Tuesday, 1 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).
I wake up to the sound of lashing rain - some change from Monday's glorious sunshine and a bit of a disappointment. Packed and ready to go (well stocked with the obligatory "berry" jelly babies). My wonderful hubby kindly sees to tyre pressures, oil and water levels before waving goodbye. I stop off at the Amazing Grace Viewing Point for a few quick pics of my lovely home town (Buncrana) before my marathon roadtrip.
My best laid plans are scuppered by the weather, as I was hoping to show off the beauties of Donegal but most of the journey looked like this...
Thankfully I arrived in Donegal Town on time and I was met with a lovely warm welcome at The Mustard Seed - a new venture from the local Church of Ireland parish. Ven. David Huss and Sandra Ross treated me to a lovely cuppa and a chat before touring this little bungalow that has been transformed into a tearoom, prayer space, bookstall and more. It has become a sanctuary where all sorts of people from the community find a welcome. Parish administrator, Louise, who was one of the driving forces behind The Mustard Seed, joined us after a while and shared how a trip to the barber shop led them to the perfect building!
"We prayed that God would provide and He did," David shared. "People gave sacrificially to make this happen. For our first month's rent, we needed €300. We took up a special collection in church and that raised €250 but on the very day we needed to pay the rent, someone called in with an envelope containing €50!"
It was soon time to climb back behind the wheel and head down into Leitrim - a lovely county that brings a whole new definition to the term "a winding road"! This year is the 125th anniversary of the Girl's Brigade and remarkably, the small town of Manorhamilton is home to the largest Girl's Brigade company in Ireland (100 girls... with a waiting list as well!) Shirley and Maureen are two of the key leaders of this lovely cross-community, mixed ability group. On Saturday, they hosted a special 125th anniversary celebration for Girl's Brigade groups from Donegal, Monaghan, Sligo and Leitrim (232 girls in total!).
"All day, I kept thinking that God did exceedingly, abundantly more than we could ask or even imagine!" said Maureen. And Shirley added, "Over the weekend, there were so many different challenges coming at us but no matter what happened, God provided, even down to the weather. I think God has a sense of humour because we prayed for good weather and it was dry up until the very last child got on the bus... and then it lashed with rain!"
It was a short drive over to Sligo through some stunning scenery but with limited time (and more of that lashing rain) there was no time for photographs. In Sligo, I was greeted by an old friend - Patrick Bamber who rustled me up a much-needed (and very delicious) sandwich for a late lunch. Patrick and Isaac, from the neighbouring parish of Drumcliffe, gave me a quick update about the inspiring partnership between churches of many different denominations in Sligo that overflows into an annual Holy Week outreach and a well attended united prayer meeting - every Saturday!
"The key thing is that we have united around the Gospel and that has enabled us to build quality relationships," Isaac explained. "There is something powerful about meeting together, praying together and hearing each other's hearts."
More torrential rain followed me all the way from Sligo to Westport and I was battling exhaustion by the time I arrived at my most westerly stop of this year's tour. But the sun finally chose to put in an appearance... just long enough for me to enjoy a quick look around the 10th century round tower in the tiny village of Aughergower before my final stop of the day.
I started and ended the day with Amazing Grace - visiting John and Joanne from the Amazing Grace Fellowship (an Elim church) in Westport. Over a welcome cuppa, they introduced me to John Judge who shared his inspiring story as one of the founder members of the church!
Back in the 70s, John remembers reluctantly visiting a little Gospel Hall in Belfast. "The man preached that if you want to get to heaven, it is between you and Jesus. I knew what I had to do but I didn't do it. For two years, the Lord was really convicting me. One day, I was out in the bog, in the middle of nowhere and I decided to follow Jesus. I had this tremendous buzz of joy!" That moment was the start of a journey of "walking with God" that has lasted a lifetime for John.
The final interview done... its time to download photos and finish the blog... a rather late night after a long but inspiring day. Goodnight