Come for Tea….
Eilis Ferguson is a God-placed American living in Northern Ireland. She also happens to be an extended family member and an excellent writer. A few weeks ago, I asked her to consider writing something for the blog on what it was like to be a Christian living in Ireland. She said yes! What follows is the first installment of what I hope will be many more happy opportunities to fellowship together over a virtual cup of tea as we all get to know Eilis a little bit better. I know you’re gonna love her! I already do. ~BB
It has been said that Irish stories never have happy endings. Within the beautiful peace of a verdant country rises the dull grey concrete of a political system gone wrong. There is no winner as side moves against side.
After a while you realize that the pain in your heart is not going to go away and you have to do something to respond. Do you retaliate? There might be a chance at responding in some semblance of forgiveness, but then you are reminded of the cold-bloodedness in which the violence happens.
They fight because they watched their fathers fight, their grandfathers die, and their lovers crumble under a terror too big to hold….
It wouldn’t really be fair to jump right in without introducing myself, my wee island, and my subject. Like Mary and Joseph I’ve gone “up, out, into, unto” only my places are: “up from Minnesota, out of Oregon, into the United Kingdom, unto Northern Ireland”. It’s been 8 years since I moved to Northern Ireland. I came because God said ‘Go,’ and stayed because 1) He’s not said ‘leave’ yet, and 2) I’ve married a Northern Irish man and have a baby daughter.
But let me back up and begin at the beginning.
In March 1988, I lay on the floor of my house on a Sunday afternoon reading the newspaper. There was a tiny snippet of an article stuck away up in the ‘World’ section; it was about 3 people getting shot in Gibraltar. They were from Northern Ireland, were a part of the IRA (Irish Republican Army), and were fatally shot by British Special Forces. We could spend years arguing about the politics in this situation, but we’ll keep it simple – if you’re part of the British population, people in the IRA are generally considered to be part of a terrorist organisation. God decided that little article would affect me and I began to pray for Northern Ireland without knowing anything about it or really, why I was praying. Over the years those prayers continued and I’m ashamed to say, so did the ignorance. In time, I forgot why I was praying for them and just knew there was something deep in my heart for this wee country. In 2003 I had the opportunity to come here for a weekend while living in England – it completely blew me away. I wept for nearly the whole weekend, driving around parts of Belfast and County Armagh. I stood on top of Cave Hill over-looking Belfast and cried out to God, “I can’t live here, it would break me and break my heart!” His response? “No, you will be whole, it’s My heart that is broken.” At that I rather realised that I had better get here somehow.
I went back to America and begin to plan my return. While there, I read a book about NI and the IRA and all of the sudden I remembered Gibralter and that article, and the reason behind the prayers returned. I realised that God had planned for that tiny article to weld itself to my heart so that years later I would remember and weep for a country I knew nearly nothing about. To cut a long, waffly story short, I ended up moving here, I lived in Belfast, studied for a Masters degree in Politics and Culture of Northern Ireland at Queen’s University…and waited. Waited to see why I was here and what God had for me.
It’s been 8 years. Eight very hard years of being a foreigner, being on the outside, of never quite fitting into anything. It has been a journey of discovery of myself, of a country that makes the news for all the wrong reasons, and of what God wants from my heart. Talk about a refining time. Someone once told me they viewed life in decades for God instead of years, and they felt that God’s process for them, and their work in ministry, reflected decades of time. This seems to be me as well. There have been so many things that God has changed, pruned, and rubbed off me in 8 years that sometimes I wonder what I look like in comparison to when I came. It’s only been in the past 10 months that ministry opportunities have presented themselves and slowly, slowly a tiny bud is beginning to blossom. I can’t wait to see what it is and to share it with you….but I’ll leave that for the next time. Meanwhile, perhaps your dry time isn’t dead, but a refining desert to prepare you for such a time as this. Keep going, keep leaning on Him, keep giving your all, your hope, your trust, your life to Him, believing (continuous believing) that there is a reason and a goal. Be blessed.
Eilís Ferguson currently lives in Northern Ireland and is trying to live for God in an environmentally friendly, quiet, simple, and rather old-fashioned way. She loves running and generally being outside, prefers moving to sitting and nature to cities. She’s a tall, dark, foreigner in a place of short, white locals and tends to stick out like a sore thumb. But she’s learning peace and contentment in difficulty and a deeper love for the Lord as He leads her.