Wednesday 1 May
From 1 - 8 May, VOX magazine editor Ruth Garvey-Williams is travelling all over Ireland, hunting down stories of faith, life and reality. As she zig-zags her way across the country, her daily blogs will capture a few highlights with stories of the inspirational people she meets and some of her adventures along the way. During this epic road trip, Ruth is counting the number of election posters she passes (highlighting plastic waste) - and VOX magazine is running a competition to see who can guess the number (post your guess on the VOX social media pages or email firstname.lastname@example.org for your chance to win the prize!)
Day One: Buncrana, Co. Donegal to Cavan via Fahan, Coleraine, Greenisland, Armagh & Kilnaleck
I set out on the seventh Finding Faith Tour with excitement and anticipation combined with some apprehension (the tour can be pretty exhausting). As the first stop was our neighbouring village of Fahan, I decided to call in the night before. It was such a special moment to drive into Fahan and see a rainbow stretched across the evening sky - what a lovely reminder at the start of Finding Faith 2019.
Fahan, Co Donegal
The congregation in Fahan Presbyterian Church in rural Donegal, just a few miles from the Northern Irish border, is celebrating the church’s 300th anniversary this year. Their’s was the very first invitation I received for the 2019 tour. I was delighted to sit down with a wonderful group of men to hear what has been happening during their special year of celebration. It is soon obvious that the verse the church has chosen is extremely important - they are filled with gratitude at three centuries of God’s faithfulness to their close-knit farming community.
“Not to us, LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” Psalm 115:1
We ended up chatting for over two hours and it is wonderful to hear how faith in Jesus has been so central to the lives of these two sets of brothers
David shared how he sees farming as the job that God has given him to do, “It is His farm. I seek to honour Him. Each morning I pray ‘Good morning Heavenly Father, good morning Lord Jesus, good morning Holy Spirit. Help me to live for you today. Help me to make good decisions and to show something of the love of Jesus to people I meet.’”
Trevor describes the life-changing time when, out of the blue, he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. He had always been healthy but this serious health scare was a wake up call. “I knew that God wanted me to share the good news with others. We have the best news in the world and sometimes we live as if it is a secret!”
Ivan shared his sense of privilege and gratitude to have grown up in a church where there were so many leaders who set a a godly example. “Especially as an elder, I look back on the role models who went before me and their character.”
James never ceases to be amazed at God’s creation. “I watch David Attenborough programmes and I say, ‘Wow!’ When you hear about the vast distances in space - it will be great to get to heaven and discover how God did that!”
After several hours sharing stories, we ended the evening praying together - a precious time!
After not quite as much sleep as I might have hoped, Wednesday morning dawned sunny and bright - it was a glorious day! I set off for Coleraine with a full mug of coffee and a sense of expectation.
Dave Kelly, Coleraine, Co Derry
When his wife bought him tickets to see a Jonny Cash tribute as a Christmas present, Dave Kelly wasn’t so sure. But he was blown away by the show and suddenly had the crazy idea for the “Sinner to Saint” show using Jonny Cash songs and sharing his faith story.
Growing up with an alcoholic father and then being the victim of abuse as a young boy, Dave was desperate. After seeing the difference God had made in the lives of some people he knew, Dave cried out to God but he soon drifted away again and ended up at rock bottom.
“At that point there was only one open door. God has been re-building my life ever since,” Dave shares. “Jesus is my rescuer. I feel like He’s given me double for my trouble!”
Dave is now travelling all over Ireland with his Jonny Cash show. Find out more on his website: www.david-kelly.org. Here’s a little taste of his music!
Jacqueline Robb - Greenisland, Carrickfergus, Co Antrim
From Coleraine, I head south east into Antrim and soon meet up with Jacqueline Robb. This remarkable woman heads up Christians Against Poverty (CAP) in Greenisland, near Carrickfergus. Every day, she is helping to transform the lives of people who are caught in a vicious cycle of poverty and debt. I’m brought to tears as I hear Jacqueline’s story and the transformation that has taken place in her life.
Growing up under the shadow of domestic violence and sexual abuse, Jacqueline turned to alcohol to numb the pain. Eventually she found herself in an abusive marriage and drinking just to survive. Contemplating suicide, one night she fell on her knees (“I was too drunk to stand up anyway.”) and cried out, “God help me.” Today, Jacqueline and her team help hundreds of people who are struggling with unmanageable debt!
Ballyards Castle, Co Antrim
Climbing behind the wheel again for the next leg of the journey, I’m starting to feel the tiredness. A much-needed lunch break gives me new energy as I head south west to Armagh where I’m to meet with Neil Dawson at Ballyards Castle. This beautiful old building is home to Drop Inn Centre Ministries - a chain of charity shops which support projects all over the world - but it has also become a centre for prayer and retreat. Neil shows me around and takes me to see the snail farm run by local church member, Lukas, from Poland. Using some old greenhouses in the castle grounds, Lukas has developed a social enterprise breeding snails and selling them as reptile food with some of the proceeds going to support Drop Inn projects around the world. I was fascinated to see the tiny baby snails!
Neil and I chat about “going deeper” with God and Neil’s journey to understand more of his identity in Christ. Studying John 15 (where Jesus says, “I no longer call you servants… instead I call you friends” has been pivotal for Neil in recent months. It has been a lovely afternoon but the road is calling and I head south again through County Armagh and County Monaghan.
In the late afternoon sunshine, I travel along rollercoaster roads winding between velvet fields of such vivid green you would think the colour saturation had been turned up several notches. I’m into Monaghan without noticing and enjoy the quirky yet comfortingly familiar moment when the traffic is delayed by a tractor parallel parking in Main Street, Ballybay!
Kilnaleck, Co Cavan
I cross into County Cavan, passing low hills draped in golden gorse, as if ablaze in the early evening sun and arrive at my final stop for the day. Rev. Simon Scott has invited me to visit his churches in a small rural parish. Ancient beech trees line an impressive driveway up to the Rectory where I’m greeted by two (very) enthusiastic dogs. I’m inspired by Simon’s positive attitude as he chats about faith in rural Ireland.
“You pop into a hay shed and pile some bales while chatting about the grass and the weather and in that language people begin to talk about faith. You read the fragments of faith being described in between the realities of the farm.”
There are many exciting plans for the future so we chat on until suddenly a group of parishioners arrive for the Wednesday evening Bible Study. Conscious of the blog still waiting, I’m preparing to leave, but I stop long enough to share a precious moment with the group.
Together they share what Jesus means in their lives:
Gwen: “He is my friend.”
Patricia: “Jesus is peace and contentment. He gets you through the day and He’s always there, even in the down times.”
Ian: “He is someone to talk to when everyone else ignores you. It is great to have a refuge!”
Reg: “He is ever-present.”
Kerry (not pictured):“He knows your deepest secrets.”
Ian: “… and He doesn’t gossip.”
I get up to leave, encouraged and inspired by these profound expressions of faith. And so the sun goes down on day one as I return to my hotel room. Although it is after midnight by the time I finish the blog, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for the encounters I’ve experienced. And so to bed!