Monday, 7 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).
It's the final full day of the 2018 Finding Faith Tour. I had planned to stop in Mullingar - home of Youth for Christ Ireland but National Director, Simon Marriott has been in the North for the bank holiday weekend so we make plans to catch up in Banbridge instead. That leaves my morning free so I stop off in Kells to take look at another ancient site. Kells became home to a monastery complete with round tower and High Crosses when St. Colmcille's monks fled Viking invaders in Iona at the turn of the 9th century (805). This settlement became home to one of Ireland's national treasures - an illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels called the Book of Kells which now resides in Trinity College Dublin.
From Kells, I head north to Banbridge where I meet Simon for lunch. Originally from Northern Ireland, Simon and his wife served for four years in the Czech Republic with YFC. The work in Ireland re-launched in July 2015 when Simon and his family moved to Mullingar.
Since then, the focus of YFCs work in Ireland has been to serve and to work in partnership with other groups such as Alpha, Scripture Union and Innovista. "God is opening doors that we never thought possible. We need to have a posture of humility. God is at work and we are trying to observe what He is doing and get involved," Simon explained.
Opening up a drop in centre called the "Living Room" has been an important step. "These young people are heavy on my heart," Simon said. "They are searching for something and they are looking for deeper conversation. We are trying to model something real. Our heart is that they encounter Jesus but we are not going to force them on that."
So much is happening that time runs away with me and I have to get back on the road again to head into Belfast city. I've been invited to visit the home of Crown Jesus Ministries - and I receive a warm welcome from Lisa who shows me around their amazing facility.
Crown Jesus Ministries runs a weekly "School of Evangelism" - equipping Christians to share their faith in daily life. The team also runs a range of school programmes, an annual Christmas puppet show sharing the true meaning of Christmas and a regular Monday afternoon outreach in Belfast city centre, praying for people and telling them about Jesus.
Lisa, who comes from a professional business background, is thrilled to be part of the team. She tells me how her life was thrown into turmoil when a door closed on a possible promotion at work. The experience was devastating but God had other plans and instead opened the door for her to work with the Crown Jesus team. This has shown Lisa that she can trust God to work everything out for good!
My final stop of the day is at New Life City Church that sits on the dividing gates known as the "peace gates" between the Falls and Shankill communities. On Monday evenings, a ministry known as "Safe Space" provides opportunities for folks to find a warm welcome and a listening ear. Being a bank holiday, very few people were around but I had the privilege of chatting with John and Stuart who regularly volunteer at Safe Space.
John is a former paramilitary who says he was released from jail but it was Jesus who set him free! One night, he woke up and he knew that he needed to go to church the next day to give his life to God. "At the time [when I was in the paramilitaries] I really believed what I was doing was right, but now I know it is wrong," he shares. God transformed John's family and restored his marriage. "I realise that God had a plan for me," he shares.
Stuart beams, "We are living that plan!" Passionate about sharing the good news about Jesus with others, Stuart has also seen transformation within his own family. "I got caught up with drink and drugs like so many others around here and I hadn't seen my kids for three years!" he says. But after friends told him about Jesus, Stuart knew he had to give his life to God. Driving home , he listened to the song, "Take me to Church" and knew that this was the moment he needed to make a choice. The following day, he was listening to another song, "Show me what I'm looking for" which features the line... "Save me, I'm lost!" Encountering Jesus turned Stuart's life upside down (or right way up!) and within six months he was granted access to his children! Now he feels that God's love is enabling him to be a good father!
It is the end of an amazing week... tomorrow morning I will drive home to Donegal but for now... thank you and goodnight!