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Wave of inspiration in Northern Ireland

   
 


Sherry Peters, an MC-Canada mission associate in Ireland

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Friday, March 17, 2006
-by Jeff Enns

Winnipeg, Man. - The decades of violent conflict that dominated Northern Ireland in the late twentieth century have become an obsession for Sherry Peters

For ten of the last twelve years she has invested her time and energy into investigating the root and cause of this conflict, always eager to learn more. In August 2005, Peters moved to Belfast, Northern Ireland as a mission associate with of Mennonite Church Canada.

The late 1960’s to 1998 marked a period of intense conflict between the Catholics and Protestants of Northern Ireland, referred to by the Irish as ‘the Troubles’. Thousands of lives were lost and many more traumatized. Although the 1998 Good Friday agreement brought about a political resolution and an end to the violence, significant tension remains.

In Belfast, Peters works with WAVE (Women Against Violence Empowered), an organization that offers services and support to people affected by the conflict. Formed in 1991 as a support group for widows who had lost their spouses in the violence, it has since expanded its focus to include anyone bereaved, injured or intimidated as a direct result of the Troubles. Since its inception it has received over 3,600 referrals. That number continues to climb.

“[WAVE] provides a befriending service where outreach workers make first contact with people who have been victims and provide them with support,” explains Peters. The organization targets those who have experienced trauma but may be overlooked by the government. Peters says that WAVE is one of the first of its kind in Northern Ireland and provides essential services to those who must now live with the after-math of the Troubles.

A country divided by conflict is not typically a desirable tourist destination, but Peters has felt a strong, long-time call to be in Northern Ireland. “I couldn’t understand why I had such a passion for Northern Ireland except to believe that God put that passion in my heart.”

Peters’ obsession with the Troubles began developed during her university studies of British and Irish history. The more she discovered about the conflict, the more her appetite grew. Several post-graduation trips to Northern Ireland confirmed that was where she wanted to be. After years of waiting, she was offered a position in Belfast through Mennonite Church Canada Witness. She jumped at the opportunity.

In making the difficult transition to a country immersed in conflict, Peters has experienced no shortage of support. “First and foremost” says Peters, “I have to mention my family, who have given me no end of emotional, spiritual, and financial support.” She also relies on the encouragement and support of her friends, as well as her home church in Winnipeg - Fort Garry Mennonite Fellowship. In Belfast, Peters finds inspiration in both her co-workers at WAVE, and the members they serve. Through their resiliency, Peters is deepening her understanding of community and how to cope with conflict.

The ceasefire has led the government to announce funding cuts for WAVE and similar organizations but Peters declares the need for their services is now greater than ever. In response, she has been collecting paintings and posting information to a web site in preparation for a fund raising art exhibit to help ensure the WAVE work will continue (www.artwaveni.com).

“Now that the violence has ended, people have time to reflect on what has happened to them,” says Peters. “We are getting more referrals each week.”