After nearly 30 years of gunfights and bombing, peace came to Northern Ireland in 1998; but for Raymond McKibbin, peace arrived much earlier. Growing up in the midst of the widespread conflict in Northern Ireland known as “the Troubles,” Raymond saw violence as a means to an end. He joined the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary organisation, and saw himself as the sworn adversary of the IRA. “I wanted to hurt these people because I saw them as the enemy of my country,” he explains.
Eventually, he found himself serving what amounted to life in prison, for two attempted murders, possessing explosives and causing explosions. It was in prison, through the ministry of Prison Fellowship Northern Ireland, that God changed Raymond’s life. It started when Raymond began to examine some of the mistakes he’d made in his own life. “I got on my hands and knees in the prison cell and asked God to forgive my sins and take over my life,” he recalls, “and that’s what He did.” Then as Raymond began to participate in PF activities, he saw members of the opposite party, people who were once his enemies. Now, as a Christian, Raymond saw them as his brothers. “We have had the opportunity of bringing men again from different backgrounds, from different faiths, and from none, to a table where they sit down and just study the Bible together,” explains Robin Scott, PF Northern Ireland Chief Executive.
After the Belfast Agreement granted the early release of paramilitary prisoners, Raymond left prison and began working full time on the staff of PF Northern Ireland, where he served for seven years. He then enrolled at the Union Theological College in Belfast and graduated in August 2009 after three years of study.
“If it wasn’t for God, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” says Raymond, “in fact, I’d probably be dead.” Instead of suffering that tragic fate, Raymond continues to use the peace and wisdom he’s gained in his new faith to help others who struggle with the chaos and insecurity that comes with a life lived apart from God.