I was in Londonderry, Northern Ireland on a school tour with my friend Derek Switzer. Londonderry or Derry, as he would call it, is quite an interesting place. The city is so divided that it is not possible to even call it by name without making people choose their side. Protestants loyalists call it Londonderry while the Roman Catholic nationalists, take away the word London and simply call it Derry. Tourists are never sure what part of the city to call it Londonderry or Derry, so they awkwardly go back and forth between both names. The curbstones on the streets of the town try and tip you off to the location you are in and what to call it. On the Protestant side the curbstones are painted red, white and blue (The Union Jack) On the Catholic side the curbstones are painted orange, green and white. (Irish tricolors) Derek, who I was traveling with from Dublin, was trying to explain this history to me. It has included many terrorist acts, firebombs, bricks thrown, and vandalism. It was a city that truly needed a message of hope so we brought along Reggie Dabbs to speak into the schools there about hope. The message was that you can’t change your past but you can change your future. This message was incredibly received by the students who had lived out this life and were just now starting to see change come after years of this struggle.
During the last twelve years that I have been going to Ireland I have witnessed the changing of this conflict. Places that were completely violent have started to change. Londonderry is a place where there has been progress. It is very slow but it is happening. Andrew McCourt, the pastor of the church that we were working with has assembled a church of believers who are trying to challenge this past norm and bring all kinds of people together to bring hope into their future. So, his genius, was to look for someone who could help them walk through this successfully. I was very privileged to meet their special guest, Donovan Cootzee. He is the general superintendent of the Assemblies of God in South Africa. They had brought him in to talk about apartheid and how the church had responded to it. Londonderry was just a few years behind where they had just been. This was my first time to have any grasp of this subject. I knew the tension that surrounded us any time we went into Northern Ireland but I would not have connected these two countries as being so similar and able to help each other in making changes. I guess I have been a part of global perspectives on leadership longer than I thought.
Just like I couldn’t completely follow everything in Northern Ireland I am sure that I cannot track all that has gone on in South Africa with apartheid. David Welsh in his book The Rise and Fall of Apartheid, does a monumental task of explaining the Rise and Demise of Apartheid. Even after his in-depth explanation I still struggle to figure out all that has happened. What I do know is that conflict is a real thing and can lead to violence, death and destruction. It does not protect those who are innocent or those who are children. As far as I can understand is that from the year 1948-1994 there was an intense system of racial inequality, segregation and discrimination. It was enforced by the laws of the South African National Party. Interestingly the similarity with Londonderry and South Africa is that there was a conversation started to bring to an end this division. It took pivotal people who risked it all to make these changes happen. The put into practice delivering hope.
The other thread that I find fascinating is that faith and religion plays such a huge part in these conflicts. This has always baffled me how this could be so. I guess I could just read the Bible and see the conflict with Jesus and the religious leaders of his day and know that this is completely natural and does happen quite frequently in the name of God. Even in our day and time it is surprising what is done in the name of God.
In his conclusion, Welsh can’t really pinpoint what was the tipping point for real change. He specifically looks at the election as a catalyst for the change. Thing that were rumored to happen didn’t but the change did happen. I really like that he pointed to the sides changing positions but in his final assessment it comes down to leadership. “The leadership of Mandela and De Klerk was the indispensable complement. They both had to keep potentially unruly support bases in line.”1 Why does this sound like any leadership task? In the church, in the world and or anywhere that there are people to lead, it rises and falls on the leadership provided.
This is really what I experienced in person in Derry or Londonderry, global leadership. Andrew McCourt’s leadership was extraordinary and his ability to think outside the normal way was so impressive. It takes leadership. Everything might not be perfect but it is going to be better than it was before. His relationship with others who have experienced the tension that he was facing brought a fresh voice to catalyst change.
1David Welsch, The Rise and Fall of Apartheid, (Charlotteville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2009),566.