February 16, 2009

Northern Ireland Re-Cap

"Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithful-
ness." -Psalm 115:1

Before I begin telling you a little about my experience on a missions trip in Northern Ireland, I'd like to apologize for not doing this sooner. It's difficult to fully process trips like these until weeks afterward. I never felt right about writing something out until now. Also, for those of you who were praying for us and/or supported us financially, I cannot thank you enough. You had as big of a part in this trip as any of us on the team did. This would not have been possible without you, and I mean that with everything in me. I thank God for family and friends like you.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, we were in Northern Ireland all of January working with a ministry called Project Evangelism. The people at the ministry were incredible servants of Christ. They brought so much joy and passion to their work, and it was very contagious. We stayed in a beautiful house called the Murlough House, out of which the ministry works and the short-term missions teams stay. It was about a 2-minute walk from the beach, so in those times we had for our personal devotions many would go down to the beach and experience God's beauty in nature.

A typical day for the team would look like this... In the morning we would each have specific jobs to do around the house to keep it clean and looking nice. We'd then have a teaching time with John Moxen, who preached the Word with a fire that I haven't seen in many people. After that we'd have time for personal devo's, lunch, and a team meeting. By the afternoon we were breaking into 3 teams (work project team, community team that handed out gifts like Operation Christmas Child, and a kids' club/VBS team). After our ministry times we would head back to the Murlough House for "tea" (dinner) and have about an hour before we all headed to the "drop-in center" to hang out with teens from Dundrum and present the Gospel in different ways every night. This was basically the same schedule from Monday-Friday every week.

I want to tell you a couple significant stories that happened to me. The first was at the kids' club. I had the responsibility of teaching everyday. The kids' club experience humbled me everyday and made me realize more and more why Jesus used a child to show the disciples how they must have faith to inherit the kingdom. I taught stories about creation, the Fall, Jesus’ ministry, and the crucifixion and resurrection. They received and listened to these stories as if they had never heard them before. (I’m constantly amazed at how much religion exists in this country, but not many of the people have experienced faith. It’s almost more academic or unemotional than anything else). I will never forget what happened that day. I was teaching the kids about Jesus’ life and ministry by using 2 stories, one about him healing a paralyzed man by the pool and the other about the religious leaders wanting to stone the adulterer. I really emphasized his love for us and how he wants a relationship with us, not a religion.

As I was finishing, Connor raised his hand and asked, “Why did Jesus have to come and die for all of us if it was just Adam and Eve who started the sinning?” Amazed, I took a step back, looked at the other leaders, and explained to him how we all sin now and we all need forgiveness after Adam and Eve started the trend of sinning. That led another kid to ask a great, deep question. And then another. And then another. Before I knew it the kids had been asking deep, incredible questions for a good 15 minutes after the teaching!!! We talked about how God created the Bible, how Jesus wants an intimate father/son or father/daughter relationship with us, how we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and much more.
At the end, Connor raised his hand again and asked, “How do we get the Bible?” Confused, I asked him if he was wondering how they created the Bible. He said, “No, how can I get one? How much does it cost?” Instantly all of the other kids raised their hands and said that they wanted a Bible too! I almost started tearing up as I looked at the other leaders in disbelief. This country is rampant with religion but the kids had no idea what the Bible really was, how to read it, or how to get one. I wasn't sure what to tell him about the practical steps of getting a Bible there, but I told him I would make sure they got Bibles. Later that night we got Bibles from Richie at Project Evangelism and personally wrote in the cover for each kid that wanted a Bible. We underlined and wrote out special verses and gave them encouragement about how to read the Bible. The day we brought the Bibles to them looked like Christmas morning. I have never seen such excitement to hold the Bible before. They all began reading them and asked others to read it to them if they couldn't read it themselves. Later that day I overheard two 8-year-old little girls trying to figure out how they could have a sleepover together that night so the girl who was able to read could read the Bible to the other one! I couldn't believe what I was hearing. God was moving among these little kids. It definitely wasn't something we did... the Holy Spirit was ready to come upon these hungry children who wanted the Gospel. "Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory because of your love and faithfulness..."

Later the next week one of the kids named Rhyss asked a great question about how we can actually get eternal life. We were very adamant about not asking for any group conversions (having the kids raise their hands with eyes closed if they wanted to accept Christ), so we told them that they could always talk to us after the teaching about what it means to have a personal relationship with Christ and how they can have that too. In no way do we define our trip based on numbers, so please do not confuse my motives in telling you that 5 kids individually came to leaders and received Christ into their lives during our weeks with them. It's just to show you the power of God in every situation. Rhyss was one of those that gave his life to Christ, as well as Connor. "Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory because of your love and faithfulness."

The last story I want to tell you happened with the teens at the drop in center. I had a great conversation with a great guy named Chris after I shared my testimony. We told the kids that we wanted them to write out any questions they had about Christianity so we could have a Q&A question the next night. Doug was walking around passing out slips of paper as I was standing next to Chris. When asked if he had questions, he said that he honestly didn’t have any questions. I told him that maybe he should be the one to answer everyone else’s questions then. He looked at me with a smile and said, “Go ahead, ask me any question.” So that’s exactly what I did. I asked him – how do you know if there’s a God? He thought about it for a second and said, “There wouldn’t be anything here or around us if there wasn’t a God.” I was pretty amazed at his answer and we talked about the idea of creation and how everything has a Creator. Then I asked him – how do you know that Jesus was the Son of God? He said he’d have to think about that for a second, but then he gave another great answer. We talked about the resurrection and how that is really the crucial point. If the resurrection never happened, Jesus couldn’t have been who he said he was. We talked about that for a while. Then I asked – why is there so much pain and suffering in the world if there is a God who can stop it? He gave yet another great answer that people make bad choices because of free will and inflict pain on others. I was so amazed at his perfect answers. He knew apologetics better than any other high school kid I’ve talked to. So then I looked at him and told him that he knew the stuff really well and he understood about faith better than most I’ve met. We talked about the reality of heaven and hell for a while, and I could tell how much he believed in all of it. I told him plainly, “Look, it’s obvious you know this faith stuff really well. You get it. You get it better than most kids your age. So have you made the personal decision to follow Christ and commit your life to Him?” He said that he had not made that decision, and I asked why not. He said he didn’t know, and that he just couldn’t do it yet. I was torn to pieces on the inside as I watched how close he was to making a personal faith decision. I asked him that if in the worst-case scenario he walked home that night and got hit by a car and died, how he would spend eternity. He didn’t know how to answer and I could tell he was really thinking. I found out later from Steve that his brother had been hit by a car earlier in the year and had been in-and-out of school, so this was apparently something that hit close to Chris’ heart.

I am confident that God is still working on his heart and I really want to keep him in my prayers. He's right there, at the line, ready to step across, but something is holding him back. At times I wish I could just give him a gentle nudge towards making the decision, but God reminded me a lot that I needed to be patient and allow God to do what He does best. I'm not the one bringing him salvation; it's Christ alone that can do that. I'm just an agent that God sent to continue a conversation with Chris that will keep going whether I see him ever again or not. I trust God fully in his situation, and I will keep praying for Chris to make that final decision. "Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory because of your love and faithfulness."

There are so many more stories I could tell. But these were the ones that really stuck out to me. If you want to know more please don't hesitate to e-mail me or ask me about it. Thank you all again for your support and care. And to my team, if you're reading this, I love you guys.