The Belfast YMCA stands—literally—as a link between two separate worlds. Located in the “neutral zone” of the divided city, it brings Protestant and Catholic young people together within its walls for training, recreation, and reconciliation. The Belfast “Y” fills its programs with a clear gospel message, due in large part to the evangelical faith of its director, Gerald Clark. A former Anglican missionary to South America, Clark began his work at the Belfast YMCA in 1982. CHRISTIANITY TODAY spoke with him during a visit to the U.S. last summer.
What role does the YMCA attempt to play in Belfast?
We have had to re-evaluate our position in light of the conflict between Protestants and Catholics. Rather than identifying ourselves as a Protestant evangelical organization, we offer ourselves as a Christian association working in the city center. We adhere to a strong evangelical basis, yet reach out across both communities with a practical application of the gospel.
Unemployment, for example, runs as high as 70 percent in some areas of Belfast; in other parts, 40 percent. Some of these are young people who are third-generation unemployed.
So we do a lot of programs to offer them self-motivation, self-esteem, something to give them a sense of hope and purpose for their life. We also make a definite purpose of reconciliation within our training programs by striving for a 50–50 mix of Catholics and Protestants.
How does reconciliation come about?
Our programs give young Protestants and Catholics a chance to meet one another and see that they have common weaknesses, common fears, common needs. It gives them an opportunity to overcome some of the images that they’ve been fed about each other over the years. That’s the starting point.