YAV Year: Belfast 2009-2010
Now: Middle School English Teacher in Johnson City, TN
What broke your heart?
Living as a foreigner in such a divided city, I had the privilege of being able to go almost anywhere I wanted, and speak to anyone I wanted, at almost any time. I saw the hospitality, love, compassion, pain, and humanity of so many people on both sides of the Protestant/Catholic divide…and watched these same people actively hate each other to the point of destruction. Living in a land of “peace walls” gave a whole new meaning to Ephesians 2:14, “For Jesus Christ is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”
What’s one of your most vivid memories?
One of my placements was with a youth club that met in a building in one of the housing estates. The building happened to sit along an “interface;” the front door of the hall opened up into a Protestant neighborhood, while the back door opened up into a Catholic neighborhood. Most of the time, we only worked with kids from the Protestant neighborhood and kept the back door locked. 2010 happened to be a FIFA World Cup year, so during games we put up a big screen and watched the matches during youth club. I was in charge one night during one of the viewings, and several of the younger kids suddenly asked me what was outside the back door. I played the “dumb American” card and told them to go find out. They left to investigate, returning with a report that there were other kids outside. My kids asked to invite the strangers in to watch the football match, and I said sure. Some of my older kids were appalled that we willingly invited Catholics into Protestant territory, but once an impromptu football match started up along with the one on the screen, no one seemed to notice. Sides were equally chosen, and ability level trumped neighborhood status. I immediately called my supervisor. “I’ve got kids from both estates playing football together! This is unreal!” I told him. He was extremely excited. “I can’t believe it,” he said. “You’ve managed to do in a few months what I’ve working on for five years!” We kept both doors open for the rest of the World Cup.