Monday, July 25, 2011

Norn Iron 2011

Patrick and I spent last week serving in Northern Ireland. Our team consisted of 31 high school students, 10 adult volunteers, and 4 youth staff (including Patrick). Our team was split between two different churches and we were able to eat our lunches and dinners together. It is hard to put the whole experience into words, but I am going to try.  

Our mornings were dedicated to running a kids summer scheme (their VBS). For two hours each day we led children ages 3-12 in worship, teaching, craft projects, and games. Many of these children do not attend church on a regular basis. The most the church had ever had attend during one of these programs was 60 and that was apparently a one-time thing last summer. Well, our first day we had 85 "wee ones". We ran out of craft projects and had to reorganize that evening to make sure that we were working as efficiently as possible. We realized that we needed our students to each take on several kids as an individual. This meant two of our team members couldn't hang out with one kid. We needed them to  instead try and focus on several kids at one time. I was so impressed by how they rose to the occasion.

Following lunch each day we were spit into even smaller groups to serve on various work sites. I had a team of 5-7 students each day and we spent time fixing up a home belonging to a single mother with a history of abuse from her former partner. Obviously this was the type of work that I felt most at home doing. I have a little experience with painting:). I think many of us were surprised to find how these work projects opened up opportunities to share the Gospel. I don't think a day went by that I wasn't asked, "Why are you painting my friends house?". The idea that someone would pay money to fly thousands of miles to paint a home was difficult for people to wrap their minds around. They thought we were, as one girl put it, "mad". She meant it in a crazy sort of way. To an unbeliever, the work we were doing did look pretty crazy I guess.

Lizzy and I stripping wallpaper in Zoe's room.
After a quick cleanup and dinner, we were bussed back to our church for our evening teen meetings. This was probably the part of our trip that we were least prepared for and yet the part where we saw God do the most incredible work. I think we saw about 60 students throughout the week and probably averaged around 50 each night. I would say that 15-20 of these kids were what we would call street kids. The N. Ireland teens had many different names for them. We heard one girl refer to them as chaffs. That comment hit me hard because I felt that it reflects a belief that those kids had been given up on. They were looked at as unreachable as though they had already been separated from the wheat and now ready for judgment. 

Our first meeting was extremely difficult. The N. Ireland teens that wanted to worship wouldn't because they were being made fun of by the street kids. I even struggled to worship and maintain focus. I knew that if I was struggling that much that our students must be too. One of the staff from the church had to eventually kick the disruptive kids out of our meeting due to their loud laughing and carrying on. I was shocked by their complete disrespect for authority. I had to also fight my sin which wanted to turn around and give them a piece of my mind.

When the meeting concluded I went to the church kitchen to wash some dishes. While standing at the sink I could see the teens that had been kicked out standing around rolling cigarettes. One of the boys noticed me and ran up to the window to make crude gestures at me. I felt the anger building up inside me. Who did these kids think they were? Thankfully, God gave me the grace to walk out of the kitchen and ignore the boy. Then my heart began to ache. I stood there looking around the room. The meeting had just finished and so all of our students were still standing inside talking to the "good" kids. I was reminded of the following passage in Mark.

When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the "sinners" and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
- Mark 2:16-17

It was then that I realized that God wanted me outside with those rough street kids. I made my way to the front of the church as I prayed that God would give me strength. As I did so I remember feeling a peace wash over me as I recognized that God was all that I needed and his heart towards me was all that mattered. Those kids could spit in my face and flick me off all they wanted, but it didn't really matter. My worth comes from a God so much bigger and more powerful than they can imagine. Then I remember feeling a presence to my right. As I looked over my shoulder, I saw three of our students taking stride next to me. I don't even know if they realize the encouragement that I felt in that moment or if they even meant to follow me. As I sit here writing this, I still gets tears in my eyes thinking about it. God used them to encourage my heart right when I needed it.

Tami and Danielle
As the week went on I was continually encouraged to see our students extend grace to those rough kids- even when two of my discipleship group girls were called 'fat bitches' by one of the N. Ireland girls. I witnessed them return to spend time with that girl the following night. I pray that their love impacted her and will soften her heart. I pray that everyone who heard the Gospel this week will come to a saving, life-changing belief in Christ. 

Many seeds were scattered and I pray that they have safely reached good soil. I feel like I talked to so many who were honest in saying that they aren't Christians, but feel that they could be one day. I pray that day comes now. I can't understand why one would wait to accept such love.

Me and the hubby
On our last full day in N. Ireland we got to do some sightseeing. We went to the rope bridge and Giant's Causeway. It was also the most beautiful day of the whole trip- sunshine and relatively warm weather compared to the rest of the week which was cold and dreary.

D-group girls who were on the trip.
Unfortunately I didn't get many pictures from during the week. We were so stinking busy that I didn't even really think about it. Plus they have some pretty intense rules about taking pictures with little kids. You are only allowed if their parents give consent when they register. I wasn't sure who had given their consent so I didn't bother taking pictures.

I wish I could go back and spend more time there. Everyone (well, excluding the difficult teens) was so nice. Loading up on the bus to go to the airport was a humbling experience for me. I kept thinking of how unworthy I am to have been able to serve on such a trip. I kept thinking of the people who gave money so that I could go. On each of the planes home I continued to reflect on the trip and was reminded of how beautiful the body of Christ is. I wish to extend a huge thank you to everyone who made the trip possible for me and my friends. I was even thinking of people at work who swapped shifts with me. Each of you took part in this trip whether you realize it or not. Thank you for allowing God to use you in such an awesome way.

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