpired that after we had left Dungannon for the Peat Bog there was an incident in the town that was reported on UK television news.
We were oblivious to the event but parents were very aware of it.