So we left the brilliant city of Galway this morning. We had a great time last night talking to two girls Naomi and Alice who are both living in Galway, working for a church and studying respectively. It was great to hear their hearts for God and their desires to represent Jesus to the people of Galway. We felt it was a real significant conversation and are praying that God continues to use these guys as they seek to find ways of building the kingdom in this city.
We left about 10 this morning and headed to Athlone. On our way we visited Clonmacnoise, a ancient Celtic Monastery. I have wanted to visit this place for a long time and I was not disappointed!! The monastic settlement was planted by Saint Kevin (who apparently had a vision of a tree that grew large, where the birds came and found refuge) in the centre of Ireland. It became a place of deep spirituality, learning, community and mission. Many people from Europe visited this place to learn and study literature and the arts and today many people make their pilgrimages to this place. I know I am a geek but I am absolutely fascinated by these monastic settlements. While they are places that now are dead they seem to attract so many people because at one point they were centre of life. A place where people shared life together in a community rooted in a deep spirituality and passionate faith. This spirituality was characterised by great freedom and openness to the Spirit which resulted in wonderful creative forms of worship, hunger for learning and a launch pad for mission. I spent half an hour sitting contemplating this centres of life and spiritual activity wondering what they should look like now in the 21st century and being inspired by the saints of old who surrendered their lives to the call of God and to the Wind of his Spirit. I am still processing my reflections and no doubt they will appear on another blog sometime soon!!
We moved on into Athlone around lunch time and met there with a guy called Trevor Hill who with his wife Diane have been planting a church in Athlone for the last 11 years via a few years in Galway serving and being trained in Galway Christian Fellowship (where the church in Athlone was birthed out of). It was great to connect with Trevor and one of the elders of his church. Again we were challenged by the fact that this was a couple who had left everything they had and come down to give their lives to what they are doing. We could see in them a heart for the people they are trying to share Jesus with. We could see compassion and love in them for the people of this Island and a down-to-earth nature that we have found to be important in seeking to win the favour and respect of the people. For example Trevor’s work servicing vending machines and his social networking though playing golf gave him a growing sense of favour and respect amongst the people. Trevor reminded us of the openness of the Catholic people to the supernatural and the mysterious and therefore a willingness to connect with God. Trevor and Diane are seeking to plant small communities/churches in 7 of the surrounding predominantly rural towns of Athlone, where there is little or no church presence..e.g. Roscommon, Ballinasloe, Longford. They have called this project Impact Ireland. It was great to see this kind of vision here and while the work may at times look pretty slow it is so amazing to see people prepared to build God’s kingdom in areas where there is little or no resource. As I sit and listen to these people around the South of Ireland, something inside of me jars at the fact that we have so many talented, gifted and passionate people in such small concentrated areas in the north, while these people struggle for help. E.g. In my church we have at least ten really good worship leaders who we are trying to fit onto a rota once every two months when there are churches down here crying out for help.
We then moved onto a little village called Lecarrow about a 20 minute drive North from Athlone and met up with Graeme Wylie and his family. Graeme and his wife Fran helped plant Galway Christian Fellowship over the last twenty years and have overseen the church plant in Athlone and now the project Impact Ireland. Graeme is a great man, with an apostolic role in the church, who has a wealth of experience and knowledge in the South of Ireland and it was great to glean from him concerning the people and the church here. They like most people we have met up with have showed us amazing hospitality and love.
From here it was then a two hour drive to Enniskillen and on arrival we were met with the kindness of Joshua Jones who had our dinner ready for us when we arrived around 8pm. Joshua is a great guy working for YFC in Enniskilen. Joshua, originally from America is a great guy who has been involved in church planting over Europe and spent 5 years in Marseille previous to coming to Ireland. He is a gifted guy with a heart for young people and a desire to see churches planted over the country. He brought us down to the YFC centre in Enniskillen where they were preparing for Mannafest tomorrow (Friday) night and after it a night of prayer. We spent sometime praying with the guys down here for Mannafest and that God would work in the lives of the people, particularly the young, in Fermanagh.
One of the things that we are finding is most evident on our trip is the severe imbalance of resources between the north and the south. There are so many kingdom minded people down here, giving their lives to sharing the love of Jesus with people, but they need help – not the kind of help that is arrogant and pompous in its approach but the kind of servant-hearted, humble way of recognising and connecting with what Jesus is doing by His Spirit and joining in with it. There are beautiful forms of His kingdom here……