Ben McMechan is Northern Ireland manager of the International Justice Mission.
Q. Tell me about yourself.
A. I am 25 and and I live in Glengormley with my wonderful wife, Lauren. We attend Whiteabbey Presbyterian Church. I grew up in east Belfast with my parents, Stephen and Jill, and my younger sister, Lucy. My father is a cardiologist in the Ulster Hospital. I attended Sullivan Upper School and Queen’s University, studying human biology. I have worked for several Christian organisations. In the International Justice Mission (IJM), we believe it is God’s calling to Christians to seek justice for those trapped in slavery. I work closely with Churches and volunteers across Ireland. IJM is the largest global anti-slavery organisation in the world and, over the past two decades, it has rescued over 66,000 people from slavery and violence.
Q. When did you come to faith?
A. The “moment” I remember was giving my life to Jesus when I was 12 at a Scripture Union residential week in Castlerock. However, I cannot think back to a time I did not know about God. My family always brought me to Orangefield Presbyterian. Through all this teaching, community and friendships I was developing a strong platform to make a decision to follow Jesus at Castlerock all those years later.
Q. Is your faith only for Sundays?
A. My faith 100% plays a real part in my everyday life. Knowing that God is more than a Sunday morning is a very freeing thing. I love Sundays, to get refilled, inspired and spiritually ready for the week.
Q. Have you ever had a crisis of faith, or a gnawing doubt about your faith?
A. Not a crisis, but times where my faith has been weak. I have always been lifted back up again by friends and family.
Q. Have you ever been angry with God?
A. I can recall moments of frustration and disappointment when certain prayers seemed to have not been answered. Looking back, God had been doing something different and better than what I had hoped for.
Q. Do you ever get criticised for your faith?
A. While studying science at university, there was a much more outspoken anti-God culture. Looking back, I was more quiet then than I wish I had been.
Q. Are you ever ashamed of your own Church, or denomination?
A. I have always been part of the Presbyterian Church and my experience has been wonderful. The importance of denomination has always come second, compared to how the Church loves the people. I have always asked myself, “Would a friend feel welcomed if I brought them to church?”
Q. Are you afraid to die?
A. It is not something I have thought about much, until a few years ago, when my grandmother passed away. She was an amazingly strong woman who had confidence that she was going spend eternity with God. Her assurance has given me confidence in knowing my future. I am not afraid of hell. The only context I hear this is when someone is trying to scare a person to follow Jesus.
Q. Do you believe in a resurrection?
A. If this means our resurrected bodies in Heaven, then “Yes”. I can only go with what I have read in scripture. No suffering, no pain, no relationship issues, no poverty, or inequality, but instead justice that will flow like a river. I am not sure what exactly it will be like, but it sounds like somewhere I want to be.
Q. What about other denominations and faiths?
A. It is such a helpful experience to surround yourself with people who aren’t just mirror images of you and agree with everything you say. At the Church of Ireland chaplaincy at Queen’s, there were eight different denominations among my house of 16 students — from Free Presbyterian to Elim to Methodist, we had it all. This created a culture of learning, conversation and understanding.
Q. Would you be comfortable in stepping out from your own faith and trying to learn from others?
A. I would never want to abandon my faith, but I massively enjoy learning from people who don’t walk and talk like me. A friend who is not a Christian has taught me what kindness looks like and giving your time to other people. Kindness is not simply a trait owned by Christians.
Q. Are the Churches here fulfilling their mission?
A. Absolutely. Our culture is critical and judgmental of the Church, but never has there been such an opportunity to practically show people the love of Jesus and the fullness that knowing Him brings to our lives.
Q. Why are so many turning their backs on organised religion?
A. This is really sad. Possibly because some Churches are still focusing on issues inside the church walls. A friend who leads a church shared how his members spent years debating how to maintain the traditional parts of the church, such as pews/wooden carvings/pictures, yet they failed to discuss how they might invite friends and families to come and enjoy the life Jesus is offering.
Q. Has religion helped or hindered the people of Northern Ireland?
A. If we mean genuine followers of Jesus Christ, then religion has been of huge help. Providing youth clubs, feeding people through food kitchens, thousands of hours of volunteering, transforming communities through conversation and practical support, encouraging faithful relationships, and proclaiming a message of love and forgiveness, to name just some. Then I think “religion” really has been of some help to the people of Northern Ireland.
Q. What is your favourite film, book and music?
A. Music: the band Needtobreathe. Book: The Art of Resilience by Ross Edgely. Film: Lion — the story of a young Indian boy who fell asleep on a train and ended up 1,000 miles away from home. Fantastic ending.
Q. Where do you feel closest to God?
A. On a trail run in the Mournes, or early-morning walks up Cavehill with the dog. Being in nature, the quiet before the business of the day sweeps me up and these are moments when I feel most close to God.
Q. Finally, any major regrets?
A. I don’t think so.