“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!”