Friday 5 May
Breakfast with my hosts - James and Joanie Reilly in Naas was a great start to the day. Hearing their story and listening to their wisdom as they reflect on some of the challenges for churches (mental health, leadership, unity...) was such a privilege.
From Naas, I head south to Kilkenny where I meet up with Chloe again and together we chat with Eileen. This incredible lady, now in her 70s, has such an amazing story and we feel awe-struck just listening to her.
Getting married to a farmer, having three children and a beautiful home, everything seemed perfect for Eileen until her husband became ill with Motor Neurone Disease. In 1984, their 11-year-old son died and soon after Eileen's husband died. The house and farm had to be sold to cover debts and Eileen was left heartbroken and devastated.
For a long time, Eileen was angry at God, blaming him for taking everything from her but attending an Alpha course in her parish changed all that. "I heard three words - God loves me. They were ringing in my ears. I learned about a God who was alive and I was so hungry to find him."
Eileen began a journey that was to completely transform her life. "The joy that you see is not that I don’t have trials and suffering, like everybody but it is because the Lord is on my side. I love the story of Job - he lost everything, like me. I can say the same as him, I know that my redeemer lives. All I want to do is to get to know him and the power of his resurrection."
Eileen is active in her parish as a reader and loves to help other people who have suffered. She worked with the Samaritans for many years and still loves to draw alongside people who are going through tough times.
After a lovely lunch with Chloe, she heads back up to Dublin. Another drive brings me to Waterford, where I meet up with Methodist minister, the Rev. Sahr Yambasu. Originally from Sierra Leone, Sahr met and married his Irish wife while he was studying at Queen's university but he never expected to be living and ministering here. The civil war in Sierra Leone meant the family had to move back to Ireland to live.
Sahr's background gives him a unique perspective and he is active in supporting migrants in Waterford and helping people to integrate into Irish society. "We set up a Sanctuary movement here - working with community groups and civil authorities to create a society of acceptance, welcome and support to those who are coming from outside and to any group that feels marginalised."
It is a two-hour drive from Waterford to Cork city but it is a scenic route, especially with the early evening sunshine. I could not believe how many tractors I encountered (more in Day Four than in days one to three combined!) - there is a prize for the person who can correctly guess how many tractors I will spot on the tour so post your guess on Facebook or in the comments below.
In Blarney, I head to the home of Tim and Theresa Cronin who treat me to a lovely home-cooked meal before a whole group of local believers gather. Sitting around the table with tea and buns, we chat late into the evening about faith and life.
Many of these folks have found that their faith has come alive through participating in the Alpha course. Folks from the Catholic and Church of Ireland churches meet weekly in a Growth Group, to study the Bible, encourage one another and worship together.
This group has given birth to a whole range of initiatives locally that are making a huge difference to the parishes.
"People are willing to step up and step out and because we are doing it together, nobody is burnt out or worn out." - Theresa explained.
"Because we are in such a wonderful community, we are growing and deepening our relationship with God but also encouraging one another to hear God's call for our lives."
It is almost 11pm before I tear myself away from the time of fellowship and sharing and I soon realise finishing the blog before bed is not going to be possible. Instead, I'm up early this morning (Saturday) with a coffee in hand, reflecting back on the privilege of seeing what God is doing in and through the lives of so many people in Ireland. Wow!