Beauty For Ashes

September 23, 2009
by David J. Sheehan

Isaiah 61:1a,3a – The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me … to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. (NKJV)

This past June, I was fortunate to join a group of other Americans as we travelled to Belfast, Northern Ireland, to help with the home building and the healing that this province so desperately needs. We worked with the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity in the staunchly Protestant part of West Belfast called the mid-Shankill. The locals there were very kind to us, despite the racket we made with our jackhammer!

During our time there, we met the minister of Whitehouse Presbyterian Church, the Reverend Liz Hughes. She told us of the struggle that her church and congregation had during the time of the troubles in Northern Ireland.

In August, 2002, the church was attacked for the third time and destroyed by arson. It was a time of high sectarian tensions in the area.

What occurred next was a miracle. The people in the area, Catholics and Protestants alike, rallied around her and her congregation. Five Catholic churches in the area, one of which had been burned down in the past, collected over ten thousand pounds to help rebuild the church.

The church was rebuilt, through the hard work and faith of the congregation and of the people of the area.

Another thing happened as well. People who had not been to church in a long time started coming back. As a result, the size of the congregation doubled.

Then, a stranger thing happened. Old pensioners, both Catholics and Protestants, who had worked together years before in the linen industry, met again in the church hall. Old friendships, that had fallen victim to the troubles, were now renewed.

All of this was the last thing that the arsonists had in mind. They had started a fire, but not the kind of fire that they had intended.

Luke 12:49 – I have come to bring fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! (NIV)

After her talk, I could not help but think of the times in the Old Testament when burnt sacrifices were offered up to God. At the time of the arson, I do not think that she saw this disaster as an offering up to God, but her faith and that of her congregation made it so.

Then I thought of this verse:

Revelation 21:5 – Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." (NKJV)

When she gave this talk, the years fell off her, and this grey-haired lady almost danced with joy as she told her story of how God had worked a miracle through a small church in Belfast.

Prayer: Lord, we remember the people of Northern Ireland before You, as they are in the process of rebuilding their country. We pray for patience and grace for Christians there who are working hard to build bridges between the communities. We thank You that with our prayers and work, we can help You truly to make all things new. Amen.

About the author:

David J. Sheehan <davidjsheehan100@yahoo.com>
Crowley, Texas, USA

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