How did a small town boy from North Benton, Ohio (population 1,150) end up being the director of a cross-community youth organisation in Belfast, Northern Ireland, serving the urban poor? How did a protestant theology student at Grove City College, Pennsylvania, end up living single for the Lord in an ecumenical brotherhood and working in Belfast for reconciliation and Christian unity?
It started with a teenage conversion to Christ, and there were many other steps along the way – leading an interdenominational fellowship of first year university students, a youth ministry job in Steubenville, Ohio, a summer household experience in an ecumenical community in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a striking prophetic word at the 1977 Kansas City Conference (“mourn and weep for the body of my Son is broken”), a summer walk through a graveyard with a Servants of the Word brother, and finally his lifelong commitment to The Servants of the Word in 1985. Doug was an unlikely candidate for all this, but God’s providential hand brought the circumstances together.
Doug arrived in Northern Ireland in the autumn of 1992, at a time when Belfast was still in the midst of “the Troubles”, when bombings, police checkpoints, and armoured trucks with soldiers pointing their guns at pedestrians were a common part of life. The paramilitary ceasefire did not begin until 1994.
In the midst of sectarian destruction, a small sign of hope appeared in West Belfast, following a series of youth missions in which hundreds of young people were touched by the Holy Spirit, and Youth Initiatives (YI) came into being. What was then a small youth project, founded by two Servants of the Word brothers has now become a large organization with 25 staff workers, and 10 gap year volunteers and interns, running 15 outreach youth projects in areas of great social need (West Belfast where YI was founded, has the second highest rate of child poverty in the UK). Of the 3,500 young people met each year, almost 400 find an ongoing home in YI’s programmes.
Doug joined YI as business manager in 1992 and became director in 2003. He has played an important role in helping YI develop its mission of “awakening hope in young people” – young people full of potential and talent, yet so disheartened and frustrated by broken homes, broken families, a broken society. Doug has helped YI access government and charitable sources of funding, making it possible to reach out to a large number of young people with the heart of an authentic Christian ministry. A challenging job – but Doug seems never to tire of challenges, meeting them with his characteristic perseverance, cheerful unflappability, and great trust in the Lord.
And so here in Northern Ireland, amidst the beautiful Irish countryside, with the Charis community and the brothers from The Servants of the Word, Doug has found an adopted home. Here in Belfast the young man from North Benton, Ohio, has found a place to respond to Jesus’ prayer that His people might be one.