12 Unforgettable Moments from Ireland

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s already time to leave Ireland! The past three weeks have flown by… Here are twelve moments that I will never forget from the time we spent here:

12. Praying together nearly anywhere and everywhere. Here a group of us are praying on the top of Bray Hill on our last day in the country:

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11. Being taught how to fish from a local Irish fisherman:

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10. Driving through the Wicklow mountains, including Glen-da-lock and Sally Gap. Ireland really does have 10,000 shades of green:P1000648

9. Dozens of amazing conversations while distributing pamphlets with scripture throughout the country. The past few weeks, our teams passed out more than 30,000 pamphlets and hundreds of magazines. It’s been encouraging to see people respond to this literature already! Here Charlie and I are standing with a woman that we met on the streets of Dublin that we bought groceries for:P1000587

8. Listening to my favorite band (Needtobreathe) play in a small underground concert venue in Dublin:

7. Early-morning runs with Katy on the seacoast of Ireland. I’m convinced that there’s no better way to start the day than a good run:P1000536

6. Waking up on the beach on the coast of Ireland, then taking a morning swim in the waves. Pretty much the best day ever:

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5. Seeing the transformation of the property after many hours of sweeping, weeding, and spiffying up. Here is Team Doulos in our work attire:

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4. Getting the chance to hang out with young traveler children, and teaching them a bible lesson on David and Goliath: Snapshot 1 (7-29-2012 5-39 PM)

3. While driving down the highway, pulling over to investigate an old caravan, then being offered a ride in a horse-drawn buggy down an old Irish road:

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2. Hiking up the side of the Cliffs of Moher, which is seriously one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. Day in and day out, God’s creation continues to awe me. I’ve decided that the Cliffs of Moher should be one of the seven wonders of the world:

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1. Playing worship music in the flat of Dublin one afternoon and seeing the atmosphere literally transform before our eyes – five women gave their lives to following Jesus! Read more about this story on my blog post hereP1000774

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Ireland: Prayer Points

I’ve had the opportunity to converse with dozens of people the past few weeks here in Ireland. After introducing myself and small talk, this question would almost always come up:

“Are you on holiday?”

I quickly learned that being “on holiday” is the Irish’s way of saying “vacation.” Usually I responded with something like: “No, actually I’m with a group of people on the World Race, serving with churches and ministries in 11 countries in 11 months…”

And then in the vast majority of all the conversations, the next question would be, “So are you Catholic or are you Christian?”

As I began to learn about the history of Ireland and the church here, I realized how deeply significant this question is, and points to how we can be praying for this nation.

For example, late one night on the subway we met a young woman named Laura who grew up in in Greystones, the coastal town where we are staying. She said that the church used to be the center of Greystones, but because of the sex abuse scandals and cover-ups in the priesthood, many people including herself were deeply hurt and stopped attending church.

Time and time again, I heard people share stories similar to Laura’s, and I started to grasp how these events had really rocked the nation’s confidence in the church, which was once a deeply-trusted institution in Ireland. According to Operation World, weekly church attendance was at one time 85% nationally, but is now less than 50% and as low as 5% in parts of Dublin. In fact, there are more non-religious Irish today than ever before.

And because of this, it’s not surprising that whenever religion was brought up in conversations, people would ask if we were catholic or Christian. It makes me sad to realize that most people are under the notion that Catholicism and Christianity are diametrically opposed to one another. In fact, in the 700 years that Ireland was under British rule, it was partitioned between 26 countries that were Catholic and Celtic and 6 counties in Northern Ireland which were Protestant. Even today, according to Operation World, 81% of people here are Catholic, with less than 1% being Protestant. Ireland also has the lowest percentage of evangelicals of any English-speaking nation. I’ve come to the conclusion that in Ireland, Christianity is very bipolar, with one of the largest divides between the Catholic and Protestant church that I’ve ever experienced.

Based on my conversations the past few weeks, here are a few prayer points as to how you can be praying for Ireland:

1. Pray for unity among followers of Jesus, that all Christians may work toward shared Kingdom goals. Pray for understanding that what binds us together as followers of Jesus is stronger than what divides us. Pray for authentic repentance, forgiveness and restoration in the Catholic Church. Also keep the Evangelical Alliance in your prayers, which is a recent institution formed to bring together believers from all different denominational and racial backgrounds.

2. Pray that Christians would authentically display Christ’s love.  The only way to overcome the hurt and mistrust that were felt due to recent events in the Catholic church is through love. Pray that followers of Jesus would be led by the Holy Spirit to authentically display this love in word and deed. Pray that genuine relationships would be built to break down some of the barriers and misconceptions that are held about Christianity.

3. Pray for young people. Ireland has a young population, with 21% being under the age of 15. Alcoholism, suicide, broken families and alternative lifestyles characterize this age group (Source: Operation World). However, in my experience it seems that many young people are open to the gospel when it is presented in fresh ways. Pray that the next generation would have life-changing encounters with Jesus Christ.

]4. Pray for economic growth. Ireland is in the midst of an economic crisis. Not only are prices for food and goods astronomical (the cost for a gallon of gas here is nearly $8), but there’s also a 20% unemployment rate. This has caused Irish families to flee from Ireland by the thousands. Pray for wisdom for governmental leaders in how to deal with the complexity of Ireland’s economic situation.

One of my goals in each country was to interview a local person to hear their story, how Jesus is working in their country and how we can be praying. About a week ago, I met a young man named Johnny Cash (really!) who found Jesus from a street preacher a few years ago. Here’s what he has to share:

Thanks for praying – I’m convinced that things happen when we pray that wouldn’t happen otherwise. After all, the prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16). To Christ be the glory!

Hallelujah Chorus

“Hal-le-lu-yah!”

“Praise da LOARD!”

This is what we heard, as Katy, Alyssa, and I came around the corner of Church Street in Kilcock, Ireland last Friday evening. Our team, Team Doulos, was in the midst of a two-day motor home venture with Jim, our ministry contact. A few minutes earlier, we had been dropped off at the beginning of the town to distribute pamphlets with scripture throughout the streets. Although this was hard for me to do at first, I’m now convinced that there’s no better way to see a town. Not only do you get to see the sights, but you get to interact with local people and get a sense of their culture.

This particular evening, after wandering through the property of a majestic Catholic church, the three of us had stumbled upon a sidestreet called Church Street, whose adorable stone houses adorned with flowers and colored doors had captivated our attention.

We turned the corner and saw a bunch of teenagers sitting on the curb, hanging around with one another. I smelled alcohol and their mannerisms indicated that they were probably under the influence of something else too. They were shouting choruses of, “Hallelu-yah!” and “Praise the Loa-rd!” in a mocking manner. While it’s still a mystery to me why they were saying this, I felt like it was a sign that God had prepared the way for us to speak to them.

I said, “Hey, guys. What’s up?”

One boy shouted, “She was trying to get us to clean up all the rubbish,” pointing to an elderly woman making her way down the path with a cane. I’ve learned that garbage in Ireland is referred to as “rubbish.” He sounded disgusted at her request, and retorted, “We told her that the people who threw it should pick it up.”

“Well it’s not to hard to clean it up, right?” I responded. I saw an old grocery bag sitting on the side of the road. “Look, we can use this,” and I placed a crushed soda bottle into the bag.

To my surprise, one of the other boys joined along, picking a wrapper up and placing it in the bag. Someone shouted, “Praise da Loa-rd”,” mocking him. I responded, “Yeah, praise the Lord! Thanks for picking this stuff up, man!”

They realized that I was serious, so one girl prompted, “Who are you guys, anyways?” I said, “We’re missionaries here, from America, coming to share Jesus’ love.”

One young man said, “Well I think the devil made the world,” then intentionally blew smoke in Alyssa’s face and turned away.

But at that moment, for most of the teens, a door was opened and a floodgate of questions spilled out. I realized that most of them had never had the opportunity to ask tough questions about religion, in a setting where they felt they wouldn’t be judged. Katy, Alyssa, and I started conversing with each person, doing our best to answer their questions, but more importantly show that we love them and care about what they’re going through.

I began to have a conversation with two young teenagers: Lee, who had grown up going to church but and wasn’t sure if heaven and hell were real, and Callie, who believed in a God who was up in the sky but didn’t believe that He was here with us, in this world. A number of the teens were searching for something, longing for more – and this excited me because I know that you will find Jesus if you seek Him with all your heart (Dt 4:29).

It was clear from our conversation that most of them had attended church, but had no conception about what following Jesus was all about – that it wasn’t as much about following a bunch of rules as it is about cultivating a relationship. The teens asked questions like: “Do you have to stop drinking if you believe in Jesus?” and  “You can’t have sex, right?” There’s a pervasive idea that being a Christian is about your actions, when really it’s a matter of the heart – when you fall in love with Jesus, the Holy Spirit works in you to mold you and change you to be more like Him. Our job as missionaries isn’t about pointing out the actions that people are or aren’t doing, but rather point them to Jesus Christ and what His love can do in their lives.

We had to leave sooner than I would have liked, but after my conversation with Lee, he decided to give his life to following Jesus, praise God! After we prayed together, he proclaimed that he said he was going to spend time praying every night. I also exchanged Facebook information with Callie so we could stay in touch. Not only this, Katy had a great conversation with Tori, who at the beginning said that she didn’t believe in it but at the end affirmed that she believed in Jesus Christ and that He died for her.

When I look back on this experience, there’s no doubt in my mind that this was a God-ordained appointment. These teenagers were searching, and God so loves them that He sent us into their lives one random summer evening on that sidestreet in a teeny tiny town in the middle of nowhere Ireland.

And for that I say, “Hal-le-lu-yah. Praise the LOARD!”

I just got five new sisters!

I’ve never experienced anything like what happened today.

Today, we went to a housing “flat” area in Dublin. Instead of distributing tracts, as we have done throughout the last week or so, today we decided to simply start worshipping in the central area of the apartments. We know that as followers of Jesus, we carry the presence of God – where we go, He goes. We invited Christ and the Holy Spirit into that place:

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What happened next literally blew me away. As Katy, Bryan, and Liz led us in song, one by one, doors started to open and people started to look and see what was happening. Women came outside to fold clothes. A man brought his lunch on the porch. Boys who were bicycling by stopped to listen. I’m learning that music is truly a universal welcome to come.

Then, Stephen (our local contact) announced that we were followers of Jesus and that we were here because Jesus had changed our lives. We invited people to come down and talk to us and ask us questions about faith, God, or whatever.

As we continued to sing, one woman came over and I began to talk to her. Her name was Courtney – she was 14 but was in charge of taking care of her year-old cousin. She first asked me a question, then walked away. After a few minutes, she came back, asked another question, and walked away again. As this cycle repeated, I knew that God was working in her heart.

A few minutes later, Katy and I noticed that there was a group of the local residents sitting on the side, talking amongst themselves. We decided to go over there to just engage in conversation and hear their stories. Little did we know what would happen next…they began to open up, ask us questions about God, Jesus, life. Some questions were easy to answer “I don’t believe in God, but tell me why you do” and others were tough: “If God is love, then why do babies die?” We did our best to answer questions, but more than that, we wanted to show each person that we cared about them and loved them right where they were at.

After a few minutes, Ryan asked if anyone needed prayer. One woman said that she had back pain. Another admitted an abundance of stress. We gathered people around to pray:

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After this time of prayer, the woman with back pain said that it was no longer there – praise God! Not only that, but Amie who had been struggling with stress said that she felt like a 1,000 pound weight had come off of her shoulders! Praise God for His faithfulness!

I then felt led to explain the gospel to the group – why Jesus came, and the life that He offers us. We asked if any of the women wanted to give their lives to following Jesus. I’ve offered this dozens of times, and rarely has anyone ever accepted. To my surprise, five women said that they wanted to! We prayed together…

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Here is a picture of our team celebrating with our new sisters in Christ! We’re so excited for Amie (Red), Courtney (blue), and Rachael (black), and two other woman (not pictured) in their new life following Jesus.

When I look back, it was clear to me that God had prepared the way for our encounter today. It’s truly a God thing when you find a group of people that are earnestly seeking for truth.  Although we exchanged contact information with each person, gave them a bible, and encouraged them to find a local church in Dublin, please pray that God will surround them with people to support them as they grow in their new relationship with Christ. Pray that they would connect with a healthy bible study such as with Stephen, our local ministry contact.

At the World Race launch, there was a speaker that said, “The nations don’t need you. They need the presence of God.” That concept was so evident here today – the presence of God is the only thing that truly changes people.

I got five new sisters today – just another day on the Race. What might tomorrow bring?

Recipe: Irish Stew

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This is Margaret. She’s a traveler here in Ireland. It’s a bit hard to describe travelers, but generally they are a tight-knit community of people who live in trailers without a permanent residence and make money by doing odd jobs such as collecting scrap metal. Travelers are characterized by their unique culture and set of laws by which they abide by, largely due to the fact that their traveling nature makes it difficult for authorities to enforce rules and regulations. Travelers also tend to have limited education and be a very spiritual group of people. 

In one moment, this past week feels like a whirlwind – and in another moment it feels like we’ve been here for more than a month. We’ve been spending a lot of time with our teams, getting to know one another and growing together in God. There are three teams (21 people) staying at this one big house in a coastal village called Graystones, which is about an hour south of Dublin. Our role this month is basically to do whatever we can to serve and help the church we have been assigned to work with. Thusfar, we’ve been asked to pass out flyers with scripture in malls, neighborhoods, and city plazas. One day we passed out 5,000 of these in downtown Dublin! We’ve attended a few church services where we have had the opportunity to share our testimonies, read scripture, and lead the group in song (there are some very talented musicians amongst our squad!) Below is a picture of our team at the traveler’s meeting on Sunday. Lo and Bryan are at the front singing their hearts out in beautiful chorus.

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Steven is a local traveler here in Ireland, and he has been leading us on some of our evangelism escapades during the day. Margaret is Steven’s wife, and last week, we were blessed to come home to a potful of Margaret’s homemade Irish stew! It’s my joy to pass along this recipe, so you can travel with me to Ireland from your kitchen. This recipe will fit in one big pot and serve about eight. It’s simple, but super tasty.

Authentic Irish Stew

  • 2 pounds stewing beef or lap of lamb
  • 5-6 carrots
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 8-10 potatoes
  • other vegetables (optional) – peas, parsnips, etc
  • 1 quart beef stock
  • 1 thyme leaf
  • salt & pepper to taste

1. In a large pot of water, add the raw lamb or beef. Turn on medium heat and boil for about 25 minutes.

2. Add all of the vegetables and bring to a boil

3. Add beef stock and thyme leaf, then simmer for three to four hours.

4. Take out thyme leaf, salt and pepper to taste.

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Team Doulos

I love my team! I’d like to introduce you them today. We’ll be working, traveling, and serving together for the next eleven months. We are around one another almost 24/7, and because of this we have become family.

Our team name is Doulos (doo’-los). Doulos is a Greek word occurring 180 times in the New Testament. It literally means slave or bondservant, but the original apostles chose it to describe themselves – that they are slaves to Jesus and have surrendered everything to Him. The apostles considered servility to be a privilege, not an obligation – they are honored to serve the world in the likeness of Christ.

We chose the word to describe our team because we have surrendered everything to serve Christ, one another, and the world for these next eleven months. Although we have only been doing ministry together for a week so far, I have seen “doulos” truly characterize our team. Time and time again, each person has put aside our own desires to do whatever we are asked, serving others with pleasure and joy.

Without further adieu, here is TEAM DOULOS:

Emily

Emily is the youngest member of our team, but you wouldn’t know it because of her maturity. I really admire her willingness and desire to do anything for others. For example, when we had free time yesterday, she cleaned one of the closets in the house by choice. She’s quiet, but when she speaks, her words speak with wisdom and truth. She’s also passionate about working with kids. I can’t wait to see her shine in the months when this will be our main ministry work.

Joshua

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Josh’s story is one of redemption. I’m always fascinated by how Christ brings someone  out of rough times, and this is true of Josh’s story. When he was young, someone told him to be the man of God that he was created to be, and those words stayed with him as he was placed in difficult circumstances throughout his life. Through a lung injury, degenerative eye disease, and tough divorce, Christ has been Josh’s stronghold. The wisdom from his life experiences is a great asset to our team. To me, he is like a giant teddy bear with the gentlest heart. Besides this, Joshua is known for cooking up the most delicious meals for our squad…and because of all these reasons I feel blessed to be on Josh’s team.

Alyssa

I really appreciate Alyssa because she is details-oriented. She is our team treasurer, so she is in charge of keeping track of our finances and making sure we stick to the budget that we are given. When all of us kept forgetting, she remembered the name of the currency exchange yesterday when we were in Dublin. Not only this, her kindness is exemplary – she is willing to do anything and everything to help any one of us. She’s simply amazing!

Matt

Matt is our mighty and fearless team leader. I’ve been amazed to see how he has grown in this position thusfar, even through tough and stressful situations. What I most appreciate about the way Matt leads is how he is genuinely concerned with how we are doing – multiple times per day he asks each one of us how we are doing.  Matt also is a talented photographer – I’m looking forward to seeing how he will document our journey in the coming months.

Katy

Katy has become one of my closest friends on the Race. We have shared many laughs together and there’s hardly a time when I don’t see a smile on her face. Her bubbly personality exudes Christ’s love on the world around her. She’s also a very gifted singer and can sing harmony like nobody’s business. Katy and I share an adventuresome spirit and she’s one of the people who is willing to join me on any spontaneous adventure that comes our way.  

Charlie

Charlie makes me laugh multiple times every day. He says the funniest things, even when he’s not trying to, which is what makes it hilarious. You’d better watch out, though, because he studied judo and carries around a knife (one in his pocket and two in his luggage) which I find ironic because I don’t think he would hurt a fly. Charlie is super humble and incredibly patient.

Our team is characterized by its diversity. When we walked in the room the last night in the US, Rynette, our team mom, said that God gave her a picture that we were like a bouquet of flowers. We’re all very different, but that’s what makes our team beautiful – a bouquet made up with the same flower wouldn’t be a bouquet at all.

One of my prayers was that God would put me on a team that was athletic. To my surprise, when we met up in DC, both Katy and Josh separately asked me if we could work out together in the morning. We’ve woken up nearly each morning together here in Ireland to run along the Irish coast. I have treasured these early morning adventures that we have shared together – and I’m convinced that there is no better way to start the day than running outdoors with friends.

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s only been one week since we’ve gotten here…stay tuned as I share about our ministry work!

…And we haven’t even left the country yet!

Just wanted to give you an update. I left Boston on Tuesday afternoon and so much has happened already! God has been showing up in big ways and I thought I’d tell you about them:

On my flight from Boston to Washington, DC on Tuesday, I was seated next to a young man. As is custom on flights, we were sharing about our lives, where we were going, etc. As I told him about the World Race, he started asking me a ton of questions about Christianity and Jesus and everything. He was agnostic, but knew there was something more to life. To make a long story short, by the end of the flight, he ended up praying with me to give his life to follow Jesus! The only awkward part was when the flight attendants interrupted our prayer to collect the trash. After we prayed, he opened his eyes and said that the whole world looked brighter, and how he could feel energy flowing through his body as we were praying. I told him that was Jesus filling him with his love, and l encouraged him to get involved in a local community of people who can help him grow in his walk with God.  I can’t believe that God used me to help bring someone to Christ…and I haven’t even left the country yet!

Then, you know how it is when you get off a plane – your first priority is to find a restroom so you can empty your bladder. This was one of those times for me. But, as I bee-lined to the restroom I noticed a group of people all wearing red shirts with scripture on the back. I asked them if they were on a mission trip, and they said yes, they had just gotten back from ministering in an orphanage in Uganda. I shared a bit about the World Race and then they asked if they could pray for me. So, about twenty people all gathered around me, laid hands on me and prayed for me & my journey ahead…and I haven’t even left the country yet!

The next few days have been spent in the Holiday Inn Dulles hotel, where we’ve been doing final preparations and training. There’s a lot that it takes to get us equipped to serve in the nations. On the night of the fourth of July, we were given the evening off so we could celebrate our country’s independence. A group of us all traveled into town via city buses and watched the beautiful fireworks exploding in the distance over the National Mall. It was truly a sight to see. But what I will never forget is what happened next – it was 10:25pm and we knew there was one last city bus which would take us out to our hotel. The city bus was about a quarter full when it arrived – but the problem was there were more than sixty of us World Racers as well as fifteen other people waiting for the bus. I remember standing in front of the bus and thinking, “There is no way we are all going to fit in there.” However, there was really no other way we could get home. So we decided to pray. I put my hands on the bus and said,  “God, I’m believing you for a miracle here tonight. I know that you can do anything, and I pray that every single one of us will fit on this bus, in Jesus’ name.” 

After we let the regular city-goers onto the bus, all the World Racers piled on. Luckily we already had all slept on a bus together overnight in Training Camp, so standing on a bus for about an hour wouldn’t be so bad.  As each person came on, our whole mass of people kept squeezing backwards, until there were no longer inches or even centimeters between our bodies. And one by one, each person walked onto the bus.

After what seemed like forever, I heard a cheering sound. Every single one of us had fit on the bus! There probably wouldn’t have been room for even one other person. When we got off, we counted the number of people that fit on the bus – there were 104. That’s physically impossible. And that’s how you know it’s Jesus. So, we witnessed a miracle on a city bus…and we haven’t even left the country yet. Seeing someone come to Christ on an airplane, receiving prayer in an airport, and a miracle on a city bus – I feel like this just a foretaste of what is to come for the next year.   In a few hours, I will board a flight to Dublin, Ireland. We’ll then be taking a bus about two hours south to a small coastal town called Greystones. Our work in Ireland will be ministering to gypsies in a small community. Along with my team, Team Doulos, we’ll be working with two other teams in this location – Team Alethia and Team Kingdom Come. I can’t wait. The next time I write, I will be on the other side of the world…to the nations I go!