Seeking a lasting peace

Northern Ireland mission worker worries about complacency

October 14, 2009

Doug Baker

Doug Baker speaks at Hastings (NE) College, another of his stops during World Mission Challenge 2009. —David McCarthy

LEXINGTON, Neb.

Reports of violence in Northern Ireland are no longer frequent in today’s international news, but the relative peace is fragile in the land where violence plagued the streets and countryside only a decade ago.

The Rev. Doug Baker brings that message when he speaks about his work in Northern Ireland and the need to support the world mission work of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

“There’s a relatively low level of violence now,” Baker said. “But the problems are still there, the polarization.”

Baker has been under appointment by the PC(USA) as a mission co-worker in Northern Ireland since 1979 and he’s spending a few weeks traveling to three presbyteries during the denomination’s World Mission Challenge. The challenge is intended to connect mission co-workers with Presbyterians across the country. From Sept. 25-Oct. 18, 45 co-workers will visit 152 presbyteries, sharing their stories and educating listeners on how to get involved.

Stopping first in the Presbytery of Wyoming, Baker next visited the Presbytery of Central Nebraska, when he stopped here for a brown-bag lunch and presentation at First Presbyterian Church. From Central Nebraska, Baker wraps up his trip in the Presbytery of Tampa Bay.

Baker has seen the violent times in Northern Ireland and he’s concerned now that the future could be threatened by complacency.

“There’s still a long way to go,” he said.

Baker was in Northern Ireland during much of the 1969 through 2002 years, known there as “The Troubles,” when violence routinely made international headlines. The roots of the conflict run centuries deep and are far more complex than the Protestant-Catholic dichotomy often noted in the news.

Today Baker makes the PC(USA)’s Young Adult Volunteer program a major part of his peace-making efforts as he mentors volunteers during the months they spend in Northern Ireland. This year, Baker is working with nine volunteers.

The volunteers “get out of their own context,” Baker said. It’s a growing experience for the volunteers and at the same time they “help meet the needs of our partners,” he said. YAVs often assist with youth activities in local congregations and community organizations.

The volunteers attempt to address the long history of communal division and build a foundation for a long-lasting peace.

During his visit here, Baker spoke of the need to maintain connections between churches and the world mission effort of the denomination.

“I appreciate what Mission Challenge is doing,” Baker said, adding that it gives him the opportunity to raise consciousness about the PC(USA)’s mission efforts.

Baker is a native of Washington and a graduate of the University of Washington in Seattle. He earned his Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1976 and he served as associate pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Berwin, Penn., until being called to Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is where Baker met his wife, Elaine, also a PC(USA) mission worker. He and Elaine, a native of Belfast, have three children.

Duane Sweep, associate for communications for the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, is a frequent contributor to Presbyterian News Service.

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