Finding Real Peace in a Troubled Land
“The monster of sectarian violence is well out of its cage,” said one report back in 1969. That was when the Troubles, the current period of unrest in Northern Ireland, began to escalate.
SECTARIAN violence and killing became the order of the day as Protestant and Catholic killers, “the wild men on both sides” of the political and religious divide, intensified the struggle for dominance in Ireland. Since then “more than 3,600 people have been killed and thousands maimed in almost 30 years of violence,” reports The Irish Times.
This is not a new struggle, of course. It has plagued Ireland for centuries. In recent years its most lethal effects have been felt in Northern Ireland, but people all over Ireland have had their lives blighted by the bitterness and discord it has created.
In that scenario, for over one hundred years now, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been pointing to the real solution to the problems that have plagued this troubled land. That solution is God’s Kingdom in the hands of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 6:9, 10) At the start of the Troubles in 1969, there were 876 of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ireland. Now there are well over 4,500, in more than 100 congregations. Here are a few experiences from some who have turned their backs on political and paramilitary activities.
“When I Grow Up, I Am Going to Join the IRA!”
Michael* grew up a Catholic in the Republic of Ireland. At school he was taught something of the history of Ireland and its centuries-old conflict with Britain. As a child, he developed a deep hatred of the English, whom he saw as “oppressors of the Irish people.” When he was ten years old, he told his grandmother, “When I grow up, I am going to join the IRA!” (The Irish Republican Army) “I got a slap on the face that I remember to this day,” he says. He learned later that his grandfather had been in the British army during World War I. His grandmother once had to stand in front of his grandfather to prevent members of the IRA from shooting him.
Still, when Michael got older, he wanted to do something to help his fellow Catholics in Northern Ireland. “It seemed to me at the time,” he says, “that the only people doing anything to help the Catholic people of Northern Ireland were the IRA.” Fired by what he saw as a just cause, he became an IRA member and received training in the use of weapons. Three of his friends were shot dead by Protestant paramilitaries in Northern Ireland.
Michael eventually became disillusioned with the paramilitary struggle, disturbed, for example, by the bitter feuding that was carried on among different paramilitary groups. While in prison for offenses in connection with IRA activity, he prayed to God to help him to find the real way to lasting peace and justice. Some time later Jehovah’s Witnesses called at his home. Old prejudices, however, created barriers. The Witnesses were English. His deep-seated hatred made it difficult for him to listen. “I did not always show that I was glad to see them,” he says, “but they persevered in calling and talking with me, and I began to see that God’s Kingdom would put an end to all the political and social injustices that I was fighting to eradicate.”—Psalm 37:10, 11; 72:12-14.
The crunch came one evening when Michael met his commanding officer of the IRA, who said, “We have a job for you to do.” “I felt I had to make a choice there and then,” says Michael, “so I took a deep breath and said, ‘I am now one of Jehovah’s Witnesses,’ even though I wasn’t baptized at the time. I just knew that I wanted to be a servant of Jehovah.” “You should be put up against a wall and shot,” was the commanding officer’s reply. Despite the threat, Michael left the IRA. He drew courage to do this by letting Jehovah’s words affect his mind and heart. “In time, my wife and some of my children also dedicated their lives to Jehovah. We now have true peace in our hearts. And we will always be grateful to Jehovah for allowing us to learn the truth and to share in spreading a peaceful message in a troubled land.”—Psalm 34:14; 119:165.
Being Neutral Is a Real Protection
“I grew up in the countryside in County Derry in Northern Ireland,” says Patrick. “As a child, I knew nothing except the Troubles. That environment obviously affected my outlook and thinking.” Patrick developed extremist views influenced by virulent nationalism and deep anti-British prejudices. He saw religious people on both sides of the political struggle violate fundamental Christian principles as well as principles of basic human decency. As a result, he turned away from religion, eventually becoming an atheist and a confirmed Marxist.—Compare Matthew 15:7-9; 23:27, 28.
“My earliest memories are of the hunger strikes by republican prisoners in the North,” Patrick says. “They affected me deeply. I remember putting up Irish flags and scrawling anti-British graffiti everywhere I could. At just 15 years of age, I was a steward at the funeral of one of the hunger strikers who died in prison.” Like many others who were caught up in the turmoil and confusion of the times, Patrick took part in riots and protest marches in pursuit of what he saw as social justice and equality. He developed close friendships with a number of extreme nationalists, many of whom were imprisoned by the British authorities.
“Then,” Patrick says, “for economic reasons, I ended up spending some time in England. While I was there, the British police arrested one of my friends who was on a bombing mission.” Even though Patrick was still very sympathetic to the nationalist cause, his attitude started to change. He began to see that his prejudices against all English people were fundamentally unfounded. “I also began to realize,” he says, “that paramilitary activity would never really solve the problems and remove the injustices that distressed me. There was too much corruption and other imperfections among those controlling the paramilitary organizations.”—Ecclesiastes 4:1; Jeremiah 10:23.
Patrick eventually returned to Northern Ireland. “When I got back, a friend introduced me to Jehovah’s Witnesses.” From his study of the Bible with the Witnesses, Patrick began to see the real solution to human conflict and discord. He made rapid spiritual progress as the principles of the Bible affected his mind and heart. (Ephesians 4:20-24) “Now,” he says, “instead of plotting to overturn the existing order, I find myself preaching the message of peace from the Bible, even in loyalist areas where I would never have ventured before. In fact, at a time when there were a lot of sectarian killings in Belfast, the only ones who could move freely between loyalist and nationalist areas without armored cars were Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Like other Witnesses in Northern Ireland during this time, he found that being neutral, just as the early Christians were, is a real protection. (John 17:16; 18:36) He concludes: “It is so liberating to see that Jehovah through Jesus Christ will provide true justice and freedom from oppression to all of humanity.”—Isaiah 32:1, 16-18.
“My Guns Were My Only Protection”
“I grew up on the other side of the political and religious divide,” says William. “I was steeped in Protestant prejudices and had an intense hatred of anything Catholic. I would not even go into a Catholic shop if at all possible, and I visited the Republic of Ireland only once. I got involved in various Protestant groups and institutions, like the Orange Order—an organization that is dedicated to the preservation of the Protestant religion and way of life.” When he was 22, William joined the Ulster Defense Regiment, a part of the British army recruited locally. Most of its members were Protestant. He was quite willing to kill to defend his heritage. “I owned several guns and would not have hesitated to use them if necessary. I kept one under my pillow at night.”
But there came a turning point. “I began to realize that Jehovah’s Witnesses had something special when I worked alongside one of them renovating an old house. This fellow worker had a profound effect on me. As we built the house together, I was able to ask him many questions that bothered me about the Troubles, religion, and God. His simple, clear answers helped me to see Jehovah’s Witnesses for what they are—a united, nonviolent and politically neutral body of people, marked by love for God and neighbor.”—John 13:34, 35.
Within four months of starting a Bible study, William resigned from all the religious and political institutions he was associated with. “This was a big step for me,” he remembers, “because I had to relinquish many cherished, long-standing traditions.” His biggest test was yet to come, however. “Because of the situation in Northern Ireland, I felt that my guns were my only protection. I was seen as a ‘legitimate target’ by IRA paramilitaries. So it was very difficult to give up these weapons.” Gradually, though, Bible counsel, such as that found at Isaiah 2:2-4, changed his outlook. He saw that in the end Jehovah was his real protection, just as He was for the first-century Christians. William then handed in his guns.
“One of the things that I am really glad about,” says William, “is that I now have deep and abiding friendships with people whom I would formerly have viewed as mortal enemies. Also, it is a real source of joy to be able to take the Bible’s message of hope into what were formerly ‘no-go areas’ for me. Reflecting on what the truth has done for me and my family makes me eternally grateful to Jehovah and his organization.”
“Things Just Did Not Make Any Sense”
Robert and Teresa come from totally different backgrounds. “I am from a staunchly Protestant family,” says Robert. “Some of my relatives have been involved in paramilitary activities. I myself joined the Ulster Defense Regiment of the British army at 19 years of age. Much of that time was spent patrolling areas where Teresa lived. One night I was reassigned from a regular patrol to other duties. That night the Land-Rover in which I would have been traveling was blown up. Two soldiers were killed and two others injured.”
Robert began to wonder about the meaning of life. “I always believed in God, but when I looked around Northern Ireland, things just did not make any sense to me. I actually began to pray to God. I asked God if he really existed, and if he did, to show me the right way to live my life. I remember saying to God that there must be one true religion somewhere!” Just a few days later, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses called on Robert and left some literature. When he came home late from a patrol that night, Robert started reading it and finished at five o’clock in the morning. “I quickly recognized the ring of truth,” he says, “and I could see that everything was coming straight from the Bible.” (2 Timothy 3:16) He began to have a Bible study, and in a short time, he dedicated his life to God.
“The Witnesses Always Directed Us to the Bible”
Teresa, on the other hand, was from a Catholic background, with deep nationalist sympathies. “As a young girl, I joined Sinn Féin.”* Teresa admits: “This got me involved in the support of paramilitary activity. I helped to raise funds for the military struggle. I kept the IRA informed about what went on in my area. I also got involved in riots and stone-throwing attacks on police and army patrols.”
When some of Teresa’s family began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, her curiosity was aroused too. The power of God’s Word influenced her greatly. “The Witnesses always directed us to the Bible to get answers to questions,” she says. “The promise at Daniel 2:44 was a real eye-opener. I saw that God’s Kingdom was the real means for removing all the injustices that I was struggling against.” She felt a growing revulsion at some of the atrocities perpetrated by paramilitaries. Teresa could not understand, for example, why anyone with feelings of compassion and decency would cheer at the news of a terrorist action where soldiers or others were killed or maimed and families were devastated by grief and anguish. She too responded to the truth in the Bible and allowed God’s principles to adjust her thinking. She dedicated her life to God and soon was baptized.—Proverbs 2:1-5, 10-14.
Teresa met Robert when they both attended meetings at one of the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Northern Ireland. She comments: “When I first met Robert, I found it difficult to believe that I was talking so calmly and peacefully with someone whom I, until recently, would have considered part of the British war machine. God’s Word had certainly helped me to remove deep-seated hatreds and prejudices.” She and Robert found that instead of being divided by hatreds and prejudices springing from their different traditions and cultures, they now had many things in common. The most powerful of these was a love for Jehovah God. They got married. Now they work together in bringing God’s message of true peace to people of all backgrounds and beliefs in this troubled land.
Others in Ireland have had similar experiences. By listening to and accepting the teachings of the inspired Word of God, they have escaped from the ‘philosophies and empty deceptions’ of men. (Colossians 2:8) Now they put their full confidence in God’s promises recorded in the Bible. They are happy to share with any who will listen their hope of a peaceful future—one that will be totally free from sectarian and other kinds of violence.—Isaiah 11:6-9.
Names have been changed.
A political party closely associated with the Provisional IRA.
[Pictures on page 10]
The paramilitary struggle has been idealized in murals throughout Northern Ireland