From our Minister

From our Minister

Paul was 18 years old, a soldier in the infantry serving in NI. On the 28th August 1992 he and the platoon to which he was attached began a patrol through the town of Crossmaglen. A few minutes later he died. No one heard a shot, no sight of a gunman, the street up and down was clear.

It was sometime later before the police were able to say what had happened. The sniper had positioned himself half a mile away in the church cemetery. His rifle rested on a platform built some time previously in readiness for this shooting. Aiming across the rough ground and down an alley, between two houses, waiting for the first soldier to pass on patrol knowing the next soldier would pass within so many seconds, he waited and fired. He would kill seven soldiers and police before being caught. Paul’s funeral took place a few days later near the family home in Worcester.

Four years later the infantry unit and I were again in NI. This time they were again in South Armagh I was in Portadown. When the Commanding Officer realised I was in the province he asked if I would conduct a memorial service for Paul in the HQ at Bessbrook. Four years to the day Paul was killed, I and his platoon, the CO and others stood at the memorial to Paul. I watched the faces of the men who had been with Paul on patrol that day; they still struggled with his death. Guilt, because they had been unable to protect him or avenge him, fury that the sniper would eventually only serve 18 months and be free under the NI Peace Accord.

On the first day of November, I typed Paul’s name into google; not sure why. His photograph and details came up and alongside memories and tributes from those who served with him. For some it is still raw.

Yesterday, watching the news there was an article about Gaza in which a young boy, very distressed, crying loudly, was shouting, repeating himself. The reporter told us the boy was shouting repeatedly; ‘We haven’t done anything; we haven’t done anything.’

There are far more casualties in war than those whose deaths or injuries are recorded. Everyone, including military personnel, are damaged by the violence of war. One officer I worked with, closely, heard me make that remark and scoffed. He attributed it to a ‘God botherer’ and said he had not been damaged by his many experiences of violence and conflict. We were friends; he refused to accept that his indifference to suffering, aggressive behaviour, intolerance of compassion were all symptoms of the damage he had suffered. I believe some political leaders, displaying a lack of compassion or remorse for their actions, are exhibiting the consequences of their violent pasts.

The psalmist said:
‘For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.’

God cares about his creation. Each individual is made in the image of God; unique, not mass produced, not cloned, but of inestimable value.

When Paul died the newspapers and TV news reported it in detail. Now he is forgotten; apart from family and friends. When we hear the statistics that 6,000 Israelis and 9,000 Palestinians have died in the fighting, they are anonymous to us; but each one had a name, a family, friends, hopes, dreams, a future.
How do we avoid becoming immune to the horror of what is happening, desensitised to the violence?

By drawing close to God; almost sounds trite. But being close to God protects us from the deadness of violence and becoming used to violence. Being sensitive hurts, being insensitive hurts even more. How do we draw close to God? By seeking him in prayer.

Heavenly Father,
What we see of the violence and suffering
is only a part of what you see. We see through
cloudy lenses because we are used to violence,
hatred and sin.
Lord, work in us, so that we will always be sensitive
to those in need, damaged and forsaken. May we
see you in everyone we meet, and respond with love.
Amen

Grace and Peace in Christ
John