Dear Greenisland Baptist,
It’s that time of year again folks and due to my dedication (obsession) to university, I will be long gone by the time de-commissioning happens. Added to this, my best friend has upped-sticks and graduated taking with her all of the paraphernalia needed for filming a video, telling you all about this summer’s antics. Ergo, you must excuse the letter; it’s length, vocabulary and spelling errors will have to suffice for now. The length, well, I apologise in advance. After all, as an English student, I have a wordy-reputation to keep up.
To be honest, I think I could give you all a detailed seminar about this summer. Actually, no, not just a seminar: a lecture with funky power-point techniques, videos, diagrams, pie-charts… the full monty. Not just because it has been a crazy summer filled with awesome people and banter-filled times: but because this summer, I have been blessed while watching a building site, called the Kingdom of God, in full swing. I may have been using my hands, talents, skills and knowledge to serve His purposes (Ex4v2) but it was made so much easier with the people among whom I was serving.
The thing with short term mission is that, so often we feel like the blessings only reach ourselves and that we ‘haven’t done much’ for the missionaries we work with. It’s easy to feel guilty and inadequate. But this isn’t what God feels when we serve in any capacity. He is working with, through and in us. It doesn’t matter what we feel we have done, compared to what He has done and will do. On that side note, let me tell you all about the teams which you all helped to support me in: Encounter and Livewire.
Encounter is a programme run by Christians Unions Ireland (part of IFES) and Serge (an American mission organisation). For the month of June into July, this is an opportunity for Irish and American students to join together, and do a course on
discipleship and leadership within the student communities we are a part of. The first two weeks contain the taught part of the course, with instruction from CUI and Serge members of staff. This consists of a programme called ‘Free: to Love’ and a manuscript study of Galatians. Alongside this teaching, the interns (i.e. the students attending) receive mentoring from missionaries belonging to either CUI or Serge. Between these mentoring sessions, the reflections, seminars; to the bonding sessions we all had over the beautiful Greystones scenery and food provided by authors of Avoca’s cookery book, there was a pretty happy group of us.
The most beautiful thing about these two weeks was the fellowship we all shared together. ‘But Nesta,’ you may be saying, ‘How could you all get on so well together after only a few days?’ The answer: I have no earthly clue, but I know that God had a big part in it. Mike Ewan asked me to send him a few prayer points for the whole summer and one of my biggest ‘worries’ was the relationships that we would share as a team in Encounter. Relationships are always a big one for me as I don’t find it easy to be sociable, or get to talk to people whom I have never met before. God, in His grace and goodness, answered that prayer point in every single relational situation I was put in this summer, and made the whole experience one focused on Him, not on whether I needed to take another time out from people. Praise the Lord greatly for this, as He is greatly to be praised! Through these relationships, it was clear to see the work and heart of the Lord on an international scale. The fellowship we all shared as a team, with the people surrounding us on our O-Teams and then later on in the summer, was a beautiful reminder of the community in which we dwell, living life to the full.
Those two weeks in Greystones were not all hunky-dory, as much as I’d love to portray them to be. Frankly, the challenges from God and His word were overwhelming. The deep nature of His love and grace was pressed into wounds I have nursed for years and for the first time in a while, I learned what being set free, to love, truly means.
They were two weeks in heaven. Our ‘anthem’ became a song which is little known anywhere else, called ‘We Will Feast in The House of Zion.’ This was our heart as
a community of a believers, one that called us to radically love each other; to step out of our normal and share this microcosm with sixteen others. One of the American missionaries turned around in wonder one day: ‘You guys are just… if one of y’all want to go down to the beach, y’all go down together; if one of y’all wants to play volleyball, y’all go and play the most crowded game ever: and if one of y’all isn’t feeling ok, y’all just try your best to pray with them and love them the best that God gives you. Isn’t that incredible?’
He summed it up nicely: we loved each other because we were being changed by the love that God has for us. As we went into our O-Teams (outreach teams) our anthem changed from proclaiming that one day we would feast in the house of Zion, to assuring ourselves that, in Jesus, we were feasting in His goodness right here on earth. God helped us to see that all of His loving goodness being poured into us, isn’t meant to be contained. We have to get out and share it with others. To encourage the tired to dance in the Spirit, to help the lost see Jesus and His Father’s salvation gospel for the first time, and to ‘go into all the world to make disciples’ (Matt28:19).
With that, we went on O-Teams. I was, after numerous team combination-options, sent out to serve on the Liberties team with two of my room-mates from the past fortnight. Jes, our wise and balanced leader, Caitlin, Gabby and I all headed into Dublin
and Bray, to work with several ministries that Bruce and ‘Pastor Noel’ had set up for us. Little did we know that those first few days would be the most trying experience of the summer. Not because working with Light House, the homeless ministry, was taxing; neither was the travelling-community in Bray; nor the soup runs through the heart of Dublin, to the soundtrack of bog-standard Irish-missily-rain: oh no.
We arrived during the week of Summer Fire, a Christian conference down in Cork. In true Irish fashion, making my Irish-cockles glow deep within my heart, no one knew what we were doing. Even better than that, we had American ministry leaders in one of the ministries, who weren’t too sure of us during our first day in Dublin. But God, in His grace and mercy helped that awkward situation; just as He helped the American gals in
the O-Team adjust to the concept of Irish ‘time-keeping’ and me with some USA culture shock. It really is weird being surrounded by Americans alone in Dublin for five days. Ultimately, the whole culture-difference-issue all made us rely on Him for everything we needed and this was a beautiful lesson to learn.
The whole experience of O-Teams can defiantly be described as heaven-on-earth. Thanks to the accountability and prayers from the CUI/Serge leadership, we didn’t once have a major fall out. The end of every day was wrapped up with a bit of ‘Good/Bad/Godly’. This ‘game’ became a tool that allowed us to appreciate our human limitations, and God’s limitless love.
I have crammed a diary full of tales from every day, and will probably share most of them with you in the future. For now, I just want to say that if this sounds intimidating – going out to serve, in a team you know not much about and in a ministry that you never had imagined working with – then you may join the club and help with the design of t-shirts. I was terrified, worried, scared, anxious… pretty much a mess at thinking of the thousands of ways I would screw up over the fortnight.
But God; He always managed to take my chin and pull it towards His face. ‘Look at me,’ He’d say, ‘See I have overcome the world. Would I send you out in it if I knew you couldn’t handle it? In fact, you can’t handle any of it, so take that worry and give it to me. For I know what I am doing and I am going to use you. Your hands will be my hands. My heart and eyes will be guiding you every second of the day. They’ll all hurt at times, but it’s only because hard work hurts, and my own love for every single person on this earth, longs for them to know me. I love you and you’ll be OK chick.’
He always knows what is going on. He knows the bigger picture. And with that, He sent me into a summer of teaching that was surrounded by the call to follow. Followers don’t see, or know what will be coming around the corner; but do you know what? They follow willingly and those who stop following, stop in their tracks. We are called to follow and this was under-lined by Livewire 2017.
Livewire, according to leader-in-chief Scott McMenemy, allows a forum for churched kids to be confronted with big truths in the Christian faith. ‘We want to take cocky/over-confident, churched kids, Livewire leaders too, who think that they know everything,’ Scott said at the first meeting, ‘To step back and see, or think, at the wonders God has done for us; who He is and what His mission on earth contains.’ Over the past few years themes such as ‘Him,’ ‘Holy’, ‘Radical’ and ‘Gospel,’ have been examined. 2017 saw a continuation from last year’s focus on ‘Gospel’: we looked at ‘Follow: His glory, our good.’
Every morning we gathered with the punters (i.e. youth aged from 14 to 18) for a time of worship, discussion, hearing from God’s word and some response. Phil Howe, this guy who is known throughout the country for his ‘incredible’ puns, lead the teaching of the 300ish punters through five concepts; call, cost, community, creativity and character. Our call is costly, therefore God provided us with the church community for fellowship, teaching and support, we have been given gifts to work within this church and in following Jesus throughout all of these things, our characters should become more like Jesus’.
The whole week was full of blessings and challenges; from the wonderful relationships we shared as a team, to the discussions we had with our small groups, to the other activities Livewire put on in the evenings, such as the worship night and social. God’s hand was ever present in all of these things, encouraging us as leaders and reaffirming what it means to follow God in our lives. The challenges were not necessarily from the physical surroundings (praise Jesus) but from the words God was speaking over all of us, punters and leaders together. Heart matters of my own were dealt with, but the biggest challenge for me personally, was in the small group I led.
At the beginning of the week, they were so shy. Quit that: I was in standard Nesta-is-nervous-101-mode. Motor-mouth, asking the questions and hoping that with their teen
senses they wouldn’t pick up how much I was bricking it. All week long I was praying, asking God, that these teen-façades would fade and that He would work in their hearts. There were only a few talkers, and when one left on the Thursday saying that he’d not be back tomorrow, a part of my insides screamed ‘Noooooo!’ But God had it in bigger and better hands. No surprises there.
During one of the last discussion group times, I asked all of them what they would carry away from this week. Not expecting much from my Mute Minions I was super prideful, worrying that I hadn’t done a good enough job, that because of my efforts they would have learned nothing. But God had been working in ways I had no idea of. One girl wanted to get properly involved in her church, to get stuck in and start serving: another wanted to know more about God, so what when her friends asked her questions, she could answer them confidently: and another one realised for the first time that week that he loved praying and that he had a massive sense of peace in his heart whenever he was talking to God… I could never have imagined that. Oh, this punter also wanted to learn how to disciple his friends. He is 14.
Talk about feeling intimidated. And humbled. Overwhelmed. Emotional. Tearful. Joyful.
Livewire 2017 was full of these sort of stories; testimonies of how God had been, and was continuing to work in the lives of these punters. Some were encouraged in their walk and others really got, for the first time, that following God isn’t just about deciding to follow that guy who taught controversial love and truth, but about actively following Him. Some took up their cross for the first time saying ‘Jesus I am a sinner. Forgive me and help me to live my life with you at the centre’: Taking part in the relationship to which we are all called. To know Him in the only way we can, personally.
God was amazing. God is amazing. I would love to tell you more, but the thought of editing these pages and starting my dissertation in a few days, frankly, is quelling. I will be posting little stories up over the winter. These will just be little snippets and remembrances, for I love a bit of nostalgia in the winter months, remembering past summers’ days.
So auf wiedersehen miene Freunde for the moment. I’ll see you at Christmas, if not before. Thank you for all of your prayers and support, especially over these past few months. Not one of them was unheard and all of them were answered in His perfect way.