Northern Ireland Spring Break Trip
Written by McKinley Watson. Digital Media by Jessica Sturgeon.
Over Spring Break, me and 10 other Greenville Students went on a missions trip to Northern Ireland. Led by Teresa Holden and Kathie Filby, we joined Adventure Leadership Training in the work they were doing through various ministries across Northern Ireland. Our group first arrived in Dublin and then embarked on a two hour bus ride into our destination of Belfast City. We had the privilege of staying with a host couple who readily welcomed us into their home. They were quick to feed us and briefly described the foreign culture of the Irish people to our group. We had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into. Prior to the trip, we had no idea what ministries we would work with, as well as what age groups we would be ministering to. Over the course of ten days, we did everything from teaching songs to four year olds in a primary school, to playing floor hockey with the older, poverty stricken teenagers of Newtownards. Throughout the duration of the week, I was continually amazed at the gifts of the individuals on our team and the significance they brought to each activity. We may have had only had twelve people, but each person brought something different and unique to the table. My personal gift is worship music. On this trip, I was able to sing to different groups of students, members of a local church, and children involved in a girl’s club closely related to the American version of girl scouts. We also were able to join local organizations in the work they were already doing. We were all excited to join in God’s movement already in place throughout Northern Ireland. For example, in downtown Belfast City, a Christian organization called Safe Zone works with police to prevent crime and violence that happens during the late hours of the weekend. These volunteers walk the dangerous streets, wearing stab jackets and reflective vests as they watch over the local party scene. On our first night of the trip, we had the privilege of meeting with this group and walking the streets with them until two o’clock in the morning. I was in awe of their testimonies and how each of them got involved in the organization. Most of them had come out of personal addiction and now wanted to help those who struggle with the same thing. Each of the men and women involved were incredibly passionate about the work they were doing. Even though we did not get to bust up any fights with them, I was still very touched by their giving hearts. They readily gave up their own time to reach into the darkest places of Belfast City and rescue people like themselves without any attitudes of superiority. The people of Northern Ireland are hungry for authenticity
and vulnerability. Our mission was to be completely transparent as we sought friendships with the people involved with each organization we visited. Through the grace of God I became open and trusting with my heart and because of this, everyone I talked to became open with me. My trust enabled me to show love in an unhindered way. This was most evident when we visited a local girl’s brigade. These girls ranged from ages four to eighteen. Some of them suffered from severe poverty and mistrust. By playing games with these girls and just showing individual interest in each of them, I became broken hearted for these people. Some of these girls acted as if no one had paid attention to them before. As any teenage girl would, I could easily identify with their feelings. All I wanted to do was hug each of them and tell them how much value and beauty they all had.
Throughout the trip, my faith was challenged because we could not directly see the fruits of our labor. Rather than building churches or cleaning city areas, we were investing in the lives of people through relationships. Our team had to continually trust in God that our conversations and actions were an investment in eternity. We also were continually in prayer about our words and actions falling onto rich soil. We wanted the hearts of the people to be opened toward God’s love flowing through us. This trip opened my eyes to the emotional needs of people everywhere. Not only do the people of Northern Ireland need love and authenticity, but so do the people of America and the people around us at Greenville College. Every conversation is an opportunity to show God’s, and this trip has made that thought real to me. My prayer is that the Church, as a body of believers, will make a conscious effort to be vulnerable and genuine toward each other. All I want to be is a vessel of God’s grace. This is the true calling of the Bride of Christ.