Thursday, 3 May
From 1 - 7 May, VOX Editor Ruth Garvey-Williams is travelling around Ireland hunting down stories of faith, life and reality. Follow the blog each day for a "taste" of the stories, meet the people she encounters and experience the highs and lows of the journey! (Of course, the summer issue of VOX will be packed full of these stories and more).
Frowning skies and relentless rain greeted me as I climbed behind the wheel for Day Three's trip though Kerry and Cork. But I was cheered during the first hour's drive by the sight of huge banks of flowering yellow gorse - the only bright spot in a sea of grey - so much so in fact, that I braved the rain for a quick pic!
I was to see banks and banks of these golden-flowering bushes later in the day and it got me to pondering... but more on that later.
First stop was just outside Castleisland, Co. Kerry. Tucked away in a little bungalow, surrounded by forestry, the Reed family have made their home here since 2006. Music teacher, Joel and his wife Cindy from South Carolina, USA and their four children are now Irish citizens.
Joel and Cindy hold weekly Bible studies in their home and invite friends to join them. On one occasion, Joel was teaching violin and had a sudden urge to invite the woman. "This may seem kind of crazy, " he told her "... but would you have any interest in studying the Bible." She looked straight at him and immediately answered, "Yes!" Later she told Joel and Cindy, "I almost fell off my chair when you invited me because for over a year I had been asking God, 'Is there someone who can help me to study the Bible?'"
Chatting about faith and life with Cindy and Joel is such an encouragement but I have to tear myself away for the long drive down to Skibbereen in west Cork. Leaden skies, continuous rain and narrow winding roads make it quite a tough drive so I breathe a sigh of relief when I spot the landmark that means I'm close to Skibbereen Methodist Church. Here I receive the warmest of welcomes from the minister Greg and his wife Shirley, and from church members Gillian, David and Tim.
"We are small in number but God is really blessing us. Folks here have a real hunger for God and for His presence and a heart to see people meet with Jesus," Shirley explained. Greg added, "It is wonderful as a minister to be among people who love Jesus and want to see others come to know Him."
As each person shares, I'm moved by their obvious passion for God. These are ordinary Cork folks but with such a deep love for Jesus.
"I came to know the Lord when everything seemed perfect in my life but I was empty inside," David shares. "Today, if you were an outsider looking at me you might say 'the poor fella, everything has gone wrong'. But even though things turned in a bad direction for me, today I have joy and peace. The presences of the Lord fills me, fascinates me and amazes me. I’m glad I came to the Lord when things were good because it proves the power of God in my life. Through the difficult times - His grace is sufficient!"
It is time to drive on again, this time heading for Cork city and my final appointment of the day. The skies are still grey but the rain has eased a little. As I draw near to the city, the occasional clumps of flowering gorse give way to entire embankments "blazing" with the golden flowers. I ponder the story of the "burning bush"... how an ordinary bush was transformed by the presence of God into something extra-ordinary and I think back to the people I've just met in Skibbereen... just beautiful!
My mileage tops 800kms as I drive into the city and find myself snarled in rush hour traffic. It takes a while but I find a parking space and head for the Clayton Hotel where I meet two inspiring young men. Isaac is a first year student at UCC and Fletcher is now a chaplain at CIT having recently graduated.
"In my job, I'm spending time with people all day long," Fletcher explained. "It is important to find time to be alone with God. I've found that when I'm cycling to work, I can listen to the Bible app and so all day long the Scripture is going through my head. Life changes but the one constant is God."
For Isaac, facing exams brought a lot of anxiety. But the Bible app on his phone, sends him a daily text with the verse for the day. "It's like at 10am every morning I get a message from God!" Isaac says. "And last week, when I was feeling so anxious the verse for the day was Deut 31:8 'The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.'"
Isaac and Fletcher tell me about an amazing project called Feed Cork that is helping people struggling with food poverty. Every Wednesday, Cork Church offers families and individuals a three-day supply of healthy and nutritious food. Last month, they were handing out 200 packages a week!
It's been a long day and I'm conscious of crushing tiredness as I find my B&B and settled in for the evening! I may even be finished blogging in time for an early night... you never know!