Peace lessons through service

By Samantha Carwile

For two years I had the privilege of serving in Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) at a family center called Quaker Cottage in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Quaker Cottage works with disadvantaged families, most of whom have experienced some sort of trauma in their homes. It is a cross-community center where both Catholic and Protestant families come together.

I was primarily a childcare worker, dealing with infants up through preteens and sometimes teens. One of my biggest challenges was coping with the many heartbreaking stories the families would share about their situations. I often felt overwhelmed learning of the burdens and injustices thrown upon the children, many of whom experienced firsthand domestic violence, sexual abuse, isolation, substance abuse, and mental health issues. The parents were often incapable of providing for their children’s basic needs.

In addition, their environment in north and west Belfast is also very sectarian, with still serious issues between Catholics and Protestants. Many of the families were connected to paramilitaries—illegal militias devoted to giving their side more power.

All of these often led me to feel down. I tried to help these families deal with their burdens, which brought me many joys and blessings. I saw women who were once threatened by the other side come together as friends. I saw peacemaking in the works. I learned that with enough support, respect and love, families can improve their situations. I also learned the many lessons children can teach adults.

One boy drew a church in a village. “What does the church represent?” I asked. He responded with one word.

One afternoon at Quaker Cottage, I was leading a group craft activity with our 8-10 year olds in an after school group. The children were to create a utopian village with magazine cutouts and markers on poster board. One boy drew a church in a village. “What does the church represent?” I asked. He responded with one word: “Peace.” How incredibly compelling, I thought, for this boy living in the midst of sectarianism, violence and poverty to know the sanctity peace can bring through the church. I found inspiration and hope trough the wisdom shared by this child.

What a beautiful reminder of our calling as Christians to provide peace in all the directions we go, for all those around us. I was proud to call myself a Christian that day, to be a part of a community of believers, workers and peacemakers. I am also proud of the peace that Quaker Cottage provides to its families, and that I could be a part of its mission. By God’s grace, BVS blessed me in ways that I could not have imagined. I will forever be indebted to the lessons and strengths gained through this experience.

Samantha Carwile is a member of Anderson (Ind.) Church of the Brethren, working at Quaker Cottage from August 2011 to November 2013.

Reprinted from Messenger, April 2014. Used by permission.