IRISH ‘BANDIT COUNTRY’
reconciliation efforts win President’s prize
NORTHERN IRELAND (ANS) -- Christian mission worker Ian Bothwell has been rewarded for his years of campaigning in one of the toughest areas of Northern Ireland with the President’s Prize for Reconciliation.
The annual honour was first instituted by President Clinton and administered through the Irish News, The Belfast Newsletter and the American Consulate. Ian said it had given him a new platform and helped to remove suspicion from some quarters over his work in the former IRA stronghold of South Armagh – a poor area known as bandit country where a shooting once took place in a local church and where unemployment is high.Under the banner of the Crossfire Trust based at Darkley House in Keady, near the border with the Republic, Ian co-operates with local government in providing work and training, selling quality second-hand clothes and furniture and taking in young people who have nowhere else to go.
“I am convinced that the church can become centre-stage in the healing of the land,” he said, “and although the road to reconciliation is full of potholes, the final destination is worth the effort. We must gain confidence in the area of dialogue and be convinced that mercy and forgiveness are the keys to turn to a better future. “
In order for a sustainable peace to be achieved, forgiveness, healing and reconciliation have to take place.
Ian Bothwell at annual awards event
“When I climbed the steps of Stormont to receive my prize and deliver my speech, I reflected on the many uphill struggles I have had over the years. There have been seasons of fear, pain and misunderstanding.”
Ian, who sees his role as “washing the feet of society”, will now tour the United States with co-recipient Liam Maskey, brother of Belfast Lord Mayor Alec. They will meet political and community leaders, share their stories and hopefully make contact with people who will further assist their work. A public act of reconciliation in Crossmaglen Square is now being suggested, and the editors of both papers involved in the prize have indicated their willingness to assist with such an activity.
Ian founded the Crossfire Trust in 1978 as a response to a TV programme on Crossmaglen. Its aim was “to see the fire of God’s love burn up bitterness and hatred and focus afresh on the reality of the cross, providing trust for new community relationships.”It also runs a music club for youth as an alternative to the street corner and a cross-border bus outreach to surrounding towns and villages where advice on drug and alcohol abuse is given. (Pictured: Ian Bothwell in front of bus).
Charles Gardner is a 53-year-old South African-born journalist working in the UK with a vision to launch a national newspaper bringing a biblical perspective on world news. He and his wife Linda led the children’s club at the recent Christian Renewal Centre bible week in Rostrevor, Northern Ireland, where Catholics and Protestants work and pray together for peace and reconciliation. Linda, 45, is a full-time Christian worker with the Doncaster Schools Worker Trust, taking assemblies, giving religious education lessons and leading Christian clubs at 28 different schools in the 300,000-strong South Yorkshire metropolitan borough.
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