I feel like I’ve let you guys down! I’ve been here for two weeks now, and I haven’t really told you anything about what I’ve been doing. So prepare yourself, folks, ‘cause this is going to be a long one!
First off, I’ll tell you where I’m living. The Belfast DTS is based on the Shankhill Road in west Belfast. At the very top of the hill, right on the corner, is the Community House, where I live. However, our DTS consists of 21 people (staff not included) so naturally we don’t all fit in the one town house. About 2 kilometres down the road is the New Life flat, a small apartment where 6 other students plus staff stay. Across the road from the flat is St. Michaels Parish Church, which is where we all attend lectures. Those of us who live in the community house are quite jealous of the people living in the flat (aptly dubbed the ‘flatheads’) because of the placement of the house; right across the street from the lecture hall, a 5 minute walk from City Center, and a two minute walk from the Office, the only WiFi available to us. While they lay asleep in bed still, we have to start our 30 minute walk to class in the freezing cold.
For those of you who do not know the history of the religious issues here in Northern Ireland, I’ll give you a little run-down on why we’re located where we are, and what we’re doing here. There has been loads of issues between the Catholics and Protestants on the island for a long time. The republic of Ireland in something like 80% Catholic, but Northern Ireland is almost 50/50. The city of Belfast is split in two; the Shankhill represents the Protestant side of town, while the Falls Road represents the Catholic side. These two roads run parallel with the wall that keeps the two separated from one another. We students have to be careful what we say as to not attach us to any one side, as a common “polite” conversation will ALWAYS lead to the question, “So what church do you attend?” In fact, if someone in town were to ask where we’re staying, we’re not allowed to mention the Shankhill, as that would give the assumption that we’re protestants.
I’ll give you an example of what our normal days look like here in Belfast. Lectures start at 9 AM, so we should be ready and walking down the street by 8:30. One of my housemates and I are trying to make a habit of getting up at 7 AM to pray for each other and the day. Our success has been pretty mediocre. We’re working on that! Lectures usually go until 2, but sometimes run as late as 4 PM. Afterwards, we either have work duties (household chores and whatnot) or free time. 3 days a week we have small groups. Our small groups are 3 groups of 7. One focuses on Cafe ministry (YWAM runs a little cafe on the Shankhill called Feed Cafe. Very cute.), one on children’s ministry, and one on youth ministry. We were only put into our small groups on Friday. I have been put into the small group that focuses on youth, obviously. I have already befriended two young girls who live just two townhouses down from us. One of my housemates, Rajaa and I, were walking with them and a few of their friends last week. We were talking about a bunch of things, getting to know them. I asked them what they do in their spare time after school. They just shrugged, “We walk.” That’s what they do. They come home, do their homework, get dressed into normal clothes, then they just walk the streets because there’s nothing to do. Rajaa and I decided then that if these kids were going to walk, why not walk with them? One of the first times we walked with them, we had gone to a little grocery to grab a snack. One of the boys had finished his drink and he tossed his bottle to the ground, and kicked it across the street. We asked him why he didn’t just hold on to it until we came to a rubbish bin, to which he responded simply, “because it’s Belfast.” That has stuck with me ever since. It makes me sad. These kids don’t even realize that someday, this city will be theirs. On Friday evenings, we have a community dinner at the St. Michaels where people can invite family, friends, and new acquaintances to join. Weekends for the most part are our own. Sundays we are expected to attend a church of our choosing. I went to a church called New Life City Church (the New Life flat is owned by the church), and those of us who went last week, were asked by the Pastor to go in front of the church next week and say what we’re up to in Belfast... A little intimidating. We get 10 whole minutes! Yikes.
This weekend we got the opportunity to go to Closkelt, the base I originally applied to, but has recently been closing itself down (which is why I am presently in Belfast, not Closkelt). I got out of the van and faced the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen. Think stereotypical Ireland: rolling hills, sheep grazing, and the most stunning sunset. All the stress from the past week seemed to melt away. It was beautiful. Needless to say, I have close to a thousand pictures of the same view (including my first 9 of Diamonds shot, Benjamin!). Closkelt is about 40 minutes outside of the city. We went from Sunday night until Tuesday afternoon. We still attended lectures, as the speaker this week is Mike Oman, who used to be on staff at YWAM Closkelt and conveniently lives a few houses down the road. So Monday and Tuesday he spoke there, and for the rest of the week he’ll be out in Belfast to finish. He is speaking on the Father heart of God. He is such a powerful speaker. We were told beforehand by Jonny Clark, the head of YWAM Ireland and the man running our DTS, that his expectations for this week were pretty high, as this week is usually a pivotal point for many people in their DTS. So far, I see what he means. I’m anticipating what the rest of this week holds for us...
On Friday, we were told that the Outreach phase was now going to be 2 different teams. One would be going to South Africa, and the other, to Israel and Palestine. We were told to pray about our decision, and we would have to make a choice on Tuesday. However, our choice wasn’t necessarily going to be absolute, as the staff is praying about it also, and if they feel we’ve made the wrong decision, they’ll approach us. Still, I’m terrified. I feel like it’s such a huge decision. And I don’t want to choose for selfish reasons. Hopefully we’ll find out our Outreach teams by the end of this week. I’ll be sure to let you know ASAP. Until then, I still don’t know how much the outreach phase is going to cost me. The cost will differ on the place, plus they haven’t solidified the plans as to where we’ll stay, etc. The uncertainty continues to be a stress for me. Another injustice I feel since being here is that I’ve been here for 14 days, and I have yet to eat fish and chips. This is a huge issue to me. Pray for the abundance of fish in my near future. Tartar sauce too, if you don’t mind.
Well, over 1,300 words later, I hope I have satisfied anyone’s questions about what I’ve been up to these past couple weeks. I have come up with the ingenious idea that I could write my updates at the house, then post it to my blog when I go to the office, instead of taking so much time trying to write it there. I know, right? It took me two weeks to figure out that logic. Good thing I graduated.
For those of you who want to write me a letter and/or send me some goodies (hint hint), my mailing address is as follows:
32 Townsend Street
Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Cheers, Loves. J