An Open Letter From Northern Ireland
Good News Magazine
January-March 1973
Volume: Vol XXII, No. 1
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An Open Letter From Northern Ireland
David Bedford  

   GEETINGS from Ireland to God's Church worldwide!
   We here want to deeply thank all who have been praying for our safety during the present troubles. We know many of you are praying because God has afforded us continual protection, and not one has experienced any serous personal harm.
   As the situation deteriorates, Belfast and just about all the towns and villages look more like battlegrounds every day. In many towns only service vehicles and residents are allowed in the, centers — other traffic must detour. All allowed to enter are searched by the police or army.
   Many side streets in bigger cities such as Belfast and Londonderry are completely closed off by seven-foot-high iron fences. Access by gate is allowed at only one end and all entering traffic and pedestrians are individually searched. Packages are particularly examined. They are examined again if one enters shops or stores with them. Nevertheless, the I.R.A. was able to smuggle two bombs into one of these areas last week.
   To make it easier to spot car bombs, no unattended cars are allowed in city or town centers. Any car left unattended is swooped on by the authorities. Fines of 40 ($100) or so are slapped on the offenders. Since this makes it hard for carrying parcels, etc. one prospective member has purchased a porter's trolley to take his case of samples around.
   Members are constantly telling me how they have just missed exploding bombs by minutes, or seconds. Usually warnings are given and the area cleared of people by the army and police, but some explosions occur without warning! One such incident occurred in a bus station. One member had just left the station. Another was passing in a bus at the exact time of the explosion. Both were unharmed!
   Another bomb exploded without warning in a restaurant. Two people were killed and many injured. Two of the young people from the Church were planning to eat there, but had not yet arrived. Also, the unconverted wife of a member and their son had just been there and gone elsewhere because of the large number of people waiting to be served.
   The same member's car was completely wrecked a few days later when a bomb exploded in a nearby vehicle in a parking lot. Of course he was elsewhere and unharmed.
   One day a firm where some of our members were employed here in Lisburn received a telephone warning that a bomb was in the building. Everybody was evacuated to the road and cars were pushed from the yard. Suddenly a bomb exploded in one of the cars. Many workers standing nearby were injured, and one lost an arm and a leg. But none of our members were hurt because it was a Holy Day and they were not working!
   One of our members happened to come around the corner of the garage where he works just as three men were planting a bomb there. One of the men held him at gunpoint until the others had done the priming, then he was able to flee to safety before the explosion.
   Another member was being interviewed for a job in a hotel. A large bomb had been placed behind the building and the area had been evacuated, but for some reason the hotel was not cleared. The interview had only just begun when a tremendous explosion rocked the building. The two interviewers were knocked off their chairs. The member's chair stayed as firm as a rock and he didn't even move!
   This same member later was driving through a particular section of town when he was confronted by a group of 100 or so teen-agers who had been smashing shop windows, traffic lights, cars and anything they could find. When he tried to drive past them they smashed many of the windows in his car, but he was not badly hurt.
   A young man who attends services had a similar experience in his firm's van. When he reported it to the police, they replied, "What do you want us to do about it?"
   Another member stopped at a road junction in Armagh when a group of children started to stone his vehicle — again a van. One side was badly dented by the stones. One stone went right through the windscreen on the passenger's side and shattered the rest of the screen. He had to put his fist through it to see to drive on.
   Some Protestants who were hijacking cars for barricades stopped a young lady member in her car. While a young man was trying to persuade her to get out she started to pray silently. Just then an older man strolled over and said, "That's O.K., son, let her go."
   Some months ago I personally was driving into Belfast through a Catholic area when I noticed groups of youths standing around and large stones lying in the road. I was thinking to myself "You had better be careful here," when suddenly one group stepped into the road and started to wave me down. One had a large stone in his hand as if to throw it. Instead of slowing down I put my foot down on the accelerator and swerved past them. Needless to say I have not been that way since! Youth gangs actually hijacked and burned about 100 cars in the same area that week.
   Just a few days ago, when my wife and I were in town visiting with a member, we heard two explosions. Later, I left my wife in the car while I went into a shop. Ten minutes later there was gunfire about two streets behind where we were parked. My wife didn't know whether to lie on the floor of the car with the children or drive away — she could have driven into more trouble if she had left the scene.
   Others have also had very near escapes. One member was cutting her hedge one day when two bullets just missed her — one in front and one behind! A few weeks earlier her daughter was walking with another member's daughter when a bullet passed between them! In neither case was there a gun battle going on at the time.
   These appeared to be just stray shots. There is quite a bit of indiscriminate shooting at times, especially at night. Some weeks we hear gunfire or explosions while at Bible study or Sabbath services.
   Next to the hall we use for services there is a small parking lot about 10 or 15 yards wide. A few months ago the shop directly on the other side of the parking lot was blown up, but our building had only one broken window. The hall has had windows broken on two or three occasions when bombs exploded in the area, but never while we were inside. Actually, our hall has a six-foot-high iron fence around it, which helps with security. It is the only hall in the city with such protection.
   Despite all the troubles, more members are being added to the Church, both in the north and the south. To serve the members in the Irish Republic better, we are planning to start a monthly Bible study in Limerick this year to add to the present monthly Bible study in Dublin.
   As you have seen, God is certainly protecting His Church through perilous times here in Ireland. Truly, the God we serve is a great and powerful God!
   I hope all of you reading this will be encouraged to know that our Father is concerned with us as individuals and does answer our prayers. He will help all of us with any of the problems, trials and tests we have from time to time — if we remain close to Him and have faith! (I Cor. 10:13.)
   Please continue to pray for the brethren in Ireland, and around the world.

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Good News MagazineJanuary-March 1973Vol XXII, No. 1