Walking with others

Evangelism Proximity Principle
AN image of Karen Webb Karen Webb
5th June 2024 4 minute read
A mural for Shankill Road painted on a brick wall

‘How do you work here? To see a wall dividing two communities in the UK today is scandalous – why is no one doing anything.’  Friend from England 

The Shankill has a long history, from the founding of ‘the old Church’ (An Sean Cill) to the industrial explosion with linen and shipbuilding. During the 19th century, many people moved from the countryside to Greater Shankill to work in the local factories. These people then filled the local churches. Today looks vastly different. 

Ireland has a long history of violence and especially in Northern Ireland, in what is called ‘the Troubles’ lasting over 30 years. The people of this part of Belfast, suffered more than many with a 1/3 of the total number of people killed throughout this period coming from this part of Belfast. 

How has the church impacted this and how is the church today getting alongside the people of the Greater Shankill area of Belfast? This is a tricky question, with no easy answer. There are a few factors in play; the area used to have a population of 100,000, during the 1950s and 60s, when some of the many churches were built, today the population is 27,000. Along with the continued secularisation of society, the numbers attending church have dramatically dropped, and the churches are supporting aging, disgruntled congregations, who cannot understand why people no longer want to be in church. 

How can we get alongside communities and fan into flame the spirit of God within those longing to see revival happen? Pray, pray, and then pray. Nothing we do will be effective without prayer; heartfelt, on our knee’s prayer for the area where we feel called to be. The ground is hard, and rocky, but the spirit of God is stronger. While I was spending time among some young people in a local park, they quickly noticed the fact that my minister friend and I were both from the protestant community. ‘Hey,’ one young man said, ‘You don’t like the border down the Irish sea!’ I replied that ‘no I didn’t like it as it was difficult getting things delivered’ – with a pause he replied, ‘Oh, that affects us too!’ Much of what is perceived to divide us, is in fact a unifying factor. This too is true in all denominations, and in society in general, as we label people in one way or another. In Northern Ireland it happens to be between Roman Catholic and Protestant, in other parts of the world it will be different. 

We are reminded in scripture – ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free,nor is there male and female,for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ Galatians 3:28. We are all one in Christ, a great sentiment, but how do we make it happen. It is in the following ways: 

  • Accept and love one another regardless of background, creed, or colour. 
  • Acknowledge our differences and celebrate them. 
  • Pray for one another. 
  • Reach out to the community by meeting them where they are. Too often the church expects people to come into our place – go be with them, wherever they are. 

Being with the young people in a park, was an eye-opening experience – learning how they feel about the church, God, the devil. While I was chatting to a young Roman Catholic man, he declared himself an atheist – but if Jesus appeared in front of him – he would believe! I reminded him that no matter how he felt, God believed in him. We then had a deep conversation about passages of scripture and how he felt about them. This, from a youth who had declared he was an atheist! 

Initially, all people need to know is that they are loved, accepted, and forgiven. Theology, discipleship and walking the Christian way, comes as they grow in faith. As followers of Christ, we are to walk with people, get to know them and they, us. That is what Jesus did, and you cannot get a better role model than that. 

Written by

Karen Webb

Karen lives in Lisburn, Northern Ireland with her husband, Tim, and their two grown up daughters, Amy and Caroline. Commissioned as a Church Army Evangelist she works in the Greater Shankill area of Belfast.

After studying Computer Science, Karen spent two years in Kenya as a Mission Partner. After returning home, she recognised the need for home mission and that is where her heart lies.

AN image of Karen Webb
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