A few decades between the Catholics and Protestants of Northern Ireland was a horrible war. And though an end to the violence laid 20 years ago, this world was never reached.
Officially in Belfast world. But this wall still divides Catholics and Protestants. But the gates still close at night. The Church “New life” is right on the “world border”. One part of the building is in Catholic Belfast, and the second Protestant. She welcomed those who had been a deadly enemy.
“Among those who regularly attend our Church every Sunday, there are people who were terrorists. Once they wanted to kill each other. There was a time when I could kill one of them,” says Jack McKee, senior pastor of the Church “New life”.
During the war Jack McKee was a soldier, and today he and his son Jonny are pastors of the Church “New life”.
“I think many Americans are looking at us will think we have achieved peace in our country. Actually — no. There is only visibility, but real peace there,” continues Jack McKee.
Part of Belfast still remain in captivity of violence, drugs and family problems. The members of the Protestant and Catholic paramilitary groups turned into gangs that sell drugs and engaged in racketeering, killing everyone who gets in their way. The Church in the building of this old warehouse — like fortress in the middle of this mess. It is one thing to preach peace, and quite another to build a Church on the border between the parties trying to kill each other.
“I don’t think there is another such building in which there are two warring communities, the two warring groups of people who were killing each other by the thousands,” says johnny McKee, senior pastor of the Church “New life”.
Most young men went to war as teenagers and spent his best years in prison. Alex Calderwood, a former member of a paramilitary group AEO, nicknamed “Oso”. He killed a man even before he turned 18.
“I came across a group of men who put two Catholics on the wall. They asked if I had a gun. I said, “No. But I know where to get”. When I said that, one of the Catholics fled. I grabbed second and took him away. I have appointed themselves judge, jury and executioner, and then took the life of this young man,” he says.
Today pastor Jack and former members of the paramilitary groups of his Church wearing a cross in the middle Shenkel road, which was once a place of military action in Belfast. They raise the cross as the only hope for this divided community.
“Today I carried the cross, because I come from Republican West Belfast. This is my sign of reconciliation with the loyalists. I’m trying to put a cross above the arms,” says Tom McCarthy, a former member of the IRA.
“I bear the cross on Shenkel road because he was commander of the Ulster volunteer force, and now has become a Christian,” says Tom Rowntree, the former commander of the SAR.
“We have the born-again Republicans. We have the born-again Protestants. The importance of the cross is that it is for everyone in Ulster, in Ireland. Was the man who died for our sins on the cross. This is an opportunity to go through all the communities and uplift the name of Jesus is above all other names,” says Alec “Oso” Calderwood.
“As I understand it, a terrorist is a terrorist. And when the Holy Spirit comes upon him — it is something supernatural. And many times we have seen this even here in Belfast,” says Jack McKee.
Jack McKee has repeatedly threatened with death because he’s trying to end the violence in Belfast.
“I know what I hate more than other pastors in this community, and possibly in the whole of Northern Ireland. I know of no other pastor in this country who tried to kill as many times as me. And I’m not exaggerating,” he says.
Jack McKee has written a book called “What price?”
“I’m just asking the question: “What do I need to remove the division in the community?” The Church has the answer to this question, says Jack McKee.
The Church “New life” every day opens its doors to the community using soccer field, cafe and programs for the needy.
“Only the grace of God does what you see here. Often we have things happen that we could not even imagine or plan. But it happens,” says johnny McKee.
“Sometimes I look and say, “the Lord is working, and it is marvelous in our eyes”. I am amazed when people come to Christ. I know that some of them were terrorists, but now they come and sit next to those who were on the other side. They worshipped together. Only God could do this”, says Jack McKee.