This summer I had the opportunity to go to Northern Ireland with the Briarwood Ballet as a part of the Iona Project. Yes, there is a difference between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The whole nation was a part of the United Kingdom until 1922 when the southern part of the nation declared their independence. The northern portion is still a part of the United Kingdom to this day. Unlike America, Ireland has no concept of separation of church and state. The country separated partially due to the tension between the Protestants and Catholics. This tension goes back hundreds of years. The country was originally predominantly Catholic. During the great potato famine, Protestants began abusing the Catholics living in Ireland. They would offer food to the Catholics, but only if they would convert to Protestantism. This gave rise to a deep resentment between the two populations that is still felt today.
This hatred fueled riots and wars for years until finally the country separated. However, this did not completely solve the problem since there were still divisions within the now independent nations. So the people came up with ways to keep themselves separate. Even the schools became divided between Catholics and Protestants, and many schools remain that way today.
While the schools are Christian in name, the Christian classes the students take tend to lay out the beliefs of different religions instead of trying to show the true Gospel to the students. Since there is a lack of the true Gospel taught in both Protestant and Catholic schools, my team went in and performed in order to share the Gospel with the students. We mostly danced in Protestant schools since the pastors from the Protestant churches we were working with would not be accepted into a Catholic school because of the separation. The pastor would visit schools and minister to the children throughout the year, but until the Iona Project came, they were unable to go into Catholic schools because of the separation. However, they can allow dancers into the school even if they are affiliated with a Protestant church. Three years ago dancers from the Iona Project were allowed to dance in a local Catholic school. This opened the doors for the pastor to visit the school throughout the year. My team was also able to go into this Catholic school.
It was intimidating walking into a Catholic school in Northern Ireland since the church we were working with was Protestant. As we waited for the students and the school’s principal to arrive, we prayed that our dance would impact our audience. The students arrived and we performed a few dances. We were also able to share the Gospel by talking about the similarities and differences in American and Northern Irish culture. When we finished, the principal thanked us for our time, then gave us the most meaningful compliment we had received throughout the entire trip. He said that he was amazed at the way we were able to share our faith even though we were only teenagers. He was also moved by the music and the choreography which our director had chosen.
I was humbled by the way God had used my group to share the Gospel despite the historical hatred between the two churches. God showed me that his Gospel tears down walls and touches people despite their denomination or social status. God is moving in Northern Ireland in spite of the riots and wars between his people. Through the power of the Gospel, these two groups of believers are learning that they are indeed one in Christ.
Hannah Price, Class of 2017