Spending nearly a year volunteering at a church in Northern Ireland, Toledoan Sandra Moon got an up-close and personal look at the troubled Irish region. It was not always a flattering sight.
In fact, soon after her arrival in Belfast in late August, 2005, she was sent home from work early every day for a week because of rioting or the threat of violence near her workplace.
It was a very frustrating time, said Ms. Moon, who will give a talk about
her experiences tomorrow at Glendale Presbyterian Church in South Toledo. I didn t understand what was going on. I had been waiting to arrive in Belfast for so long, I just wanted to immerse myself in my work. It was so frustrating to have to go home early.
Northern Ireland s Catholics and Protestants have been fi ghting for decades,
with the Catholics (44 percent of the country s 1.7 million residents) seeking to join the Republic of Ireland to the south while the majority Protestants (53 percent of the population) want to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Ms. Moon was sent overseas by the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its Young Adult Volunteers program, which has outreaches around the world.
In Northern Ireland, Catholics and Protestants for the most part observed a truce during Ms. Moon s tenure, but the tensions were still very real and, at times, very frightening the 24- year-old Southview High School graduate said this week.
It s very much a culture of colors and symbols, she said in an interview from Louisville, where she is studying for dual degrees a master of divinity from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and a law degree from the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law.
As an example of the power of symbols, she said, wearing a Glasgow Celtics soccer jersey means a person is a Catholic, while Glasgow Rangers jerseys mean he or she is Protestant.
In a tragic example of the sectarian violence that struck while she was in Belfast, Ms. Moon said a Catholic youth, on a dare, wore a Celtics jersey into a Protestant neighborhood and was beaten to death.
But although The Troubles, as the enduring conflict is known, involves different branches of Christianity, the fighting is not really about faith, values, or religious beliefs, Ms. Moon said.
While they define themselves in Protestant and Catholic terms, it s very much a political battle and has little to do with religion, she said.
The strife was often disheartening, but Ms. Moon was impressed by the people s spirit.
Despite the violence and tensions people have faced in Northern Ireland, the people there are among the most hospitable I ve ever met, and they have a great sense of humor.
Ms. Moon was assigned to Crumlin Road Presbyterian Church in the Greater Shankill community of North Belfast, where her primary task was handling administrative duties for the church, which had an average Sunday morning attendance of 80.
She also served at the Vine Community and Advice Centre, an outreach in a low-income Loyalist area of North Belfast, where she did everything from serving lunch to senior citizens to tutoring young children in after-school programs.
In addition, Ms. Moon headed up several Bible studies, played clarinet and read Scripture during Sunday services, and organized a weekly get-together for church members.
Of all her ministry activities, the most rewarding memories were not from the overtly religious activities but from the informal Tuesday night gatherings, she said.
It was just people from church getting together and watching movies or playing charades, Ms. Moon said. It was nothing special, but it s the people in the group who made it special.
The regulars included a gay man who was ostracized by most church members, a developmentally
disabled man in his 20s, a widowed retiree, and a single mother who rarely got time away from her son.
It was a group of people who wouldn t find friends elsewhere, and they welcomed me as a foreigner.
The amount of laughter and communication and fellowship that was shared, to me it was an image of the kingdom of God a bunch of outcasts sharing love.
She said she didn t consider her role in Northern Ireland as being a missionary seeking to convert people to Christianity.
I spent my year doing what I believe God calls all people to do: to simply love and serve others with a warm and sincere heart, and to spread values of peace and justice.
Ms. Moon, the daughter of Hicheon and Kay Moon , graduated from Soutview High
in 2001 and earned a dual degree at Vanderbilt University in religious studies and political science. A member of Glendale Presbyterian Church in Toledo, at Vanderbilt she served as president of the university s Interfaith Council and was active in the Presbyterian Campus Ministry.
She said she is unsure what she will do with her advanced degrees in law and divinity, but said the time in Northern Ireland led her to expand her plans for law school to include seminary training.
The year of volunteer work has affected my theology, the way I view God, the way I view Earth, and my responsibilities as a person of faith, she said.
Sandra Moon will speak on her Young Adult Volunteer experiences in Northern Ireland at noon tomorrow at Glendale Presbyterian Church, 4609 Glendale Ave., as part of its Faith and Life series.
Contact David Yonke at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154