Thursday 8 August - Avoca to Trim via Bray, Redcross and Dublin
This summer, VOX magazine editor Ruth Garvey-Williams is travelling around Ireland to hunt down stories of faith, life and reality. Each day, she will share the story of her journey and some of the stories she encounters along the way.
Day Six begins early with a trip to Bray to visit the great team at Spirit Radio - Ireland's largest Christian radio station. It's lovely to look around the studios before my interview with Mark Fennell (you can listen to the podcast here until August 22nd). Afterwards I chat with newsreader Kelly and ask about her faith story.
"My mum had MS and she was in a desperate place in her life, alone with six children," Kelly shared. "She cried out to God and soon afterwards a Christian family moved close by (in fact they moved because their house burnt down!) and began helping out my mum." Through their love and support, Kelly's mum became a Christian and watching the change in her life, Kelly also began searching.
"It was like a magnifying glass had gone on in my heart and suddenly I knew right from wrong," she explained. "I went along to church but I wasn't really committed until one service. I was sitting at the back of the church and my mind was wandering because I couldn't hear the speaker. Suddenly I felt God's presence so strongly and waves of love just flowed over me. I didn't care who was looking at me. After that night, I told Jesus, 'That's it.I'm going to follow you'. That was the defining moment for me."
Saying goodbye to the Spirit Radio team I headed south again to Redcross where I was set to meet Roland and Susan Heaney. Roland (Roly) has been the vicar in this rural parish for the last 23 years. Over that time, the church in Redcross has seen remarkable growth. Today this small village has a thriving church of 200 people and Roly has a vision for even more!
"I was brought up in a staunch loyalist area of Northern Ireland during the Troubles, so God having me working in the Republic of Ireland shows His sense of humour," he shares. "God did something in my heart. I no longer see labels but I meet people as people."
Roly, who had to overcome a speech impediment in order to become a minister, shows me a stone which he found shortly before his ordination. "I was walking along a beach and thinking 'I can't do this' and then I found this stone. I've kept it ever since."
When Roly talks about his vision for the church, his eyes light up. Here is someone who is passionate about God and believes that He can do great things in 21st Century Ireland. "We are living in a nation where people are spiritually hungry. They are saying, 'Show us your God'. They want to see something real. Some people seem to think that the church has been in decline because people aren't interested in God and God is not really interested in them. That's false. God is passionate about the church and wants it to grow. I want to see so much more and to experience more of God's presence."
After a wonderful lunch with Roly, Susan and their family, I'm moved when they ask to pray for me before I get on the road again. it's a huge encouragement and I leave inspired and humbled by the love and hospitality of this couple.
From Wicklow, its a rather long hot drive into Dublin city. After all the lovely landscapes I've seen on my travels, it's strange to be back in stop-start traffic through the inner city. My mileometer is creeping closer and closer to the 1000-mile mark and I'm watching it avidly. I want to catch the moment when it ticks over!
My next stop is Ringsend and someone I remember interviewing on a visit to Ireland just before we moved here nine years ago. Along with his wife, Joe Donnelly runs the Anchorage which has become an oasis of beauty and community in the heart of Ringsend. A children's playschool, a flower and vegetable garden, the Fair Play cafe and a host of other projects make this one of the most inspirational stops on my journey around Ireland.
This story deserves a proper re-telling... and I won't do it justice in the space of a few lines here... but I'll share a few photos and quotes from Joe and for the rest, you'll have to wait for the next edition of VOX magazine! I hope this whets your appetite.
"We call this a hope-shaped project," Joe says as he shows me around. "I grew up in the flats around the corner with 10 of us living in a two bedroomed council house. I used to get drunk on cider in the back yard of this place. At the age of 22 I was ready to commit suicide but God transformed my life. We're transforming this place and bringing something of the riches of God's kingdom here. Forget about church on Sunday, we live church Monday to Saturday!"
Listening to story after story of lives touched and changed I have an overwhelming sense - this is what faith looks like in action! And it is as beautiful as the flowers that bring a riot of colour into the inner city.
From Ringsend, I headed across the river to the VOX magazine offices in Foley Street (close to Busaras in Dulbin city centre). There is no way we could have engineered this, considering all my detours, wrong turns and spur-of-the-moment interviews... but just as I arrived outside the VOX offices, the mileometer ticked over the 1000 mile mark.
It was lovely to catch up (very briefly) with my colleagues Jonny and Krista in the VOX office and also to call into the Tearfund office next door. Emma took a few moments to tell me about the new campaigns coming up for Tearfund this autumn. One really captured my imagination - raising funds to buy seeds for people in Cambodia enabling them to grow their own crops. Indidividuals, groups and churches can get involved by organising a fund raising walk! Wonderful. Check out www.tearfund.ie
From the city centre, I had a one-hour drive north to the town of Trim in County Meath. It seems my many trips to the capital have paid off and I find my way out of the city without any problems.
One of the most beautiful features of this trip has been receiving such generous hospitality from folks all over the country. This evening, I'm staying with.Ciaran and June Loughran from Living Hope Community Church in Trim. I've never met them before but they opened their home to me and organised a whole range of interviews plus plenty of cups of coffee and a lovely meal too! (The coffee has now become an absolute essential as I'm reaching the very last reserves of my energy!)
First up is a chat with John and Trish: A chance meeting with a girl on a train in America started Trish's journey to find faith. Trish had been feeling unsettled and dissatisfied for some time. When the girl gave her a Bible, she began reading avidly. Some time later, back in Ireland, she was sitting in a coffee shop reading the Bible when a man came up and asked her what she was reading. He told her, "Do you know that God loves you so much and He sent is son to die for you." This was the missing link Trish has been searching for. "From then on it has been a learning experience of getting to know God and who He is. I'm so amazed that not only is He my best friend but that Jesus would call me His friend is mind blowing," Trish said.
John's sums up his experience of God like this, "He is the great restorer, the great rebuilder. He takes something that was broken, that was in a mess, that was out of control, and makes something good out of it."
For the rest of the evening we sit and chat about what is happening in the church in Trim. Now with their own building in the town centre, the church is seeking to serve the local community in innovative ways. Every Thursday, they open the building for anyone who wants to come in for a coffee and a chat or simply to hang out. Called "Grace Space" this has proved popular especially among older folks in town. "People can sit and read a book or play a game of pool and there are toys for the children to play with," June and Ciaran explained.