I haven't been to Belfast yet.
To transmit some of what it must be like, consider these words from some people who've been there, Mike and Pat, the leaders of this trip, who have said:
“What we expected and the reality of the trip were very different. We expected to do work and meet people and probably learn more about "The Troubles".
We were not aware of the extent of the continued division between the Protestants and Catholics. The so called "Peace Wall" is huge. There is over 27 miles of fortified wall/fence that is between 30 & 50 feet tall dividing the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods.
Springfield Road Methodist Church straddles the Wall. It has been firebombed 4 times (2 times by each side) because it serves as a safe meeting place for people from both sides.
What we didn't expect was to meet some of the bravest people we have ever known:
The "Golden Girls" a group of Protestant and Catholic women have been meeting together since WWII because they are friends and it is the right thing to do. They have experienced violent altercations and had their lives and families threatened and killed because they continue to seek and live lives of peace for all sides.
Fr. Jerry Reynolds, a Catholic Priest, and Re. Dennis Cooke, Methodist Theologian, who risked their lives to visit with families on both sides who had family members killed during The Troubles.”
Unfortunately, despite the work of these heroes, others in Northern Ireland are still bent on violence. A group that calls itself the Real IRA has recently engaged in violent attacks. For instance:
Three injured in Armagh bomb attack
Friday, 23 April 2010 Belfast Telegraph
Three people were injured after a bomb exploded outside a police station in Northern Ireland, police said.
The blast happened at the Newtownhamilton police station in County Armagh at around 11.25pm on Thursday night.
Three people were taken to hospital in Newry, but their injuries are not thought to be life-threatening.
Police were alerted by a call to a Belfast hospital that a vehicle had been abandoned in the area and were en route to the scene when the device exploded.
Homes in the area were evacuated and Newtownhamilton High School was opened up for residents.
A spokeswoman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland said: "Police were made aware that a vehicle had been abandoned in the area after a telephone call was received by a Belfast hospital at around 10.30pm.
"Police were en route to the scene at the time of the explosion."
Nearby properties were damaged in the blast and the town centre was cordoned off.
Ten days ago, a device inside a vehicle was defused outside Newtownhamilton police station.
It came soon after a Real IRA car bomb exploded outside the regional headquarters of M15 in Holywood, Co Down.
After that attack, this news came out:
Monday, 26 April 2010 Belfast Telegraph
Police officers intimidated out of their homes by republicans, police chiefs say
Over 20 police officers and their families in Northern Ireland have been intimidated into leaving their homes by dissident republicans since January, it has been revealed.
The policy of pushing ahead with downsized security despite the danger has seriously weakened the capability of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to respond, a group which represents rank and file officers said.
Last week a barracks at Newtownhamilton, Co Armagh, was attacked for the second time in a fortnight.
Police Federation chairman Terry Spence said: "The attacks reflect a growing confidence and competence among dissident republicans and that they are aware that the police are not responding sufficiently robustly to deter them.
"Unless there is a massive step change in the security response we will gradually sleepwalk into a renewal of a full-blown, murderous terrorist campaign."
Since January there have been 18 bomb and mortar attacks, 18 gun attacks, an officer seriously and permanently maimed, and 24 officers and their families intimidated from their homes, the vast majority by dissident republicans.
Mr Spence added: "The latest incident last week, when Newtownhamilton Police Station was attacked for the second time in two weeks, illustrates all too clearly the ineffectiveness of our response as a police service to protecting the community."
I am not meaning to take sides here. These just happen to be two recent news posts and I feel they show significant amounts of hatred, anger, and violence persist in Northern Ireland.
A church and a community center are important anywhere in America. They can be life savers to individual people and can provide critical guidance and connection to their communities. However in the backdrop of past and ongoing violence in Northern Ireland, the Springfield Road Methodist Church and the Forthspring Community Group are vital components to spread tolerance and grace among these separated communities who both worship the same God.
For more about peace and reconciliation in Ireland, especially Northern Ireland, check out this talk by Reverend Harold Goode.