Gordon Wilson

Forgiving those who take away what I love – peacemaking in N.Ireland

Other themes: death, God’s comfort

The Problem

Listen carefully to this story and think what you’d do.

It was the best thing he’d ever done – everyone said so. Even Mr James, the art teacher, who was hard to impress, said: “Martin, this is just terrific.” All this praise was a bit new for Martin – he wasn’t very good at school work generally – but it made all the hours of hard work worth it.

Perhaps it was Martin’s love of the sport that had enabled him to do it so well – but this little clay figure of a footballer dribbling a ball up the field was perfect, no denying it. Even the Man United colours had come out just right after the varnishing and firing.

Now it had pride of place in the craft display for open day. The next day! – Martin was excited.

When he arrived at school the following morning, the whole place was in uproar. He overheard two teachers talking. “They got in through the craft room. Damaged everything they could get their hands on. The police are on their way.”

Then he saw Mr James coming towards him, his hands cupped round something he was carrying. Martin’s heart began thumping hard.

Mr James opened his hands. There was the little clay figure. Shattered. Impossible to mend.

Martin began to cry, his whole body shaking.

“You could make another one,” said Mr James softly.

Martin stopped sobbing and shouted, “What’s the point? I’m not bothering again. Ever.” And he grabbed the pieces from the teacher’s hands, threw them on the ground and stormed off.

Now think:

What would you say to Martin if you were his friend? Would you say, “Never mind, it was only a model”? Would that help? What about, “When we know who did it, we’ll go and break that stuff”? Is that any better?

(You could discuss this or pass on to the main story.)

The Story

Listen now to the true story of someone who lost much, much more than a clay model.

The eighth of November 1987, Enniskillen, Northern Ireland.

Remembrance Day.

The father and daughter stood close together for the open air service at the War Memorial, for it was cold and windy. But the weather hadn’t put them off coming. They both wanted to pay their respects to those who had died, not just in the wars, but in the more recent troubles in their own land. There’d been so much bloodshed, so much suffering.

The father, Gordon Wilson, a shopkeeper in the town, knew there was no easy solution to the differences between Catholics and Protestants, but why, oh why, did innocent people have to die? Bombs in buildings, bombs in cars, you never knew where the terrorists would plant one next. And what for?

He looked round. He hoped the police had searched the area properly. But no, surely at a service honouring the dead, surely they would have the decency not to strike here.

He always stood in this spot for the service, by the wall of an old building. He was pleased his youngest daughter Marie could be with him this year. She was twenty, a nurse at a hospital in Belfast, home for the weekend. He was so proud of her, so proud.

Then it happened. The world seemed to explode around them. The wall shuddered, then fell on top of them. The unthinkable had come true. The provisional IRA had planted a bomb, just by where they were standing. Gordon was thrown forward, then felt a pounding on his back as the rubble piled on top of him.

He was aware of screaming all around him, but he could do nothing about it. Then he felt a hand coming through the rubble, grabbing his. Marie’s hand. They were together and they were alive. He heard her shout out that she loved him before her hand seemed to lose its grip.

Father and daughter were pulled out from under the broken wall and rushed to hospital. Gordon had injured his shoulder. But Marie’s injuries were far worse, and later that day, she died.

The family members – Gordon, his wife Joan, and two other children – comforted each other, gave each other strength to go on. But they were aware of someone else comforting them too, someone with his arms wrapped right round them. God was there, suffering with them.

Catholics and Protestants were able to come together and comfort the families of the eleven people who had died in the blast. They knew that true Christians, whatever church they went to, hated the violence, and were sad that people might blame God for it.

But Gordon didn’t blame God – he knew that God is love. And he didn’t need to take revenge either, for he knew that god himself would judge the terrorists in his own time. And he believed he would see Marie again in heaven.

Over the next days Gordon was interviewed on radio and TV. People were astonished at his lack of hatred and bitterness.

More and more invitations to speak poured in, not only from Ireland, but from other countries too. People listened who had lost loved ones, who were finding it difficult to go on, who felt God had forsaken them, who were full of bitterness. And Gordon, this shopkeeper from a little town, showed them they could go on, that god had not forsaken them and never would, and that being bitter wouldn’t help. He brought them comfort and hope.

But he wanted to do more. He wanted to help bring peace to his country. He accepted an invitation to join the Irish parliament so he could plead with the country’s leaders for a united, peaceful Ireland.

Little by little things did change. As Gordon and others spoke, people began to see they had to put the hurts and hatred of the past behind them and think about the future. And eventually, on Good Friday 1998, a peace treaty was signed.

But Gordon Wilson was not there to see it. He had died peacefully three years before.

After his death people from all over the world wrote to his widow saying how much Gordon had meant to them. He had not just told them the best way to cope with loss, but shown them as well. God had helped him, and he had passed on that help to others.

So Marie’s death had not been in vain.

Time of Reflection

Life is not always easy. When something bad happens it can really hurt. But later on these bad times make it possible for us to help someone else, to say to that person, “I know what you’re feeling.” And that can really help.

Is there anyone you know who’s hurting today? Can you do anything to help?

Just take a moment to think about this.

Bible Bits

David in the Bible knew God’s comfort:

“The Lord is my shepherd…

Even if I go through the deepest darkness,

I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me.

I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life.” (Psalm 23)

But the apostle Paul knew that he should pass that comfort on:

“He helps us in all our troubles, so that we are able to help others who have all kinds of troubles.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)


Lord, you know what it’s like to feel hurt inside. You had really bad things happen to you. So you understand, even if no one else does. Thank you that you never turn away. Help us to accept your comfort and then be ready to comfort others. Amen

Variations on a Theme

The most valuable addition here would be to think in more detail about what Jesus did suffer (betrayal, desertion by friends, mocking, physical pain) and how he always reacted in love. Every bad feeling children have, Jesus has been there. They need to see that he understands.

If the atmosphere is not right for this, then children could read their own stories (fictional or true) about a friend being there at a bad time.

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