Exiles as Missionaries

A number of years ago, I sat glued to my television as two stories of human tragedy were unfolded during a morning chat show. A woman recounted how her child was murdered and described the personal devastation that followed. Twenty years later, she was increasingly consumed with anger and bitterness and forced to rely on sleeping tablets.

In the second story, Gordon Wilson described the murder of his daughter by the Provisional IRA. His daughter Marie, was killed in a bomb that exploded in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. After the bomb went off, Gordon and Marie were lying close to each other in the rubble, where he heard her last words, “Daddy, I love you very much.” Immediately after the bombing, the BBC reported Wilson’s response to his tragedy that ricocheted around the world’s news channels, “I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge.”

A few years later, I was listening as Wilson continued his message of forgiveness and reconciliation that sprang from his openly professed Christian faith. He had found himself unexpectedly thrust into the limelight and had become one of the most prominent peace campaigners for the Northern Ireland conflict. Commenting on Wilson’s response in the immediate aftermath of his daughter’s death, Jonathan Bardon, an historian wrote later, "No words in more than twenty-five years of violence in Northern Ireland had such a powerful, emotional impact.”

In this harsh environment, where Christian badges were worn proudly, but Christlike grace rarely seen, Wilson’s message stuck out like a sore thumb. His was not mere rhetoric because from the instant tragedy struck, his words and actions were authentic to the character of his God.

Wilson’s story resonates with me on a number of levels. As Brit living in the Republic of Ireland today, I am in an unfamiliar environment. I opened the door one day to find myself in the odd situation of being canvassed by the local candidate for Sinn Féin, historically the political wing of the IRA. I also live in a very small, deeply Catholic village, where everyone knows who I am, and being a protestant pastor, they know what I do. In an environment where differences are noticed, am I authentic to the character of my God?

But let me return to start of my story. I was listening to the stories of two people whose children had been murdered. One was dampening her pain with tablets while the other had risen to international prominence, not simply because he chose to forgive, but rather because he chose to tell people he had chosen to forgive and that he would be praying for the people who killed his daughter. Wilson’s witness was both natural and deliberate. In an alien environment, he was not ashamed of what he believed. But more than that, his faith was authentic to the point that when tragedy struck, it was impossible to stop God’s grace in his life from leaking all over the place.

Today, as I reflect on these two stories and the story that has become God’s leading in my own life, I can’t help but wince a little. As various and unexpected challenges have entered into my own journey, I fear that I have resorted to bitterness and anger more often than I would have liked.

Neither of these people on that Monday morning chat show asked for these tragedies any more than Daniel asked to be exiled, or Joseph was responsible for being sold by his brothers, falsely accused of rape and thrown into prison. While both had multiple opportunities for bitterness and for jettisoning their belief in a sovereign and all-loving God when the evidence appeared to suggest the opposite, they held on. Somehow they maintained a belief in God’s Providence—that while He was not causing their pain, He was definitely active in the shadows working for a future, eternal, good.

They made a choice to hold on to God’s goodness when it didn’t appear to their senses that God actually was good. This was the choice Daniel made as he was carted off to Babylon, and that Joseph made as he was tied behind a camel train and later thrown into prison, and that Gordon Wilson made as he lay bloodied in the rubble next to his dying daughter. In spite of everything, their eyes managed to see that there was something beyond their present darkness, and know that their strange circumstances were temporary.

I would suggest that such faith was impossible without the personal presence of God in their lives. It was God’s personal presence that kept their faith burning. And such faith is a difficult thing to keep hidden. It has this tendency, particularly in challenging situations, to pop up and make itself public. So even as exiles in an alien land, witness always remains a distinct possibility.


"Senator Gordon Wilson" by Bobbie Hanvey Photographic Archives Archives, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7002

Amen and amen. I had tears in my eyes as I read this. We all need His Grace so badly.

To choose to fully and totally accept it.


This is exactly how I feel and was exactly what I was trying to say on another article on this forum. God bless you. I was truly touched.


A profound lesson. The father took the position–hate destroyed my little girl. I will not let hate destroy me. the is a hymn that tells that story "Peace Like A River"
Tom Z


i completely agree…faith isn’t simply a rigid decision to stick to a set of beliefs, no matter what…it’s an unseen, but keenly felt, sense of a connection to the divine that’s completely real to the person who has it…and this personal presence of god in our lives is what we will need to survive the time of trouble, which may really happen in our life-time, we just can’t know…gordon wilson’s wonderful example shows that an overwhelming test of our faith can come at any time…


Isn’t that the lesson we should learn from the experience of Job? Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him. Job 13:15.

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@blc Well, yes.

If God were to just slay Job without reason that our human understanding could see, in our human minds it wouldn’t seem just. But Job had so much faith, that he said even if God did do that, he would trust in Him. What faith!! And this part you quoted, has the same message, at least I see it that way.

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I sit reading, with tears in my eyes, and pain in my breaking heart. I, too, and others I know and love, need a faith that will hang on in the darkness.




This article talks about the Father, but does not address the Mother’s issues in resolving whatever she had to resolve in the same incident of the death of HER Daughter.
It is interesting how a large number of articles similar to this event, where we have 2 parents of the same child, most articles ONLY tell the story of the one parent, and not both as to how they resolved the issue of unfairness at the death of a child in such a horrible manner.

How do you think Potiphar’s wife reacted when Joseph became #2 in Egypt?
Do you think Joseph just let her be in anxiety for a few days? Did he go to Potiphar or send anyone to let her know that she wouldn’t be on the receiving end of payback?

Any points of mission/outreach in this lesson?

Bingo. (as the British would say). Caught. (might be the more American phrase?)
I think this essay resonates with many (it certainly does with me), as it addresses emotions and actions that are quite relevant. Perhaps not primarily because of this week’s Sabbath school lesson, but because of the roller coaster we all have gone through the last few weeks. If the essay is applied to the lesson with its story of Daniel and friends… you might get some very interesting discussion. If you just read it for yourself… a little reflexive prayer might be quite healing.

Thank you, Gavin Anthony, for weaving together a number of highly important things without even explicitly mentioning them.


Tom Z, thank you for mentioning one of my favorite hymn that I haven’t heard in a long time. I just printed out the lyrics so I can sing it in the car or at home. God Bless.

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What did you say to the Sinn Fein folks? How did you handle the situation of being the protestant pastor in the catholic town in a way that had integrity and authenticity to you, your church, to your community?

I hope you know the story behind that hymn. You can find it on Google. Tom Z

Powerful story. Thanks for reminding us of the beauty of the words of “older” hymns, especially this one. I love them and miss them often in worship services full of repetitive phrases.

Great Is Thy Faithfulness.


When was God personally present and how? What does it mean…“kept their faith burning”?

How does faith pop up and make itself public?

Would a person on the street or unchurched person understand any of this without explanation/translation?

Do most Christians speak and write a religious lingo that seems to isolate themselves from those who don’t understand their language?

Think of how many religious expressions and clichés are mentioned constantly that most people in your associations/area have no clue as to the meaning.

ie: "We are saved by the blood of the Lamb"
How many non churched even have a clue as to its meaning or significance?
Is that sentence even valid, correct, true to those who understand religious lingo??


In an interview with the BBC, Wilson described with anguish his last conversation with his daughter and his feelings toward her killers: “She held my hand tightly, and gripped me as hard as she could. She said, ‘Daddy, I love you very much.’ Those were her exact words to me, and those were the last words I ever heard her say.” To the astonishment of listeners, Wilson went on to add, “But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life. She was a great wee lassie. She loved her profession. She was a pet. She’s dead. She’s in heaven and we shall meet again. I will pray for these men tonight and every night.” From The Third Side by William Ury, 1999

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In doing some quick research on the web I found out a bit more in this amazing revelation of grace. Joan, his wife, worked with her husband for reconciliation. Both were Methodists, devastated by their daughter’s death, but refused to let bitterness and a spirit of revenge into their lives. Mr. Wilson even met those who planned the bombing and apologized, but when Mr. Wilson asked them to stop the violence they refused. Mr. Wilson died in 1995 at the age of 69 a few months after his son, David, died in a tragic accident. Predictable, but Mr. Wilson received both acclaim and condemnation for his forgiving/reconciliation work.


Here is my last post on this powerful story, and is a larger unedited version of the BBC interview that launched him into prominace:

We were both thrown forward, rubble and stones and whatever in and around and over us and under us. I was aware of a pain in my right shoulder. I shouted to Marie was she all right and she said yes, she found my hand and said, “Is that your hand, dad?” Now remember we were under six foot of rubble. I said “Are you all right?” and she said yes, but she was shouting in between. Three of four times I asked her, and she always said yes, she was all right. When I asked her the fifth time, “Are you all right, Marie?” she said, “Daddy, I love you very much.” Those were the last words she spoke to me. She still held my hand quite firmly and I kept shouting at her, “Marie, are you all right?” but there wasn’t a reply. We were there about five minutes. Someone came and pulled me out. I said, “I’m all right but for God’s sake my daughter is lying right beside me and I don’t think she is too well.” She’s dead. She didn’t die there. She died later. The hospital was magnificent, truly impressive, and our friends have been great, but I miss my daughter, and we shall miss her but I bear no ill will, I bear no grudge. She was a great wee lassie, she loved her profession. She was a pet and she’s dead. She’s in heaven, and we’ll meet again.

Don’t ask me please for a purpose. I don’t have a purpose. I don’t have an answer, but I know there has to be a plan. If I didn’t think that, I would commit suicide. It’s part of a greater plan, and God is good. And we shall meet again.

I have lost my daughter, and we shall miss her. But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life.*


You make a great point. It should be written in a way that an outsider can understand it’s basic meaning and such religious lingo, should be left out, unless it is explained. Thank you for pointing that out, it’ll help me too, when I start writing.