In many countries, the head of state gives an annual address reflecting on the wellbeing of the country, highlighting concerns and outlining solutions. In this special 10th anniversary issue of VOX, we asked the leaders from Christian organisations and ministries to share their thoughts about the last decade and look ahead to the future.
(From the January - March 2019 issue of VOX)
Sharan Kelly is CEO of Tearfund Ireland, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2018, and she is also chairperson of the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland.
IN THE LIGHT OF THE LAST DECADE, WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAY TO THE IRISH CHURCH?
VOX asked me to consider these questions in light of Tearfund Ireland’s own 10-year celebrations. In 2018, we celebrated 10 years of operations as a fully-fledged Irish owned and registered Christian charity. But we have a 50-year history with Christians in Ireland getting behind Tearfund UK in response to the famine in Biafra.
As these things go, we can tend to look back at the successes of the last 10 years. Looking at our growth, how many people we have assisted in times of natural disaster, conflict, famine, etc. We considered all of the countries we worked in, projects we ran and vulnerable children and women we have reached. These were our highlights.
But then we looked at the broken world we live in, and it wasn’t long before we stopped ‘patting ourselves on the back’. We felt there is more God wants to achieve and His work through the church is not yet complete. We are looking forward to the next 10 years and more. The rate of change is phenomenal and listening to what the Lord wants to say to us in the midst of it all needs intentionality.
Answering the questions, my first highlight is the leadership across Christian life in Ireland. I think of the church leaders of the past and consider that in the last decade we have seen new young leaders across various denominations. These new leaders are taking up the mantle of the Evangelical Movement. Ireland is a very different country to that of the 20th century. Its new and emerging leaders, as well as our wise experienced leadership, need our prayers as the church considers its relevance and influence in today’s Ireland. We need to celebrate the leaders of the past and present but we need to also consider the type of leadership that is needed in the next 10 years.
My second highlight is also a low-light in some ways – but I see it more as an opportunity. There has been much growth in many churches within the country and much decline in others. I meet people with a faith in the Lord who I won’t see in my local church. There are people tuning into radio stations like Spirit Radio who we might never meet. Many churches have a strong desire to reach the poor, homeless, those in need in their communities, but don’t know how. There are others who have yet to feel this call on them.
In some churches there is great engagement in their community and in others there is a focus on maintaining church life even to the point of mere survival. There is much to be learned from looking back and looking to each other. Why is one congregation thriving and another declining? How can we come together to encourage, bless and support each other in being Christ’s witness to the world? How can we as His church bring His Light into the world around us? Do we believe we have something to offer this self-sufficient Ireland we live in? So, in answering this question, I have asked a few more…
I’ll take my concerns of the past 10 years and turn them into potential for the future. This country is facing many challenges and the world is changing rapidly and dramatically. People need firm foundations and a hope for the future. Many societal and personal challenges face us. Political systems are fragile and weak. Economics are benefiting the few and seriously harming the poorest. It’s time to get our walking shoes on and step out into society, bringing the love of God in word and deed; speaking truth and wisdom to the decision makers and building the capacity of the church to be a beacon of light.
Some final highlights include the emergence of a seeker-friendly/faith-friendly mainstream Christian radio station, Spirit Radio, the reinvigoration of Evangelical Alliance Ireland and its contributions to local churches and parishes across Ireland as well as its influence in the nation, the work of Tearfund Ireland impacting so many lives and communities and finally, a Christian ‘publication’ tool that survives on a shoe-string budget and brings stories of all the Lord is doing in His church across this nation - VOX Magazine.
Happy 10th Birthday VOX Magazine and thank you for your hard work, efforts and good humour in bringing us stories of encouragement, challenge and inspiration from across Ireland!
Lucy Hill from 24/7 Prayer Ireland considers the highlights and challenges of the last decade.
Over the past 10 years, 24/7 Prayer Ireland has had the privilege of partnering across the denominations to see the church invigorated with prayer from individual prayer rooms in local churches, to whole denominations praying for a year at a time. The Thy Kingdom Come Initiative, in partnership with the Archbishop of Canterbury, saw thousands gathering to pray North and South at Pentecost, asking God for a fresh move of His Holy Spirit throughout Ireland. We have also seen prayer spaces in schools developing across the whole island, from Cork to Coleraine, where many young people have been encountering God. It has been so encouraging for us to witness a deepening desire to place prayer front and centre in all we do, and a blurring of the denominational lines to see a much more united vision for prayer in our nation. There is a sense that there is a growing network of people around the land who are praying with ‘one heart and one mind’ to see God’s kingdom come.
The more we pray the more aware we become of the reasons we need to pray! In a rapidly changing cultural, social and spiritual landscape in Ireland, prayer has become more important than ever and yet we still encounter so much apathy in relation to praying. There are so many challenges to re-prioritising prayer in the life of the church.
The late Eugene Peterson poses the question, “Are we going to live this life from our knees imaginatively and personally? Or are we going to live it conventionally and second-hand?” Perhaps this is ultimately the biggest challenge; a lack of imagination, for without consistent and persistent prayer, we lose sight of what is possible when we partner with God in prayer. Most notable has been the lack of engagement with young people, who we believe are hungry for faith, spirituality and God but find the church so irrelevant. This, coupled with the many challenges facing young people today, is leading to a rise in mental health issues and high rates of suicide. There is a sense that we need to stand in the gap for an entire generation.
The dream is to see a generation with faces set towards the Lord, hearts seeking with resolve the face of God, lives lived in His presence. The dream is too big, too bold and exactly as it should be. Because our God is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAY TO THE IRISH CHURCH?
God is longing for our nation to call him Father. Jeremiah 3:19 says, “I myself said, ‘How gladly would I treat you like my children and give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’ I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me.”
His deepest desire is that we would turn to Him again as a people. Let us be a people of prayer not for prayer’s sake but for Jesus’ sake! And so that we can truly live as sons and daughters of the Father.
In times, when it’s easy to get caught in a sort of tunnel vision, struggling to see the wood for the trees, aware of all you’re contending for and with, it is so good to realise the prevailing, unfolding God-narrative all around us. Each and every story plays a significant part. And as we turn our hearts toward the Lord, as we seek His face and pray, He hears and responds. He is here. And He is moving.
Amanda O’Shea is the National Alpha Youth Coordinator for Ireland. She reflects on the incredible growth of Alpha in Ireland over the last decade.
The past ten years have been really exciting for Alpha Ireland. One of our highlights has been the development of the Alpha Youth Team. In 2009, a small committee was formed to explore the potential of running Alpha in Irish schools. I joined this committee as I was already successfully running it in one Irish school, giving the talks live with a team of local youth leaders. Alpha Ireland, in partnership with Scripture Union, hired its first Alpha Youth National Coordinator, Jonny Somerville, in 2011.
In January 2014, Alpha Youth launched its first ever Youth Film Series after which, Alpha Youth really exploded because it was much more reproducible. Now, an average of 2,500 young people experienced Alpha Youth every year, either in their school or their local parish, due to the amazing partnership between local youth leaders and parish pastoral workers and our nine amazing Alpha Youth Staff spread across the country.
There are so many stories I could tell you about the individual impact of Alpha Youth, but I will try with just one from this student:
“I was bullied. I suffered depression. I had self-harmed. Life was horrible for me and at that point I turned to Jesus. I prayed at night, crying endlessly, restless and hurt. But I never got an answer…I joined an Alpha and I can’t believe it. I am as alive as I’ve ever been. My faith changed. My life changed. I changed.”
In 2017, Alpha Ireland brought over Fr. James Mallon from Canada to speak about how he transformed his parish using Alpha. He spoke to over 200 Catholic Priests, Bishops and Parish Workers in Dublin and another 80 in Cork. The response was overwhelming and we are seeing an amazing uptake by the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland in their desire to run Alpha and see their parish transformed. We are currently working with one Bishop who wants to see Alpha run in seven different parts within his diocese by the end of 2019.
Finally, in January 2018, in collaboration with Scripture Union, Innovista Ireland, Youth For Christ, Church of Ireland Youth, Christ in Youth, Catholic Youth Ireland and others, we launched “Momentum” a gathering over three days in January working towards a momentum of youth ministry and evangelisation all over Ireland that will be a genuine grassroots youth-focused movement inviting and calling many thousands of young people back to the family of faith. 50 Catholic and 50 Protestant Youth Workers gathered for the inaugural gathering.
I’m concerned about the rapid movement in society towards the irrelevance of God combined with the way social media continues to isolate and propagate mental illness. Building community by creating accessible bridges between church and society is essential. We as the church can no longer ignore our responsibility to facilitate open dialogue with people who have been hurt by the church, who disagree with our values and who are desperate for community.
The steady decline and alienation of family is also a concern. We must intentionally re-think our “programmes” and ask ourselves if we are contributing to the re-establishment of the family. We need to start talking about “What is family?” for those who have immigrated here and have no “family”. How are we addressing this growing population in Ireland of people who are seeking a place at our dinner table but are not receiving an invitation. Not to mention those who are sick, homeless, orphaned, or addicted. A very real shift in culture is needed because of how we ignore this, largely due to how we believe “Ireland to be the most hospitable place on earth”. But in reality this only goes as far as the local pub, church or community group and never really enters our homes.
Mental health issues, specifically anxiety and depression, have become an epidemic in Ireland. And while I see the HSE and Private Agencies working to alleviate this crisis, it isn’t enough. We have an amazing opportunity to create and be a “safe place” for people. We will need to work to not get overwhelmed by the magnitude of both the problem nationally or the individual’s problems but instead begin to live incarnationally and be willing to “sit” without judgement and sometimes without answers, but allow our presence to bring healing.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAY TO THE IRISH CHURCH?
We need to stop seeing people as an agenda or as someone to help our own agenda and start seeing people the way Jesus does, as people who are deeply loved by our Father God, uniquely created with beautiful hearts and minds. We need to listen to each other, learn from each other and begin to create a society of “us” instead of “them”.
Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
One of the earliest VOX interviews was with David Turner from Irish charity, Church in Chains. As a publication, we’ve been delighted to work in partnership with this vital ministry ever since, highlighting the plight of persecuted Christians around the world. Here David looks back at the highs and lows of the last 10 years of campaigning.
There has been growing interest in supporting the persecuted church among Irish Christians and the ministry of Church in Chains has also grown, with increasing influence among politicians and government officials. The opportunity to bring fine advocates for the persecuted such as Helen Berhane (Eritrea), Bob Fu (China), Sam Yeghnazar (Iran) and Shibu Thomas (India) to Ireland was a particular highlight.
The spread of radical Islam, with extreme violence against Christians in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan and other countries. The exodus of Christians from the Middle East. The unchecked rise of Hindu extremist attacks on Indian Christians and the tightening of government control of the church in China.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAY TO THE IRISH CHURCH?
Thank God for your freedom but use it to support your brothers and sisters who daily live under persecution of various forms in so many countries around the world. Find out more at www.churchinchains.ie
Rob Clarke looks back at a decade which brought Spirit Radio to the airwaves.
At 12 midday on January 27, 2011 Spirit Radio launched. We were conscious that many people had prayed, worked and given generously over many years to bring Christian radio to the Irish airwaves. It’s been a privilege and a thrill to work with the station over the last eight years. We’ve had the support and friendship of church leaders from a broad range of churches. People often tell us they’ve discovered more about the wider Christian community through the station.
I have been especially encouraged to see Christians from different backgrounds working together to uphold the sanctity of human life, witnessing to the beauty of Christian marriage and collaborating on projects such as Street Pastors.
I believe that many people across Ireland today are like Nicodemus. They sense that Jesus holds the key to life. They are watching and waiting for an opportunity to explore the Gospel message. Our challenge is to find a way to communicate the Good News of the Gospel in a language that is accessible – whilst at the same time being true to the reality that the Gospel is always an affront, always counter cultural, always foolishness to the powerful and the proud. Jesus mastered the art of communicating in a way that spoke to the longings, fears, hopes and aspirations of people and yet He was always ready to challenge them to take the radical option to turn away from sin and follow Him. He was always about Grace and Truth. Our concern, our challenge is to create radio programming that is full of Grace and Truth. And this is a challenge that we all face in our different spheres.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAY TO THE IRISH CHURCH?
Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest. He responded by giving two, ‘Love the Lord God with all your heart, mind and strength and Love your neighbour as yourself’. There is a clear linkage. We show our love for God, who we can’t see, by how much we love our neighbour, who we can see. It is when people experience our genuine commitment to their welfare that trust grows. This is the second part of the great commandment in action.
In the coming years, we may find our faith puts us increasingly at odds with the world around us. In this context, may we learn afresh what it means to love God with all our hearts, minds and strength – and that is the first part of the great commandment.