Forty years This January 2016
In Memory Of One Of My Best Friends…….JBoy2244
John McConville, a devout Christian and only 20, was working to save up his fees for Bible College when he was gunned down on a cold, dark winter’s day in January 1976, along with 10 other Protestant workmen. Today, in the second extract from ‘A Legacy of Tears’, a new book by David Patterson the McConville family of south Armagh tell how the murder of their son has left them with an open wound.
By David Patterson
06 July 2006
The McConville family Tommy and Esther, with their four children, John, Karen, Mandy and Tania, lived at 30 Moninna Park, Cloughrea, about two miles from the village of Bessbrook.
Bessbrook was a close knit rural community and a model industrial village, initiated by Quakers in the 18th century. The McConville children enjoyed a happy childhood playing in the countryside and spending time with their grandmother and her sister. The family attended the local Presbyterian church, where the children were involved in Sunday school, the Boys’ Brigade and Girl Guides also played an important role in their lives during their formative years.
Village life was most harmonious and although two diverse denominations lived side by side, the McConville children grew up in an environment in which they were not aware of any tensions or divisions between the two communities.
Mrs McConville and her eldest daughter, Karen, described John as, “a gentle, caring considerate and fun loving young boy.” They recalled his sense of humour and the constant flow of laughter with his sisters through childhood and teenage years.
They bantered and played pranks on each other continually, much to the dismay of their mother.
John became a Christian at the age of 16 and sometime following his conversion became a member of Newry Baptist Church. John’s only desire was to go to Bible College to prepare for missionary work in South Africa, to which he believed God was calling him.
He enrolled and completed various Bible correspondence courses in which he gained distinctions. He also sought to be a faithful and inspiring advocate for Christ.
John would faithfully, in the most practical and unassuming way, seek to share God’s Word with all whom he met. His faith in God and subsequent witness was a great inspiration to all who knew him. He touched many lives across the community divide by his honest and humble ministry.
At the age of 20, John was accepted at a Bible College in Scotland where he was to commence full time study in the autumn of 1976. He was delighted and shared with the family how he felt so sure that this was God’s plan for his life.
To save up for the college fees, John had taken a job at Compton’s Spinning Mill at Glenanne, about four miles from Bessbrook, where he had been working for about two years.
On the January 5, 1976, the ‘Mill’s’ minibus set off to return 12 workers to their homes. John McConville was among the passengers on that minibus. As the vehicle wended its way along the dark, lonely country roads of South Armagh, its happy occupants were having a very normal conversation about a recent football match.
The conversation also turned to the tragic events of the previous night when two Roman Catholic brothers had been shot and killed at their home in nearby Whitecross.
As the minibus approached the brow of a hill near the Kingsmill crossroads, a red torchlight was spotted by the driver, who slowed down and stopped, believing this to be a routine Army check. Men wearing combat jackets, with their faces blackened, immediately joined the man waving the torch.
The occupants were ordered out of the minibus and were asked to state their religion. Initially, the one Roman Catholic passenger was thought to be the intended target, but when the gang ordered him to run, it was quickly realised by the Protestant passengers that only his life was to be spared.
The remaining 11 workmen were then lined up at gunpoint along the side of the minibus, and 10 of them were slain in a hail of gunfire. One man, though badly wounded, survived the attack and was able later to relate the horrific event that saw his colleagues murdered.
That evening, Mrs McConville had returned from work and had made the tea when she heard on the television news that there had been an incident involving a minibus. Mrs McConville immediately said to her husband Tommy: “John’s on that minibus.” Tommy told her to phone the police and enquire, but when she phoned Bessbrook RUC station they couldn’t tell her anything and asked her to ring back later.
Mrs McConville then asked her husband to take her out to Kingsmill, though at this time she did not think about death, she simply thought that maybe it was some kind of an accident.
Her husband agreed to take her to the house of a neighbour, a Mrs McWhirter, whose husband would also have been on the minibus.
Said Mrs McConville: “Mrs McWhirter came to the door and related that she had also heard about the minibus incident. She asked me to make her a wee cup of tea and Tommy went up to the police station. When Tommy returned some time later he had no further information about the incident and I insisted that he take me out to Kingsmill.
“We went out to the scene where a policeman, Constable Billy Turbitt, who was also to be abducted and murdered by the IRA in 1978, stopped us. We told him who we were, and explained to him that our son was on the minibus and could he tell us what had happened.
“Constable Turbitt told us that he couldn’t, but to pull our car in to the side of the road. At that point, three ambulances arrived at the scene and Constable Turbitt told us that the best thing to do was to follow the ambulances into Daisy Hill hospital in Newry.”
Tommy and Esther followed the ambulances to the hospital, where they met one of the ambulance drivers, Stuart Roland, and asked him: “What about John?” He said that he couldn’t tell them, but that their daughter Karen was also at the hospital.
Mrs McConville had left the three girls at home and told them not to move, but they had heard further news on the radio about the incident and Karen had gone up to her uncle’s and asked him to take her to the hospital.
As soon as Mrs McConville entered the hospital, she met their local minister, the Rev Nixon. With tears, Mrs McConville recalled how he just caught her by the two arms and said: “John’s gone.”
They waited in a room and Mr Nixon gave Mrs McConville a tablet as a doctor and a policewoman arrived to offer help. The family then headed home to find it overflowing with neighbours – many of them Roman Catholics.
Overcome by grief
Tommy went over to break the news to Esther’s mother, then brought her over to the house where, overcome by grief, she took a ‘turn’. The intensity of the family’s grief was at times uncontrollable. Karen at times screamed, such was her anguish.
Mrs McConville was in such shock that she did not know the details of how her son had been killed and thought that it had been a road accident involving the mini bus. She later had to be told of how her son had actually died.
A policeman who arrived first at the scene described it as an, “indescribable scene of carnage.” The survivor had been shot 18 times.
More than 3,000 people attended the funeral services of the 10 murder victims.
The funeral service for John McConville was held jointly with five other massacre victims in Bessbrook Presbyterian Church on January 8 amid driving rain, and his body laid to rest in the adjoining graveyard.
Mrs McConville treasures the hundreds of sympathy cards the family received on her son’s death. She has a beautifully inscribed Bible which was presented in John’s memory, while a hymn written especially for children in Northern Ireland was published by the John McConville Memorial Trust.
Mrs McConville became a Christian at the time of the murder and believes that only by God’s grace and her faith in Christ was she able to cope and to keep going.
After the tragedy, Mandy and Tania, the younger children, experienced nervous reactions as a result of their grief and had to attend the hospital.
The following June, the McConvilles moved house to Riverside Crescent in Bessbrook, as they felt it impossible to stay in their home at Moninna Park. But Karen felt she had to move to Belfast to live and work.
Mrs McConville returned to work just two weeks after the murder, but was on anti-depressants.
“It was a terrible time, it was awful, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” she said. “I just had to go on. Only by God’s help did I get through it.”
The McConvilles have found the strength to go on, but still keenly feel a great sense of pain and loss. Yet they bear no bitterness or resentment to the evil perpetrators of this most atrocious crime.
Like dozens of murders in Co Armagh, no one has been brought to the courts or convicted of the Kingsmill Massacre.
Karen said: “Evil men had in the most brutal and inhuman way extinguished the life of John in his prime and I am going to miss him for the rest of my life.
“The loss of John has taught me many things, not least the sanctity and preciousness of life. I had been forced into a position where I was confronted with the effects of the hatred, courage and intolerance of certain members of society that had claimed the lives of innocent people.
“If John and his companions were murdered in order to create further hatred within society then for that reason I would not allow myself to be so influenced.
“I have learned to leave justice, retribution and revenge in the hands of the Lord. This is a great comfort to me, as I know that God will have the final say as far as the perpetrators of this evil deed are concerned.
“More so, considering that no one has been charged with the Kingsmill murders. Although these men walk free, they are tethered to this dreadful event for the remainder of their lives.
“I, on the other hand, can remember my dear brother with pride, happiness and admiration for his devotion, tolerance and love. He is in a much better place and for this I am happy. No one can take him or these memories away from me ever again.”
David Patterson is a baptist pastor who has previously worked in banking and as a political researcher.
To obtain a copy of A Legacy of Tears (£5.99) email firstname.lastname@example.org or tel: (028) 3755 2808. Also available in bookshops
Andrae Crouch dies aged 72
Legendary gospel musician Andrae Crouch has died at a hospital in Los Angeles following a heart attack last week, his publicist has confirmed.
The seven-time Grammy winning composer, producer and singer has worked with stars like Michael Jackson and Madonna.
He also arranged pieces for Disney’s film "The Lion King" and "The Color Purple", which he received an Academy Award nomination for.
After reportedly writing his first gospel song at the age of 14, Crouch went on to become one of only a handful of gospel musicians to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
"The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power" and "Soon and Very Soon," and ”My Tribute (To God Be the Glory)" are among his most-loved works.
Born in San Francisco, he started his music career at his father’s church in the San Fernando Valley, where he played piano.
He went on to perform at the White House, the Grand Ole Opry and at Billy Graham’s rallies.
He and his twin sister were both pastors at the New Christ Memorial Church in the Los Angeles suburbs.
Image: Rex features
Pastor Sandra Crouch has paid tribute to her brother, saying: "Today my twin brother, womb-mate and best friend went home to be with the Lord,"
"I tried to keep him here but God loved him best."
Grammy-winning gospel singer, Jason Grabb, says: "We’ve lost a true pioneer and he will be missed,"
During an interview with Associated Press in 2011, Andrae Crouch highlighted how his faith was integral to his music:
"When I finish a song, I thank God for bringing me through,"
"You have to press on and know your calling. That’s what I’ve been doing for all my life. I just went forward."
Leader of the KICC Church, Pastor Matthew Ashimolow, was a good friend of Andrae Crouch and the last one to bring him to the UK.
He says Crouch "left the legacy of a holy life, a good life" but also of "a man who has changed the world with the quality of his music":
"I think he’s also one person whose music cut across cultures, race, and, in fact, also cut across into certain places somebody who may not be considered Christian or religious would play his music."
"He was the one, really, who took away that artist who played very slow, quiet music, and brought life into Gospel music.
"I think if you ask the average gospel artist today, they will have taken a lot of inspiration from him."
Pastor Matthew says his favourite memory of him was a service in America that clearly showed how loved and popular he was:
"In the early days, in the late 70s, Andrae Crouch had gone to a church in the United State of America, they had invited him to come and minister in their church.
"But they did not expect the magnitute of crowd that showed up; The crowd outside was more than the people inside!
"The church did not know that this man’s music was so strong."
Premier Gospel’s station director, Muyiwa Olarewaju, says words used to describe him will be ‘father’, ‘innovator’, ‘leader’ and ‘legend':
Are you special, basic or complex? Behind North Korea’s caste system
‘Songbun’ separates citizens according to ancestral and social standings – or whether they’ve had their photograph taken with the great leader. NK News wonders how will it coexist with Kim Jong-un’s proposed reforms
North Korean Army soldiers and civilians on the stands of the Kim Il Sung Stadium, a photograph by Ilya Pitalev which won at the Sony World Photography Awards in 2013. Photograph: Ilya Pitalev/Sony
Fyodor Tertitskiy for NK News, part of the North Korea network
Wednesday 4 March 2015 05.00 GMT Last modified on Wednesday 4 March 2015 12.13 GMT
It might not be obvious from the outside, but experts agree that North Korea is undergoing significant upheaval. Kim Jong-un’s regime is said to be serious about reforms, with the so-called “30th May measures” promising to increase personal income and allow greater social mobility.
But this has left many wondering how North Korea’s strict songbun system of social classification will coexist with such unprecedented reforms.
Songbun was most important element in the social structure of Kim Il-sung’s North Korea. Sung, who established the Democratic People’s Republic in 1948, initiated the system of social classification in the late 1950s, dividing the population into groups according to the actions and status of their paternal ancestors during the Japanese colonial period and the Korean War.
Songbun determines, among other things, whether North Koreans are allowed to live in the capital or in special cities, the workplace they’re allocated, and what kind of education they can receive.
While there has been some research into songbun, much of it is either outdated or incomplete. Researchers aren’t allowed to access official North Korean documents of this kind, which are always classified, but fortunately I have a friend who served in the North Korean police and is very familiar with the songbun documents, who was able to explain it in more detail.
Brahmins and untouchables, North Korean style
According to this system of social classification North Korean society is divided to five groups, from the best to the worst: special, nucleus, basic, complex and hostile. Earlier research has usually only mentioned three strata, because the existence of the special class was largely unknown, and the complex classification was only introduced in the 2000s.
Nucleus, also known as core, is the standard. Special is very rare and acts as a bonus in status. In contrast, basic (also known as wavering) can lead to slight discrimination, while people deemed complex and especially hostile face substantial prejudice.
‘Awarded with an audience’ is a title given to North Koreans who have talked to the leader for 20 minutes or more
A possible exception from this system would be blood relatives of the Kim family, who are seemingly excluded from all official documentation, although this remains to be verified.
Songbun is calculated from two factors. The first measures the social position and actions of one’s paternal ancestors during the Japanese colonial period and the Korean War. Did they fight with Kim Il-sung and later remain close to the Great Leader? Congratulations, your ancestry songbun is as good as it can be. Or, did they work as a clerk in the colonial administration, or worse, were they part of a faction in the independence movement that later proved hostile to Kim? Well then, your ancestry songbun is very bad and you’re unlikely to advance to any meaningful position in society.
The second – social songbun – measures the place occupied by a person in North Korean society; a worker, farmer, military man, teacher or policeman. There is, however, one variation of social songbun which overrides all others – party member – and another, the strange sounding “awarded with an audience”.
Portraits of North Korea’s national founder Kim Il-sung (left) and late leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang, North Korea. Photograph: AP
The latter is a title given to North Koreans who have talked to the leader for 20 minutes or more, or who have had their picture taken with him. That’s why commemoration photos printed in the official newspaper of the ruling Worker’s Party, Rodong Sinmun, often include thousands of people – the songbun of all of them has just increased.
Songbun influences many aspects of life in North Korea. If your songbun isn’t good enough, you cannot live in Pyongyang. Or, you cannot enter a good university, no matter how smart you are. You cannot be employed as a teacher or a policemen with bad or even average songbun. And if you want to join the ranks of the secret police (as many North Koreans do) not only you, but all you relatives up to the sixth generation must have a good songbun, or you do not qualify.
Can you alter your songbun? When it comes to ancestry , the answer is almost always no. Records are kept in four locations: at the local administration office, ordinary police, secret police and at specific organisations, like the Worker’s Party, Women’s Union, or labour union.
The situation during the Kim Il-sung era was much the same: a person of bad ancestry could not get a good job, so his or her songbun remained bad too. However, many things have changed since Kim Il-sung died in 1994, and the role of this system of classification is one of them. Now, a person who has worked for three years gets a new social designation decided upon by the decision of the local party committee. And these days even people of questionable ancestry can join the party. Some North Korean officials have also started to simply ignore songbun, reasoning that punishing someone for the sins of their ancestors is unfair and unjust.
The role of songbun is gradually reducing, as the country embraces new ways and new economic models. If Kim Jong-un really wants to proceed with promised reforms, one of the necessary steps would be to abolish songbun, at least in practice.
A version of this article first appeared on NK News
Introducing the retirement home for old age pussycats
Elderly cats can spend the last years of their nine lives in comfort at special accommodation dedicated to looking after senior felines.
By Becky Barnes
Last updated: 04 March 2015, 16:19 GMT
Elderly cats whose owners pass away or can no longer look after them can live out the rest of their years in comfort at a retirement home dedicated to felines.
There are 76 ‘Old Age Pussycats’ aged 10 to 20 living at the Lincolnshire Trust for Cats retirement home, which has been adapted especially for moggies.
Pet owners must pay a one-off fee of £850 for their cat to be taken in at the home, which is south-facing – giving animals plenty of sunshine to relax in – and furnished for their comfort.
Jain Hills, who set up the retirement home in 2001, wanted to do something for older cats when she saw they were being rejected by rehoming charities.
“I don’t think anywhere else does it because people come all the way from London with the cats to come here,” the 65-year-old said.
The oldest cat at the home is Henry, 20, whose owner died. He has a favourite armchair, which the other cats know not to sit in.
The home is also open to cats whose owners leave the country. One of the whiskered residents gets parcels sent to her from overseas, which she is apparently happy to share with her furry friends.
The seven-acre retirement facility offers individual rooms for new arrivals while they get settled and has three sitting rooms for the cats to lounge in, linked by enclosed outdoor areas.
The house is kept warm with central heating, is decorated in cat memorabilia and has leather sofas and Indian rugs for the cats to nap on.
There are also more than 400 stray cats taken in by the charity now living on the grounds.
If you know this man please help if you don’t blog,tweet, Facebook this Thank You
Our Letter of Confession
“A witness saw a young woman who folded her hands in a praying fashion when the SSD [State Security Department] interrogated her. The SSD suspected therefore that she was a Christian. They took her to another room and beat her until she confessed.”
Now is the time to make our confession to Kim Jong Un. We declare that we will remain loyal to the one true God and continue to stand with our persecuted family members in North Korea.
We know what is happening in North Korea. We commit to telling the world about the crimes of its leader and to do everything in our power to assist our persecuted family there.
We invite you to add your voice in support of North Korean Christians by digitally signing the Letter of Confession. We will deliver these letters to North Korea’s representatives to the United Nations.
|He shouldn’t even be in prison|
|Dear friend, Gao Zhisheng shouldn’t be in prison right now. The Chinese human rights lawyer has been targeted by the government for defending Christians and other religious minorities. They’ve shut down his law firm, revoked his lawyer’s licence – and since 2006 he’s been in and out of prison, suffering illegal detention and torture. All for speaking up for justice. Ask your MP to call for Gao’s release from prison.|
|Gao’s family haven’t seen him since January 2013 – and even then, they were only allowed a half-hour visit. He is due to be released on 22 August 2014, according to some legal experts. The Chinese government has consistently failed to provide information on his whereabouts and even his health, so it’s vital that we make sure they know we’re expecting his release. And last year, Gao’s wife Geng He asked the international community to keep pressing the Chinese authorities on his case “as the best way to protect him”. Gao and his family have suffered tremendous injustice for far too long. Please urge your MP to take action for Gao today. Thank you so much. Yours in hope for freedom Emma CSW Campaigns Team P.S. The Chinese government is desperate to keep Gao quiet – but he’s desperate to speak up against injustice. Email your MP today to call for Gao’s release. Thank you!|
|Urgent: Your prayers this week will change lives|
|Dear friend, Thank you so much for your campaigning and prayers for some desperate situations in the last few weeks. This week has been filled with highs and lows – the news of Meriam’s release, followed swiftly the family’s detention at Khartoum airport 24 hours later. Meriam isn’t the only person who needs God’s intervention on her behalf and your prayers are vital – will you continue to pray for the following situations with us?|
|SUDAN: Meriam Ibrahim and family still detained Meriam Ibrahim, whose death sentence for apostasy was quashed on Monday, is still being held after being detained along with her family at the airport on Tuesday. Meriam is being investigated by the police for alleged irregularities with her travel documents. The police have refused to release the family on bail whilst they carry out their investigation.
>> More prayer points available at www.csw.org.uk/prayformeriam
| ERITREA: Your prayers this week could change Eritrea’s future On Thursday the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC) will discuss, and hopefully adopt, a strong resolution condemning the continuing, severe and widespread human rights violations committed by Eritrea against its citizens and calling for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the violations outlined in reports by the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea. This is a bold step and one which needs to be underpinned by prayer if it’s to be successful.
| IRAN: Behnam Irani returned to prison after disappearance As you may know Pastor Behnam Irani, who was jailed on political charges, was assaulted earlier this month and was removed to an unknown location. He has now been returned to Ghezal Hesar, but his physical condition and whereabouts during the time of his disappearance are unclear.
| CUBA: Reverend Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso and his wife detained by authorities You may remember Reverend Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso and his wife Yoaxis from previous emails and our Response newsletter – they are religious freedom activists who have regularly been targeted by the Cuban government. They were detained by police last weekend, and although they were released two hours later, police have confiscated their computer. We’re concerned that state security officials could plant information on their computer in order to justify criminal charges.
|To get regular prayer updates from CSW to keep praying for these and other situations, please sign up here. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16 Blessings, Emma CSW Communications Team P.s. Please forward this email to your friends and encourage them to pray too. Thanks again for your support!|
|BREAKING: Meriam is free!|
|Dear friend, Just a few hours ago, we received some wonderful news: Meriam Ibrahim has been freed!
I wanted you to be among the first to know that the appeal court has overturned her convictions for adultery and apostasy, and declared her innocent of all charges. She and her children, Martin and Maya, are now back with her husband Daniel. We are thanking God for this amazing miracle! Can you join us to keep praying for Meriam and her family?
|Meriam and her family still aren’t safe. People claiming to be her family members have threatened to carry out her death sentence themselves, and her lawyers have received death threats because of their involvement with her case. We’re appalled by this. Everyone has the right to freedom of religion or belief, and to uphold this right, as Meriam’s lawyers are doing. This right is guaranteed in international law, as well as in Sudan’s own constitution. Please pray urgently for Meriam, her family and her lawyers.|
|It’s time to change the world, so that no one should have to go through what Meriam went through – months on death row, simply because of her faith. She even had to give birth in chains. Please uphold her in prayer. Thank you. Blessings Emma CSW Communications Team P.S. Thank you so much for everything you did to help secure Meriam’s release. But she’s not the only one we’re campaigning for. As long as there are people who are harassed, threatened and imprisoned for their faith, we’ll be speaking up for them. I’ll be in touch with you soon to tell you how you can get involved – meanwhile, thank you again for all you’ve done. Meriam is free!|