Wednesday 4 May: Dromara, County Down to Sandyford, County Dublin via Navan and Arklow!
For the fourth year running, VOX magazine editor Ruth Garvey-Williams has climbed behind the wheel to travel around Ireland looking for stories of faith, life and reality... here's just a taste of what she has found...
After a short night, I shared a delightful breakfast with my hosts - Joy and Gareth Bell and their little son, Oliver. Gareth works with Precept Ministries Ireland which encourages people to go deeper with God by discovering a passion for His word. Gareth visits churches across the Ireland and trains people in "inductive Bible study" - check out the next issue of VOX to find out more!
Packing ready to go I experience an awkward moment... discovering my "thank you cards" were actually party invitations! (#bestlaidplans - I thought I was so organised!!) My gracious hosts were happy to be invited to a party instead of receiving a proper thank you!!
From Dromara it was an hour and a half drive south to Navan, County Meath and the chance to visit Lighthouse Community Church. Last time I visited, the church had just moved into their current building and it was pretty much an empty shell. It was so exciting to hear that they are now bursting at the seams with three Sunday services attracting around 400 people every week and a thriving youth ministry. The church had kindly arranged for me to chat with three different people and I was so moved as they shared their stories with such passion and joy.
Pictured: Left to right: Peter Brady, Jessica McGivern and Sam Corcoran.
Peter Brady shares, "When I was in my mid 30s, I was a single guy with lots of money, a house and apparently everything that life had to offer but I felt something was missing! I started searching for something deeper. One of my sisters was a Christian and she had such a peace. I wanted what she had. After one Sunday service, I was challenged by the message about the Tower of Babel... I'd been trying to figure it all out on my own. The preacher challenged me and I gave my heart to the Lord. I felt such a weight lift off my shoulders. Jesus has given me such a sense of gratitude."
Jessica McGivern grew up in a Christian family but really put God to one side in her teens. Then at around 17 everything began to go wrong. " My parents' family business failed, then my dad had a heart attack and my mum was diagnosed with cancer. I thought, if God is real, why did He abandon me? Why did He let bad things happen to my family? Getting back to understanding His love was a long process. He did not abandon me - He walked with me through that time. Now six years later, my mum is cancer free! I'm in awe of Jesus and all that He has done."
Sam Corcoran is the Youth Pastor at Lighthouse Community Church. Two years ago, after serving an internship at the church (where his older brother Jamie is the pastor), Sam was asked to set up a youth ministry on a Friday night. "It was my first time leading a youth group and the first time I had ever attended a youth group!" Sam admits. "We launched the first night and four kids came. But slowly it grew as the young people invited their friends. Now we are hitting around 100 teenagers on a Friday night."
From Navan it was another long drive south to Arklow in County Wicklow (although I love the newly finished stretch of M11 motorway!) where I was set to visit the Bridge Christian Community to hear about their Loaves and Fishes Cafe. I was expecting to discover a church running a coffee shop or something similar. What I discovered blew me away!
In their church building, which is also a community centre, leaders Robert and Helen Holden (right) along with Pauline (left) and Renee (centre) have organised a once-a-week community meal called the Loaves and Fishes Cafe, which now feeds 100 people 52 weeks a year.
Robert shares, "Arklow is a post-industrial town of 13,000 people with high unemployment and massive social need. We had this great facility here with a wonderful kitchen and we started hearing God saying, 'Feed people'. Then on a mission trip to England someone told us they believed one of the local supermarkets were going to supply us with surplus food. I thought that was ridiculous but the following day we came home to find out that through "Food Cloud" we had been offered the surplus from Tescos!"
In a church that had been praying for years about how they could reach their community, suddenly God brought the community through the doors of their centre! Get the next issue of VOX magazine to read the full, inspiring story!
Back up the road to Dublin, my last stop of the day was in Clondalkin where Seamus and Annmarie Kerr have founded Liffey Valley Vineyard. Unfortunately, Annmarie had to go to a funeral but Seamus took time out from making dinner to chat about some of the work this small church is doing across a fast-growing highly-populated area of West Dublin.
From giving out Christmas hampers to Healing on the Streets, the church has become embedded in the local community seeking to "live out" their faith in a real way.
"Recently I've been reading through the gospels again really slowly and the stories have come alive to me in a new way," Seamus shared. "More and more and more, I know that I know that I know that Jesus loves me! I've been walking with Him for so long that it is hard to remember what life was like without Him, but I know that life is fuller and that I always have hope!"
After another 12 hours on the move, it is good to arrive at the home of my VOX colleague Tara Byrne who has kindly agreed to put me up for the night. (Shhh... don't tell her that she won't be getting a thank you card!!)
Did you miss the blog from DAY ONE? Check it out here.