Wednesday 3 May
It is Day Two of this year's Finding Faith tour and after a punishing (but amazing) first day, it took a lot of caffeine to tide me over the early start... the view didn't hurt!
Thanks to my kind host in the B&B (Leitrim Hill in Kilkeel certainly comes with my recommendation), I was treated to a lovely breakfast of yoghurt, fruit & homemade soda bread... that combined with the coffee seemed to do the trick and I was on the road again, travelling south in time for my 9.30 meeting in Drogheda.
Chatting to Elaine Marrett, one of the pastors from Solid Rock Church in Drogheda was so inspiring. Her personal story will have to wait for the next issue of VOX (don't miss it!) but one beautiful incident stood out for me. As a young girl in church, Elaine vividly remembers one of the older ladies, called Olive. More recently, Elaine had a dream about Olive and wondered whether she was still alive.
Tracking Olive down to a nursing home, Elaine bought a bunch and flowers and went to visit. Now in her 90s, Olive has no family left to visit her. She started to cry when Elaine arrived. "The Lord heard my prayers," she said. Now Elaine visits several times a year and even organised a birthday party for Olive!
From Drogheda, I head south to Donabate in County Dublin - a fairly short drive down the M1 with the only excitement being finding the address at the other end. Here I'm joined by Chloe Hanan from Agape (yay!) who is my travelling companion for parts of this year's tour.
We are meeting folks from Donabate Presbyterian Church - the newest Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Ireland (launched just seven years ago). And we are totally blown away by their stories!
First up is Roseann Woods, one-time resident of the Magdalene Laundry in Drumcondra who "escaped" to get married aged 17. Her story is harrowing and hilarious by turns as she shares her journey to finding faith.
Roseann (now 60) recalls that five years ago she was walking down the street and thinking back over her life. "I thought I would like to be a saint, but you have to be dead to be a saint! Or an angel, but you have to be dead to be an angel. And then suddenly a voice out of nowhere said, 'Go and buy a Bible.' So I bought a big, red Bible - a real beauty and even on the train home I was hugging it to my chest."
Danielle (28) describes herself as the "deep thinker" of her family. Growing up she loved reading her picture book Bible. As a 15 year old, Danielle was sexually assaulted and her life spiralled out of control. Self-harming and suicidal, she got into a "party" lifestyle. She attributes falling pregnant at 18 with saving her life. "I don't think I would be here without my son, Joshua. Having him gave me the motivation to sort my life out."
And it was when Joshua attended a children's holiday camp with the church in Donabate that Danielle decided to go along to the church. "I can’t remember what the service was about. I felt the hole I had felt for so long that I had filled with so much “crap” was suddenly filled. I was laughing and crying at the same time."
Josh, who works alongside Rev. Andy Carroll at Donabate Presbyterian Church, comes from a very different background. Growing up in Bangor with Christian parents, he remembers writing in his Bible that he had decided to follow Jesus when he was just six years old!
During his teenage years, Josh wandered away from God but a turning point came when a friend invited him to an event at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast. "A guy told the story of the two lost sons and God was speaking to me and saying, 'Come home to me.' Today, I honestly don't know how I would function without Jesus in my life!"
From Donate, we travel over to Lucan where we meet up with Matthew and Karen Huber (with a brief but much-needed stop for lunch en route). As many of you know, Karen is our VOX magazine online columnist. Originally from Kansas, USA, Karen and Matt have been working in Ireland with Greater Europe Mission (GEM).
Matt, who works with the arts community in Dublin recently created a Lent Labyrinth exploring how people could "give up" or let go of burdens that were weighing them down (e.g. anxiety, fear, etc.) Collaborating with a number of artists, the experience brought people on a journey to a central prayer room where they could meditate on the question, "What would you leave on the tree to be free?"
A quick dash back up the M50 and we were able to connect with Pastor John Eniola at The Compassion Centre in Ballymun. Pastor John from Nigeria was brought up and mentored by Irish missionaries. When the opportunity arose to come to Ireland, he jumped at the chance to come to "God's own country". Waiting for a visa for himself and his five children, John knew he needed a miracle. He recalls getting down on his knees and making a vow to God, "If you grant us the visa, I will do whatever you want me to do in that country."
The miracle happened and through a series of events, John ended up pastoring a church in Cavan and then later setting up the multi-national Hill City Church in Ballymun.
Road trips sound glamorous until you encounter M50 traffic at then end of a long day! But eventually I made it to Bray in County Wicklow and had time for a quick stroll on a beautiful sunny evening before connecting with Colleen from Bray Methodist Church.
Colleen has launched a lovely ministry in her church called "SonShine Kids". Every Friday, pre-school children and their parents come along for an interactive time of Bible stories, arts and crafts, songs and snacks. "We've been really proud of this group and people are coming along. One of the mums said she likes it because the parents and the kids are active together!" The group, which has been going for a year, even helped to raise funds for a Fields of Life well project in Uganda!
With painfully slow internet, my best-laid plans for an early night were scuppered... but it has been a good day! Oíche mhaith!