Peter and Jenna Liechty Martin in Belfast.
Peter and Jenna Liechty Martin are Mennonite Mission Network workers in Belfast, Northern Ireland. They work with Edgehill College’s reconciliation program, and volunteer with EMBRACE, an organization that helps churches connect with new immigrants and marginalized people in Belfast.
It’s sometime around 1 p.m., and the church function room is humming with voices. Although the building hasn’t been used for regular Sunday services in years, today it is full of people chatting, playing pool, and readying themselves for lunch. In one corner, Debra Leso and her friend, Joy Rufus, sit on couches talking while their toddlers play together. They stop occasionally to break up a spat over a toy that both little girls want to play with, or to sing a song. Dave Cunningham, a local man with a vision impairment, brings over his new glasses—the ones that allow him to see faces and move around more easily.
“Debra, look through these glasses and tell me what you see,” Dave says. “They’re very strong.”
Debra holds the glasses to her eyes and laughs. “I can’t see anything.” She moves the glasses away from her eyes, continuing to peer through them. “And now I see in 3D!” she jokes.
Debra is an immigrant from South Africa by way of Norwich, England. She likes the drop-in center because it allows her to get out of the house with her 2-year-old daughter, Oratile.
In the midst of the busy chatter of people, Jenna Liechty Martin is setting tables for lunch and chatting with Janette Preston, who, along with her husband, Keith, heads up the center. Peter Martin is playing pool with several community members who are waiting for lunch to be served.
Jenna and Peter found out about the drop-in center because of their work with EMBRACE, and volunteer there as part of their wider work with the reconciliation program. The center provides a place where new immigrants and other neighborhood residents can come for lunch, friendship and recreation. A women’s aerobics class takes place in the evenings. And there are computers where people stop to check e-mail and browse the Internet.
For Jenna and Peter, working at the drop-in center ties directly into their wider work with reconciliation because of the way it connects people through relationship.
“The drop-in center brings people together who wouldn’t otherwise meet, providing a space for friendship and community,” Jenna said. “It’s also a place where some of the barriers of culture, language or religion, which sometimes divide, are crossed to form a thriving and dynamic community.”