Meet Simon Marriott from Youth for Christ Ireland
(From the July - September 2018 issue of VOX)
During this year’s Finding Faith Tour, VOX editor Ruth Garvey-Williams met up with Simon Marriott who heads up Youth for Christ Ireland. She found out what brought this graphic designer from Northern Ireland to Mullingar and the heart and ethos that shapes the work of the dynamic YFC team.
TELL US WHAT CHANGED IN YOUR LIFE
I had a design and marketing agency and I was building my own empire. When my son was born, they told us he was going to die. The thing Joshua needed was breath. His lungs had shut down. God miraculously healed him. I understood that when God says children are a gift, they are on loan to us. I felt like He was saying, “I’ve given you these kids for this time to steward their lives well and point them to me.”
This whole experience freed me up to champion other people to be the person they were created to be. Within a year or two, we walked away from my successful business and joined Youth for Christ in the Czech Republic, running camps for children and young people from orphanages. I had just been through an experience in which I had almost lost my son. I could not understand why any parent would choose to give their child away.
WHAT CHANGED WHILE YOU WERE IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC?
It gave me a wider perspective. I learnt to stop deciding where God wasn’t working (because of my own pre-conceptions) and instead to be observant to see what He is doing.
Living in the Czech Republic, it was easier to say that I’m from Ireland rather than I’m from Northern Ireland. People there couldn’t care less which part of Ireland we were from. It made me recognise that I was more Irish.
We were trying to discern where we should live out the rest of our lives and after four years my wife felt that would be our final year. I began to transition and as I did that I had the opportunity to speak on the life of St. Patrick in a Czech secondary school. While I was preparing, I felt like God was saying, “I’m calling you back to Ireland.”
I realised that in my time in the Czech Republic, God was preparing me for Ireland. If I had come direct from the north, I would have been a fish out of water. I would have reacted arrogantly without even knowing it. But to live in a different context, to have those edges knocked off and to be humbled, prepared me to come here with that posture of humility.
WHAT WERE THE FIRST STEPS?
We came to Ireland in May 2015 just to look around. Prior to that I had no Catholic friends; that is how insular my upbringing had been up. I felt the Holy Spirit convicting me of that. “You’ve been living life not as a neighbour but on the other side of the fence.”
For me, there was a lot of significance about going to Mullingar rather than being based in Dublin. [Ed note: Before Tara, Uisneach just outside Mullingar was the seat of the high kings of Ireland and the area is considered to be the political, mythological and geographical centre of the island.]
There is a lot of imagery around igniting fires and passing on the torch until all of Ireland is illuminated. We believe that God is ushering in a new season. I suppose the vision that God has given me for Ireland is to see “fires” started, becoming beacons of hope across our land.
Jonny Somerville from Scripture Union was very kind. His advice was, “If you are going to do something in Ireland then for one year do nothing... just observe, meet with people, hear their heart and build relationships.”
That is exactly what we did. I volunteered with Youth Alpha, built a relationship with some of the local people. We saw that young people pre-confirmation and post confirmation have a need for Jesus and began to ask, “How do we facilitate them in encountering Jesus?”
We need a posture of humility. God is at work and we are trying to observe what He is doing. Over the last three years, He has opened doors for us.
SO WHAT DID YOU DO?
For me, coming to Mullingar was a strong sense of coming home. I don’t even see my role as a missionary but as a job I have in which I get to share the gospel with young people.
We started working in one school and, as a result, we were invited into a local parish. From there we had an opportunity to be involved in mentoring and then got involved in community projects. Eventually, we got to the point where we wanted to have a place where young people could come and go and so we opened our drop -in centre - the Upper Room.
This is a place to model what family life looks like - a place where we can talk to one another about issues like drugs or relationships that have gone sour. As well as the games room, we have a quiet room where we pray and if the young person would like to, we can pray with them.
HOW ARE YOU SEEING AN IMPACT ON THE LIVES OF YOUNG PEOPLE?
We do mentoring in schools. We seek to stand in the gap for young people. Our heart is that they encounter Jesus, but we are not going to force that on them.
One in four families in Ireland with children are single parent families, of which 86% of dads are absent in some way. When I get to speak to a group of young people, I feel the Father heart of God. I’m just trying to point them to Jesus to encounter the Father. These young people are heavy on my heart. They are searching for something.
Many are looking for deeper conversation. That is what I enjoy about youth work. I don’t do superficial. So I can ask, “How are you really?” And that is when we need to listen well!
We start to see young people flourish because they have had the ability to talk about the things that matter most and they are seeing how Jesus can help them. It is a privilege to journey with young people and it is certainly a two-way street.
I was telling some young people, “Faith is like a gym membership. If you have the card in your wallet, it is not going to transform your abs! You need to train and be active to become fit. An active faith should transform your life, head and heart.” We are trying to model something real. I have experienced the love of God through Jesus and that is what I seek to share with the young people.
To find out more about the work of Youth for Christ Ireland, visit www.yfc.ie.