We have been in Ireland for 26 months now and have lived in three different houses in three different cities/towns. God has allowed us to be part of 4 different churches. These have ranged from a very large and polished church to really a small unpolished Bible Study group in a very small town. What we have learned in all of them though is the same. No matter how big, fancy, rustic, poor or well-off all need to hear how much Jesus loves them and desires for them to be saved. The above small plaque is on the pulpit in Limerick reminding those who would speak that all they are really here to do is to help the people see and spend time with Jesus. Nothing else matters. Youth groups, Sunday School programs, small groups, worship teams, food fellowship, etc. It all must point to Jesus or it is for naught and is a waste of time. Remember: its all about Jesus…Always.
Why Shoulder to Shoulder?
We love rugby but not as much as we love Jesus Christ and His Gospel message and mission. Taking the theme of the All Ireland team anthem though, fits our Call to Ireland by God. You have a major part in that Call so we believe we are shoulder to shoulder with you serving the Lord in Ireland. Whether you give financially, pray, write letters or whatever. If you do anything with us then you are on the team shoulder to shoulder for God here. Its a hard slog, a hard fight, not without pain and difficulties but together we can prevail!
This Autumn was the best season yet for Ireland’s rugby Team. On top of a no loss season…we beat New Zealand’s All Black’s! they are the best in the world (and they are now calling Ireland the best in the world.). This is exciting for the whole country because if there is one sport here that breaks down barriers, its rugby. Rugby has never distinguished between Catholic or protestant players. (GAA Football, Hurling and Soccer all do.) Rugby Ireland is a team made up of players from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Because of this, the ‘National’ Anthem for Rugby Ireland is different. Republicans will never sing God save the Queen and Northerners will never sing A Soldier’s Song. The lyrics are very unifying (though irritating to die-hard separatists.) To hear the song sung at a match, look it up on youtube and be inspired!
Author: Phil Coulter
Come the day and come the hour
Come the power and the glory
We have come to answer our Country’s call
From the four proud provinces of Ireland
Ireland, Ireland Together standing tall
Shoulder to shoulder
We’ll answer Ireland’s call
From the mighty Glens of Antrim
From the rugged hills of Galway
From the walls of Limerick And Dublin Bay
From the four proud provinces of Ireland
Hearts of steel And heads unbowing
Vowing never to be broken
We will fight, until We can fight no more
From the four proud provinces of Ireland
When God opens a door He doesn’t always swing it wide open and call upon the trumpet players to announce you. Sometimes He gently nudges you through openings when you think there is no way you can fit. But as you press through, His great plan is always revealed and is always good.
By good I do not mean “comfortable, enjoyable or even fruitful”. What I do mean is “for-your-betterment-in-the-long-run” , “for His glory”, “for the strengthening of the body”, and so on. When God allows us to go through something that seems so contrary to what we think He would have let us go through, we often think “I heard Him wrong” or even “what was He thinking?” Never forget that God alone is sovereign and He sees the big picture.
We have equated and easy and comfortable life with being in the center of God’s will.
Perhaps we need to spend more time reading the writings of the Psalms, Paul, Peter, John…okay, the whole Bible actually. I love reading books that help me draw closer to God but if I only read book others have written about the Bible and think that is enough for me to know His will, I will easily misinterpret and misunderstand my circumstances. The Bible and it alone is what reveals to us God’s character, holiness, power and plan. Pain and suffering, challenges and failure are not against the will of God. Read His word fully and you will see He will make “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28
All this to say, whatever door God is allowing you to go through today, He will use it to help you look more like Jesus. Perhaps we need to change the words “good or bad” to be “encouraging or challenging”,” enjoyable or difficult.” The words we choose to use and hear regarding our circumstances are very important (the Bible is full of words). Some of the most rewarding things I have experienced in life have all come first as challenges full of uncertainty and often pain but they have made me stronger, more dependent on God and more strong in my faith.
Is 45:7, Ps 71:20-21, 66:10-12, 37:23-24, Psalm 23
Probably every missionary in history can agree that one of the hardest things about it is when tragedy hits your home country and you are not able to be there.
We awoke Saturday to the news that there had been a terrible bus accident involving a junior hockey team on the prairies. Western Canada is big in size but not in people. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows you. And when it comes to hockey…everyone knows the teams. Did we know everyone on that bus? No. Did we know anyone personally on that bus? No. But we do know the culture, the people, the small towns the kids came from and the country that revolves around hockey from the time most kids are 4 and old enough to strap on skates to the time they pass away. That date is supposed to be a long way down the line…when they are very, very old.
This tragedy took the lives of 16 people ranging from 16 yrs old to 42 and older (I haven’t been able to find out how old the driver was). 14 died at the scene, another one day later and yet another today. I am so thankful the Head coach was a strong believer. I believe he would have told the team often how much Jesus loves them and how He wants them to accept Him as their Lord and Savior. I assume a lot of things…I probably shouldn’t, but I do. I have to. I can’t understand any of it just yet. Perhaps I never will.
This could have been any of us at any time driving across the massive expanse of Canada’s prairies. This could have been any of our kids on any sports trip. We all live so far away from other venues. We trust the coaches and drivers and everyone else on the roads to get everyone safely to their destinations. We trust because otherwise we would all stay scared in our homes. We must live. These kids were living their dreams.
I feel like maybe this hurts just a bit more than it would in Canada because we cannot grieve with those who understand. We cannot don our jerseys and set out hockey sticks on the porch without having to say a word and know others understand. We hurt from afar. We hurt so very much. And we pray.
We started in Dublin and now live in Limerick. We have traveled over 30,000 kms in our little Blueberry (Blue Toyota Vitz). We have learned how the Irish do NOT like winter but love to play in the snow! They love summer but not too much heat. They love Spring but complain that it rains too much both in Spring and Autumn. In fairness, it rains all year round in Ireland but certainly not everyday all day. Irish people are very hospitable and above all KIND. They are loyal, chatty, friendly and adore family above everything. Most Irish love chocolate and good pot o’ tea (Barry’s in Munster, Lyon’s in Leinster, don’t know what they like in Connaught, but PG Tips and Punjana are popular in Ulster. Yes, I know too much about tea!) Some really love Irish Draft Ale, others whisky or wine, but contrary to public perception not all Irish drink and even of those that do, not all drink to excess. Folks in Munster (where we live) are fiercely loyal to their sports teams and its like they go to war whenever they play. Yet they leave the pitches as friends. No one does anything half-ways here. Its all or nothing and if you fail, at least you tried… now get up and try again!
We realize that, though we have greater understanding of the Irish culture, we still have loads to learn! Though we speak English there are many terms we are still unfamiliar with and there are tones and inflections which we need to learn how to fine tune. (I got a huge compliment my Newfie friends will appreciate the other day. A clerk at the Rock of Cashel asked if I was from Limerick or perhaps Newfoundland because of my accent!) They are blunt and forthright but terrified to offend and will feel horrible if they did.
As missionaries, we have learned that people back home mean well when they say they are going to support us, but sometimes they forget. We have learned that our budget is flexible and must be so. We have also learned that if its important for us to be here, sometimes it takes us supplementing when it seems a little too short. But it always works out. God always provides and always reminds us that we are called to be here. We have been made to feel at home here and feel like these are indeed our people.
Prayer has always been something we trusted in in Canada but not as much as we rely on it here. The spiritual battle just to keep our hearts from being discouraged is strong, let alone the rest of the battles ensuing. Loneliness is very real but we are thankful we are on this journey together and have the support of our families back in Canada. The prayers of those who love us are what keep us from falling apart at times. Please pray we can make good friends here.
We have also truly understood that missions can appear boring much of the time. Writing letters, keeping the web-site and blog up to date for those back home can take our focus off our main purpose. But we have it down to an art now so it doesn’t take as much time. Just saying hello to our neighbors every time we see them, stopping and visiting with the vendors at the local market, getting to know the elderly person just sitting in the park and hearing their stories is mission work. Going for Coffee and hearing how hard it is for someone to even think about converting because of their family and life, hearing how hard it is for those who have become Christians and offering them an ear and often a shoulder, being available 24/7 for anything is great but also exhausting. Sometimes we just want to be human and selfish and say “No, can’t help today, just don’t want to!” but that is not who God has made us to be or has us here for. We are here because Irish pastors, leaders and lay people are discouraged, exhausted and frightened. They need us to carry some of the burden sometimes and that is exactly why we came. We are here because almost everyone in our neighborhood (estate) of a few hundred homes is lost. We are here for the lady at the market today who told us she is one of the Irish who has lost hope and doesn’t trust the church (Irish Catholic) but was very welcoming to us talking to her about Jesus and being reminded that He loves her. We are here to kindly introduce Irish people to the Jesus they never knew but loves them just the same!
We were asked last Tuesday by a young Christian man in Cork, “What do you do all day?” The challenge is not to make light of what we do nor to make it into something so grand its nowhere near what we do. “We work on sermons, lessons, and studies. Bruce helps a lot with getting computer equipment working correctly and efficiently. We’ve developed and work on the church web-site and bulletins. We visit a lot of people who wouldn’t perhaps get a visit very often because of where they live and time of day, we pray, we read, we disciple one on one.” This is the heart of what we do. We do what we did in Canada really but without the title of Pastor or salary that accompanied that.
And we love it!