Sunday 8 May: Ennis to Mullingar (via Galway, Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo and Athlone Co Meath)
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...
It was wonderful to enjoy breakfast and a chat with my host - Kathy Locke - before climbing behind the wheel once again. American-born Kathy, whose mother was originally from Kilkee, has spent several decades working alongside local churches in Ireland and now feels she has come "home" to County Clare.
The drive to Galway was a dream - a straight run on an empty motorway followed by a lovely drive through the Galway countryside. After a slight disagreement with my phone's GPS, I eventually tracked down the Business Park where TREM House of Mercy has their Galway church. This African denomination has a number of churches around Ireland. I was overwhelmed by the warm welcome I received from Pastor Chuka, his wife Pastor Blessing and the rest of the congregation.
There was a tremendous sense of joy throughout the worship and communion service. Many of the children and young people took part - playing instruments, singing in the choir and dancing, as well as playing practical roles. Pastor Chuka spoke powerfully on the theme of “Promises” reminding us, “Our faith is based on the promises of God but our faith is not on the promise. Our faith is in God Himself. The more we know Him, the more we trust Him. Sometimes we don’t rely on God’s promises because we don’t know Him, we haven’t spent time with Him.”
I head north again, encouraged by a glimpse into one of the many churches in Ireland that have been established by people who come from other parts of the world and make this island their home.
My afternoon stop is in the heart of the County Mayo countryside where John and Amanda Izzard have made their home. A train driver for 22 years, John is a railway enthusiast who loves to build model railways. He has created a portable miniature railway track that he takes to Sunday Schools and children’s camps and uses as an illustration for Biblical truths and Bible stories. John, who came to faith through the Alpha course in 2008, has set up the Gospel Railway Mission.
It is a lovely afternoon and after waving goodbye to John and Amanda, I have a pleasant hour and a half’s drive through County Roscommon to Athlone - just across the border in Westmeath.
With a few minutes to spare, I enjoy a short wander along the River Shannon before returning to the aptly named River of Life Church, which is on Hope Street (really!!) in Athlone.
Pastor Trevor Hill has been in Athlone for 19 years. He shows me around the converted warehouse, which has been converted into a church building and is now home to a congregation of around 80 to 100 people. Building God's kingdom means being in it for the long haul, Trevor says. "It just takes time to build people’s trust. You have to earn the right to share your faith. I found that I learnt all the answers to all the questions that nobody was asking. You can give people the "right" answers but they will still walk away. Friendships take time. Trust takes time. There are no quick fixes."
Tony Broderick is Athlone born and bred. He shares his story with me over a cup of tea. "I came to know the Lord through the charismatic renewal meetings in the 1970s," he shares. "A lady I knew kept inviting me to come. I noticed that she had really changed. She was so full of joy. Eventually I went along and although at first I thought it was a bit weird, I found myself going back.
"Eventually I prayed, 'Lord if you really are there, then I want to know you. But you better hit me with a sledgehammer. I don’t want any messing.' In that instant I was hit with such liquid love. I was bowled over with the love of Jesus. My life was completely transformed!"
It is late as I drive north west to Mullingar and the darkening sky is split by lighting flashes as I near my destination - the home of Emma Lynch who works with Tearfund Ireland. A warm welcome awaits and I'm soon blogging away - albeit rather slowly with a combination of slow internet and a slow mind after six days on the road!
Missed Day Five? Read it here.