Derry, a city filled with healing wounds, cloudy skies, and deep history. Derry, formally known as Londonderry is in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland faced a thirty-year war between the Protestants and Catholics. Although seeming religious, this war was political as Catholics were discriminated against for wanting independence from Europe. Derry is famously known for its still-standing walls present during the wars and many murals that encompass the pain that many faced.
I had the opportunity to visit Derry this past summer on a missions trip affiliated with Vanguard University’s Office of Global Education and Outreach. We were partnered with Cornerstone City Church whose goal is to unite the people of Derry who are internally scarred from generations of religious division. To this day, if you approach a citizen about God, they will ask you if you are Protestant or Catholic.
Northern Ireland is gorgeous. There are rolling hills of the greenest grass as much of the land is kept for farming. Sheep roam through plots, and their wool is marked with specified colors to designate their ownership.
There are abounding coasts. One I visited, Kinnagoe Bay, was surrounded by tall green hills of grass and petite lilac flowers. The sand was soft, and the water a brilliant light blue and cold as ice. We climbed across sharp black rocks that lifted themselves from the water. Frolicking out of enjoyment and excitement in an unfamiliar environment.
Take a forty-minute drive in the opposite direction and we reach a beach of all stone. No sand in sight, and the stones are round and soft. Creating their form of tan and beige waves that lead to the ocean. It is mesmerizing as you watch the gray water violently crash against the tallest stones.
The Derry city center is remarkable. Surrounded by those never-ending walls, streets, and lanes defer in all directions. It feels as though you could walk forever and ever. The buildings are old and industrial but painted in bright colors such as pink, blue, and green. Stores are filled with Europe’s fashion trends, bakeries have delicious and unique pastries, and coffee just tastes different.
The peace bridge is a symbol of reconciliation. Built over the river to symbolize the union of the Protestants on the waterside and the Catholics on the city side. This bridge curves like a winding road being held up by two white poles propelled from the water at angles. Thick metal wires provide support and bright yellow lights illuminate it at night.
One mural that I remember vividly was on the side of a building as you first enter the city. It was completely white with giant black letters stating, “You are now entering free Derry.” Simple and effective.
Our purpose for being there was to help with their Kid’s Bible and futbol camps. It was within us to preach the gospel to kids and teach them the love of Jesus. Although most had short attention spans, it was gratifying when kids understood the concepts we were teaching. These children were filled with joy and laughter that was unremarkable. It reminded me of the days when I lived carefreely.
We were also given the opportunity to learn how to evangelize in the streets. After an extensive training session, we were sent out to practice healing, pray over others, and present the gospel to strangers.
While there I interacted with God in ways I had never known before. We attended encounter nights dedicated to laying ourselves down for Him and listening to what He has to say. It was emotional and heart-wrenching. I have never cried harder before.
Derry is home to the most hospitable people. Although some we approached did not care for our messages they still responded with big smiles and kind hearts. People would have conversations with you for ten minutes before realizing that they had to go. Those of the church especially were kind and welcoming. They even put on a Fourth of July celebration for us Americans knowing that we missed home.
This trip was life-changing and life-altering. It taught me history, firsthand, that I had never known. It taught me new skills in bringing people to the Lord. I met people who have left a mark on my heart and have pushed me to be a better person every day since.