Location: Belfast, Northern Ireland
Cost of Trip: $1400
Partner Organization: 174 Trust
Northern Ireland has held a special place in my heart since I first traveled there a year ago, as a participant on the trip I just had the privilege of co-leading this past January. A group of Gordon College students has traveled to Belfast, Northern Ireland for the past six years, and it is so powerful being a part of this kind of international-relationship building. While there, we partner with an amazing organization called the 174 Trust. Established in 1983, 174 Trust is an organization aiming to provide a local Christian witness without denominational bias or sectarian prejudice. They offer artistic programming and community-led activities for people of all identities and religions, with the hope that their presence can be a powerful example of God’s heart for the people of Belfast. They approach their work with an inspirational humility that was an example to our group every single day.
This is not a missions trip in the traditional sense: we don’t go to build homes, teach children, or work in areas of severe poverty. But, to me this trip is a beautiful example of what missions can really look like. Northern Ireland is a first-world, English speaking state that is twenty years into recovery from an internal conflict. While we’re in Belfast, we meet with politicians, community leaders, ex-combatants, and families. We learn about conflict and reconciliation, and pay attention to the ways in which faith interacts with these complicated issues. We debrief and talk amongst ourselves (a lot), but we listen even more. We give space for people to tell us their stories, and take their hard-earned lessons to heart. We support the work of a fantastic long-term organization, and utilize our privilege as American college students to add external legitimacy to the work of the Trust. By looking at the ways in which God is working abroad, we are better able to understand how He works in our own neighborhood.
We talked extensively as a group about why we were going on this trip at all: wouldn’t it be better to raise the money and just donate it to the 174 Trust as opposed to traveling there ourselves? This is a critically important question about missions that many people much smarter than me have written about. But, my experience on this trip helps me understand (or at least begin to understand) how to answer this question. There is so much to be gained from existing in relationship: to people who are like us and to people who are different. Development, peace, and wholeness of spirit depend on so much more than money – if that was the solution to hurt, conflict, and poverty, we would have been able to eliminate these things so much sooner. This is not to say capital isn’t important, or that tithing to the organization that hosts us isn’t a critical part of our trip. But a person-to-person connection is so powerful, both for the 174 Trust and our Gordon College team. And this trip is so much more than one group of students, or one meeting. I’ve loved learning these lessons, supported by a fantastic advisor and incredible co-leader, this year. I look forward to seeing how I can apply a broader understanding of God’s community and of missions in my future, and could not be more grateful for the opportunity to return to Belfast this year.