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ISSUE 49 / JANUARY - MARCH 2021

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My 2020

A year of reflection, opportunity and rest

“I’m livin’ the dream” A glimpse behind the scenes of the Mustard Seed Soup Run


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EDITORIAL

Blessings and raindrops ne memorable morning, there was an almighty crash from the back garden and a cry of pain sent me flying for the door. My poor husband had tripped over, breaking his arm and puncturing a lung. After visits to the Emergency Department and fracture clinic, his arm was put in a cast for six weeks. It is amazing how we take the use of our hands for granted. Suddenly the simplest of tasks became a “handlin’” as we say in Donegal. Yet, enclosed in his cast, the arm slowly began to mend, the pain gradually lessened and once the cast was removed, the x-ray showed that the bone had healed - all that remained was for him to slowly re-gain his strength through a series of physiotherapy exercises (a discipline that was time consuming but hugely beneficial). The spiritual lesson in all this echoed so much of what we’ve all experienced over recent months. There are seasons in our lives when we are limited or restricted, when we are unable to do the things we want to do or we feel out of control. Yet so often these are the times when God is most at work, both in us and through us; bringing healing and blessing. The lyrics of Laura Story’s song Blessings come to mind.

O

“...what if Your blessings come through raindrops? What if Your healing comes through tears?” It was with a certain degree of trepidation that I launched a VOX survey in November. The media, especially social media, might lead you to believe that the Christian community was either locked behind closed doors (fearful and impotent) or angrily raging against government restrictions. Media thrives on such controversy and polarisation. Yet the reality turned out to be far from the media hype and it brought me to tears. Time and again, I read comments from Christians in every county on this island who found blessing in the midst of the strangest year we’ve ever lived through and turned difficulties into opportunities to bless others. You can read the encouraging comments and stories in our special feature A Year Of Reflection Opportunity And Rest (page 12). As we enter 2021, may you find encouragement and joy in the Lord whatever this year may bring!

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Ruth Garvey-Williams Editor (editor@vox.ie)

JAN - MAR 2021 VOX.IE

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CONTENTS 12 24 11 22 27 28 30 32 34

ISSN: 2009-2253

Cover Stories

EDITOR Ruth Garvey-Williams editor@vox.ie

My 2020: A year of reflection, opportunity and rest “I’m livin’ the dream” - a glimpse behind the scenes of the Mustard Seed Soup Run

LAYOUT, ADVERTISING & DISTRIBUTION Jonny Lindsay jonny@vox.ie

Features and Interviews

SUBSCRIPTIONS Ireland & UK: Min. €12 for four issues Overseas: Min. €20 for four issues

Wear the Green Jersey - new initiative promotes Irish business Tracking the Son - an invitation to intimacy Holding onto God in a crisis - running a small business in the face of Covid-19 and Brexit

Subscribe online at www.vox.ie. All cheques should be made payable to ‘VOX Magazine’.

Shaken - equipping young people to live life unshaken

VOX Magazine Ulysses House 22 - 24 Foley Street Dublin 1 Tel: 089 415 4507 info@vox.ie www.vox.ie

Creating a brighter future - a new era for Solas Project in Dublin A Learning Life - Ana Mullan continues her inspirational series

DISCLAIMER The views expressed in letters and articles are those of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the VOX Team or our partners. The acceptance of advertising does not indicate P32 endorsement.

Brilliance is Everywhere; Opportunity is not - how vocational training is bringing new hope in Uganda

36

Taking care of your mental health - fear, anxiety and uncertainty may still be present, but they don’t have to rule

38

A God-given opportunity - Trust develops a vision for a new Christian centre at Guysmere

06 08 10 19 21

January - March 2021 Issue 49

Regular features VOX: Shorts

VOX: World News Your VOX: Inbox Musings with Patrick Mitchell

41 44 45 46

PRINT Ross Print, Greystones, Co. Wicklow VOX magazine is a quarterly publication, brought to you by a passionate team of volunteers.

Book Reviews Music Reviews

OUR PARTNERS:

More Book Reviews

IRELAND

VOX: PS with Seán Mullan

Confessions of a Feint Saint

TM

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VOX SHORTS

TULLAMORE NATIVITY

Unable to meet together in the same way as previous years, Tullamore Churches Together found their own unique way to celebrate Christmas. The group came up with the idea of combining wellloved Christmas carols with the story of the first Christmas, and making them part of the fabric of their town by creating a special “QR Code” tour of Tullamore. Local musicians recorded themselves and the tracks were compiled into beautiful music videos. The churches also recorded prayers and readings. On the final Sunday of Advent, the trail went live, enabling people to complete the walking tour of the town while scanning the QR codes to view the themed videos - creating a beautiful and meaningful Christmas experience for all ages.

AVENUE OF LIGHT

A church in Virginia, County Cavan found an innovative way to bring light and joy to their town (safely) by lining their driveway with 52 Christmas Trees, sponsored and decorated by parish organisations as well as local businesses, sports groups and community groups. The focal point of the avenue was a life-size crib created by the local venture scout group.

BIBLES FOR IRISH POLITICIANS

Betania Church in Dublin sent a copy of the Bible to all 160 TDs, 60 Senators and all 40 councillors in Fingal County Council during 2020. Pastor Valerian Jurjea leads the church that was founded by Romanians who have made their home in Ireland and has grown to be one of the largest churches in the country. He told VOX magazine, “The idea came to me when speaking with Irish people. Thirty years ago Irish families were packing and sending Bibles to Romania. There were huge risks involved because it was the time of communist rule. We always knew that God’s plan for us to come to this nation went beyond economic stability for our people; we knew His plan was to bring spiritual security and prosperity to the people of Ireland. So now we want to bless the nation and we realised that a nation is most blessed when its leaders have Christian values.” Over 50 church members in Betania helped pack and send the special gift version of the NLT translation. “We addressed each Bible to each member personally,” Pastor Valerian said. “And each member from our church has one politician that they are praying for daily and will continue to do so. Just as 1 Timothy 2: says, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

VIRTUAL NATIVITY

Sunday School children across the country had the opportunity to star in their own nativity plays despite Covid-19 restrictions thanks to an innovative project by Belfast-based theatre company “Play It By Ear”. The Christian drama group usually tours Ireland and the UK with performances and workshops but the pandemic forced them to re-think. With social distancing still restricting the larger gatherings, they came up with the idea to support schools, churches and community groups to create a virtual nativity play. Parents filmed their children (complete with traditional costumes) for the various parts of the Christmas story. These clips were sent to the Play It By Ear team who expertly assembled them into a finished video ready for special Christmas services. Inundated with requests for the resource, Play It By Ear helped to deliver 140 separate videos from all over Ireland and Northern Ireland - just in time for Christmas Day! Check out Play it By Ear on www.playitbyeardrama.com for weekly resources for schools, and Sunday Schools and watch out for future virtual projects. 06

VOX.IE JAN - MAR 2021


VOX MAGAZINE

GOLD AWARD FOR CILLIAN After spending 18 years as a missionary in Africa, in January 2020 (before lockdown) Fr Sean Deveraux had the joy of taking his nephew Cillian to Gambia to help paint one of the schools where he had once served. The project contributed to a John Paul II Gold Award, and in November Fr Sean had the joy of presenting Cillian with the award. “It was great to have Cillian witness what it is like to live in Gambia and for him to contribute his time and energies to such a worthwhile project,” Fr Sean said. Cillian saw many differences between his age group in Gambia and his age group in Wexford but what stood out most was the lack of opportunities that his peers in Gambia had open to them. “Here we have loads of opportunities that will help us prepare for life after school and hopefully aid us in getting the job we want to get but it is different in Gambia, the opportunities are very limited there for those who complete school and that really struck a chord with me,” he said. Cillian completed the rest of his award by being a member of the Wexford-based Spirit Youth Group and working within the National Opera House before lockdown.

CHALK ART

Volunteers from the Ballina Centre of Mission brightened 2020 for people in their town by regularly writing up-lifting and encouraging messages and drawings on the pavement outside the cathedral.

ENCOUNTERING GOD IN THE CITY CENTRE

CHRISTMAS HAMPERS FOR ACET CLIENTS

Generous donors helped ACET to fill 28 Christmas hampers and deliver them during the first two weeks of December. The Irish charity, which supports people affected by HIV and AIDs, has highlighted that there are two pandemics in the world at present, not just the one filling the headlines. Working safely meant this year’s gifts had to be chosen and filled by ACET staff members, but the impact was just as positive. “We have been blessed by the amazing response we have received and left-over donations will be used to buy supermarket vouchers and basic supplies for needs that arise in the coming months,” a spokesperson said.

Schools’ retreat facilitator Anita Phelan is used to delivering workshops and retreats in schools or retreat centres but now she has taken to the streets of Dublin with A Pilgrim Path. “This year I was approached by a school and asked to design and facilitate a retreat that was based around a walking tour of Dublin city’s churches,” Anita told VOX magazine. “I was delighted to accept the request, recognising immediately the potential benefits for participating students. A Pilgrim Path begins at a meeting point in the city centre and then encompasses anything from four to six church visits, with an average of a 15-20 minute walk between churches.” While the walking tour introduces students to the history of the churches, its main objective is to encourage young people to see churches as places that offer peace, a sacred space and a refuge in a busy world. “I was fortunate to take out a number of groups at the beginning of the school year and the feedback from their experience of A Pilgrim Path far exceeded my expectations,“ Anita said. One student commented on the benefit of “finding silence in a busy day through meditation and prayer” while another enjoyed connecting with God through stillness and prayer, “I feel closer to God.” “There can be a misconception that young people have no interest in their faith or church attendance but what was reinforced to me was the great hunger that exists within students to come to know God. Young people are reminded through these retreats that no matter who they are or what they have done they are always welcome in God’s house and that God, above all, loves to see them coming,” Anita added. Find out more at www.iam-retreats.com or email iamretreatsinfo@gmail.com. JAN - MAR 2021 VOX.IE

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WORLD NEWS

WHAT DOES 2021 HOLD FOR PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS? BY DAVID TURNER

T

he Covid-19 pandemic increased the suffering for many persecuted Christians in 2020. In Pakistan, some Christians were denied government aid being distributed through mosques and were told that it was for Muslims only, while in India and Nigeria poor Christians were simply overlooked and left out of aid distributions. Church in Chains, working through local partners, was able to help some of these Christians in their need. As 2021 begins, the worst effects of Covid-19 seem to be over in most of the 60 countries where Christians face persecution. However, the outlook in many of these countries is either rising persecution or continuing severe persecution, though there have been a few hopeful signs of positive change. Writing for VOX magazine, Church in Chains Director David Turner points to some of the trends to keep an eye on in 2021.

ON THE RISE

An estimated 1,200 Christians were killed in attacks by Muslim Fulani militants in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region last year and over 50,000 became Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) seeking refuge in IDP camps or moving in with family members in other areas because their villages became unsafe or were taken over entirely. The Nigerian government has failed to take any decisive action to halt the violence but instead has concentrated on denying the religious motivation behind the attacks. Many believe that President Buhari (who is a Muslim Fulani) is reluctant to act against members of his own ethnic group. Fears that the situation could get even worse are summed up in the title of a report issued by a UK parliamentary group in 2020: “Nigeria – Unfolding Genocide?” The spread of radical Muslim terrorist groups across subSaharan Africa is posing a great threat to governments in several countries as well as to Christians living in the region. During 2020, violent attacks were committed against Christians in parts of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda. Meanwhile, in Pakistan there has been an upsurge in reports of young teenage Christian girls kidnapped by Muslim men, forcibly converted to Islam and forced into marriage. Typically, local police fail to help and during 2020, lowerlevel courts often sided with the kidnappers – one judge instructed police not to “harass the newlywed couple”. Some girls have managed to escape, others have been rescued and placed in women’s refuges while others remain with their abductors. Kidnappings have increased because kidnappers are emboldened by the lack of police action against them. One sliver of hope for change came in December, when the Pakistani government announced an investigation into the issue.

ONGOING SEVERE PERSECUTION

Christians living in China have grown used to the evertightening restrictions on their activities in recent years – especially since new religious regulations were introduced in 08

VOX.IE JAN - MAR 2021

2018 as part of President Xi Jinping’s “Sinicisation” policies, which aim to ensure that every religion conforms to Chinese Communist Party philosophy. For Christians, these policies have led to the removal of crosses from thousands of church buildings, the banning of under-18’s from church premises and the closure of hundreds of churches. 2021 seems likely to continue this trend, which has also seen the imprisonment of well-known house church leaders and the harassment of members of their churches which form the bulk of China’s estimated 100 million Christians. Church in Chains partner Bob Fu, founder of China Aid, said: “The Chinese Communist Party, led by Xi Jinping, is trying to build a country modelled after North Korea. This will only get worse.” In India, the recent trend of violent attacks on Christians in rural areas by Hindu extremists continued during 2020. The lack of any government action to halt these actions means that Hindu militants feel emboldened to continue their hate campaign in pursuit of their “Hindus only” vision for India. At a meeting with Church in Chains in July 2020, the Indian ambassador to Ireland dismissed the attacks as “isolated incidents”. In late 2020, Church in Chains partner Shibu Thomas, founder of Persecution Relief, was accused of “antinational activities” and “tarnishing the nation’s image” because of Persecution Relief’s documenting of hundreds of incidents of persecution. In Iran, the church is continuing to grow and also suffer with no sign of either coming to an end. Church in Chains partners speak of a continuing hunger for the New Testament and a growth in discipleship programmes while also reporting house churches being raided and leaders arrested and threatened, with some ending up in prison or in exile.

SIGNS OF HOPE

Eritrea’s Christians, especially those who belong to unapproved churches, have faced severe persecution since their churches were forcibly closed in 2002. Thousands of Christians have been imprisoned without charge or sentence since then. However, the unexplained release of 69 Christian prisoners in autumn 2020 followed by the release of 28 Jehovah’s Witnesses prisoners in December has led to hopes that a more general release of the estimated 300 Christians currently in prison may happen in 2021. They include some church leaders who have been prisoners for over 16 years. Persecution of Christians in Sudan has been severe for over 30 years but the deposing of the authoritarian president Omar al-Bashir has led to some big changes introduced by a transitional government. Instead of closing churches, the government has granted permission for church buildings and authorised state television to broadcast Christmas services. The government reformed the county’s apostasy laws in 2020, removing the death penalty for conversion from Islam. Find out more at www.churchinchains.ie.


OM IS LOOKING FOR A NEW NATIONAL DIRECTOR

PARTNERSHIP DIRECTOR

TAKE PART IN A GLOBAL COMMUNITY OF JESUS FOLLOWERS UNITED TO SHARE GOD'S LOVE

We are looking for a National Director to give overall leadership to the ministry, resources, people and network of Operation Mobilisation in Ireland. Requirements: Passionately committed to our mission Exhibiting Godly character and spiritual maturity Able to envision the big picture and future, while leading ministry in the present A team player who is able to work across disciplines to foster collaboration Able to handle responsibility, complexity and stress well High level of cultural and emotional intelligence Is willing to travel internationally

Are you great at building relationships and linking the right people to each other? Do you have vision to see Christians work together to build God's kingdom? Come and help us build partnerships with churches, organisations and trusts, so together we can work on seeing vibrant communities of Jesus followers here in Ireland!

HOSPITALITY COORDINATOR(S)

Do you have a heart to make others feel welcome and at home? Do you enjoy meeting new people? We are looking for someone, or a couple, that are handy, love to roll up their sleeves and who want to serve God and others in a practical way. Come and take care of our OM base at Lacken House, Co. Roscommon, and oversee all guest services.

For all of these ministry roles our staff will be expected to develop a prayer and financial support base. For other vacancies and more information look at om.org or be in touch with personnel.ie@om.org.

JAN - MAR 2021 VOX.IE

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YOUR VOX

Star Prize of VOX we In each issue of a €25 ize pr a d awar for our r he book vouc r, email tte le ite ur favo ment. It m co or online u! yo be d ul co

Our children are learning to give with joy We are writing to you in relation to the article about the shoeboxes (Issue 48, Oct-Dec 2020). We first heard about Team Hope and the shoeboxes when we arrived in Ireland a few years ago. Since then, our children (who are currently 12 and 8 years old) love to prepare the boxes with the things we buy for that. This year, with Covid-19, we learned through VOX that the method would be different: no shoebox preparation at homes, but donations online. We shared this change with our children, and we encouraged them that to be part of this project this year, they could set apart some money from their own savings to donate to Team Hope. We talked about the reality of less fortunate children, how much we all enjoy receiving gifts and the importance of giving as we

SO REFRESHING!

I have sometimes written letters to you in my head to tell you that I think VOX is just great (just haven’t got around to it until now).  You have such an incredibly wide range of articles from a wide range of people. The magazine has such an inclusive but unbiased perspective that is so refreshing. It’s so encouraging to read it and hear all that is going on, on this Island.  God is so great!

Joanie Reilly Naas, Co Kildare

10 VOX.IE JANLETTERS - MAR 2021TO SEND YOUR

have received. God is so merciful and generous to us, how can we not be generous to others? Just a few days later we found them reading the article in VOX by themselves, learning about children in hugely different situations, and how they could be involved by donating what a shoebox costs. We encouraged them to pray for God to tell them what to do. We did not want to push them but we do want to help them learn to give with joy. Thanks for the article, we have enjoyed it as a family: it created a space to talk about this very important topic and gave our children the opportunity to be part of the extension of God’s kingdom from a very young age.

Pablo and Analía Colazurdo

RAISING AWARENESS

I noticed your recent article on a Schizophrenic Life (Oct - Dec 2020). I was expecting a story from a Christian who lives with schizophrenia and realised it wasn’t. And then I noticed that it misrepresents what schizophrenia is. I think it is mixing it up with a personality disorder (i.e. multiple personalities). Schizophrenia is a treatable psychotic disorder where people experience a fractured reality in which they sense things that are not there (visual and auditory hallucinations primarily). Just wanted to let you know for those living with schizophrenia this might matter. I have at least one Christian friend in Ireland who lives with it. (Ed note: We’re grateful for this clarification from an online message and would be keen to represent schizophrenia more accurately. Contact us if you’d be interested in helping us with this - editor@vox.ie).

EDITOR@VOX.IE OR YOUR VOX, ULYSSES HOUSE, 22-24 FOLEY STREET, DUBLIN 1


LIFE

VOX MAGAZINE

Wear the Green Jersey New initiative promotes Irish business

W

ith Christmas looming, Jonathan Shaw and his wife were wondering how they could “shop local” and support Irish businesses. “We had become aware of, and hugely impacted by, stories of the many Irish businesses and employees whose livelihoods had been threatened or completely decimated as a result of Covid-19 restrictions and uncertainties,” Jonathan said. “The Irish media had begun urging people to ‘put on the green jersey’ rather than go for the obvious online stores. We were sitting together one evening and thought, ‘We are being encouraged to buy Irish but where are all those Irish websites?’ We went looking and it was tricky to find what was available online. I think we are all attracted to what can seem like the easier choice of international websites that have become household names, for better or worse. “That got me thinking, ‘What if there was a central website where people could be directed to Irish businesses and Irish websites so that struggling industries can be supported and helped back onto their feet? Could I pull something together?’” Jonathan had recently left the security of a fulltime job in youth work to train, support and mentor new and long-serving

youth workers around the country with Youth Ministry Development (www.ymd.ie). Restrictions on movement meant his ministry was severely limited, which also affected his income and with three children in third level education that was a challenge. “I realised there is a biblical precedent for supporting ministry through part-time work (St. Paul was a “tent maker”) and so I set up a small business with a website designed to support Irish businesses this Christmas and beyond; to encourage us all to ‘put on the green jersey’ and buy Irish.” “I was recently very proud of one of our own children – a university student with no regular source of income – who intentionally made the choice to purchase a much-soughtafter and highly desired Christmas gift, not from one of the international suppliers but locally, from an Irish outlet to support the local business.” Jonathan added. “This sort of personal choice is exactly what GreenJersey.ie is all about. It may at times mean a small personal sacrifice in terms of price but it has huge benefit not just for the local store but also our collective support of Irish businesses and the Irish economy.” Jonathan’s desire is to help small businesses and employers who’ve been hard hit by lockdowns and new restrictions. “I wanted to highlight that many businesses are producing or selling things we need close by.” For a small, nominal fee businesses can include a listing on the Green Jersey website, directing purchasers to their online stores and increasing sales. He is investigating tiered pricing so the smallest businesses and individual artisans and craftspeople will pay less than more established firms. “And who knows. If Green Jersey gains momentum and proves successful, it may just tide us over in terms of our own income deficit during these challenging times,” Jonathan smiled.

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My2020

A Year of Reflection, Opportunity and Rest

2020 will live long in our memories but at the end of a year dominated by negative headlines and dire predictions, we wanted to know the grassroots experience of Christians in Ireland. As usual our readers didn’t disappoint. With responses from all 32 counties on the island, people shared their highs and lows, and gave us an insight into what God has been saying through lockdown, restriction and upheaval.

We asked what characterised 2020? (People ticked all that applied)

65% Reflection - an opportunity to re-evaluate my priorities 46% Opportunity - God has opened new doors that I did not expect 42% Rest - I’ve had a chance to cut back 33% Loneliness - it has been hard to be disconnected from others 31% Frustration - it has been difficult to be restricted 27% Joy - really good things came out of this year for me 17% Fear or anxiety - I’m concerned about myself, my loved ones and the wider world 13% Pain - I’ve experienced the grief of loss and/or sickness this year 8% Hardship - this has been really tough (either financially or in other ways) 20% Other - people mentioned change, tiredness, adapting, blessings, grief, busyness and more While the positives out-weighed the negatives, it is important to note that 2020 was characterised by loneliness and frustration for one in three of those who responded to our survey and a significant percentage experienced fear and anxiety, pain or hardship.

We also asked about people’s faith experience during 2020. Here’s what they told us: 40% I’ve prayed more 39% I’ve drawn closer to Jesus and feel renewed 31% I’ve read the Bible more 30% I’ve found new ways to worship 26% I’ve found it really hard not being able meet with other Christians 20% I’ve clung onto Jesus (somehow) 7% I’ve struggled a lot in my faith 5% No change this year 4% I feel distant from Jesus 14% Other - people spoke of sacred moments, contemplation, gratitude and joy as well as wrestling with faith, disconnection/ disillusionment with church, challenges and anger with God.

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A time of learning... MANY REFLECTED ON WHAT THEY LEARNT DURING AN EVENTFUL YEAR.

From Westmeath

“God is with us. That is what He’s been offering since the beginning. The church can’t gather as usual, but the church is alive because the Spirit of God is in us. We are church everywhere now, not just inside the building.”

From Roscommon

“I have realised even more the importance of fellowship with other believers. Meeting online can provide good teaching and worship but does not satisfy the need for connection, encouragement and accountability.”

From Donegal

“I’ve learnt to see God anew in these dark times. In creation and through creativity, that would not have been possible in a ‘normal’ year.”

From Kildare

“It has been encouraging to see that my faith and the faith of others I know does not depend on our usual faith building and maintenance activities but continues even when circumstances change dramatically.”

From Antrim

“[I’ve] learned: to see opportunity in every challenge, moved from being a ‘doer’ to being an enabler [and I’m] thankful for new opportunities and church growth.”

From Dublin

“I’ve learnt how to be innovative, creative and find ways to find solutions to challenges. I’ve seen goodness and kindness from so many. I’ve felt the closeness of God and His Holy Spirit guiding, sustaining and helping me through challenging and busy times.”

From Galway

“Ps 46:10 Be still and know that I am God. God is teaching me that I’m not the one who can change anyone’s heart and convert them - only He can. My job is not to argue with my loved ones but be caring and treat them as Jesus would. He will do the rest in His timing!”

From Waterford “I’ve learned to cleave to my Daddy more. Thank God for Zoom and to be able to have services three times a week. The weather was fabulous in the first three months. I spent most of my spare time in my garden. But I do miss hugs from my mother and friends.”

From Dublin

“I’ve learnt that the Holy Spirit is not intimidated by Zoom. My fear of Zoom has gone. I see how the Lord can use it for His Glory. Had opportunities on my daily walks to pray with people. Really thankful for the men’s Alpha Course I ran in my RC Parish. I have been enjoying studying the Bible in One Year by Nicky Gumbel each morning. It is a free App on my smart phone and a new post comes every morning. It’s been a blessing. I then type the Scripture portions that bless me.”

From Down

“This pandemic has revealed on a global scale how vulnerable humanity really is. We are so not in control.”

From Dublin

“I’ve learnt that many Christians seem to be more conscious of the fear of a virus or man than they are of the Lord. I’ve also learnt a lot are standing up for Truth, trying to pull our economy, livelihoods and very lives back from the brink. I wish more would be bold enough to do that too!”

From Cork

“Learnt much conducting online worship, how in the longer run it can be creatively draining trying to come up with new ideas to keep it fresh. Thankful for all the people that join us on-line for worship every Sunday and for the small group that are doing Alpha online.”

From Offaly

“I think, for me, there has been something really spiritual about having to learn that I am not in control. Slowly and painfully yielding control over everything to God has been a learnt discipline this year. It has been difficult but good.”

From Sligo

“That God’s timing is perfect...”

From Carlow

“Learning to lean into the Lord far more for rest, direction and clarity in difficult times. Holding on to His word and promises, that He will fulfil them regardless of how desperate things seem.”

From Cork

“I have seen the church learn new ways to reach out and adapt, and I’ve seen God’s people grow in faith. I’m a little worried that church attending will be different from now on but the Lord will be with us whatever.”

JAN - MAR 2021 VOX.IE

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My2020

A Time of Reflection

FOR ALMOST TWO-THIRDS OF CHRISTIANS WHO RESPONDED TO OUR SURVEY, LAST YEAR PROVIDED OPPORTUNITIES FOR REFLECTION; THEY FOUND TIME TO RE-EVALUATE PRIORITIES AND THINK DEEPLY ABOUT THE CHURCH AND MISSION. HERE’S A TASTE OF THEIR REFLECTIONS.

From Dublin

“I feel this year has been an important one for me and for the church as we’ve learned new and innovative ways to communicate. We’ve also had opportunities to reach people who, up to this point, would not attend on Sundays. Also had opportunities to spend more time chatting with close neighbours, due to the lockdown.”

From Armagh

“I realised we are able to reach the lost outside the church community if we go looking.”

From Limerick

“Can church go back to what it was pre Covid? No, I don’t think so! Church is at the heart of the spread of the Kingdom of God on earth (your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven). Each member of the body has a part to play. No more passive Sunday come-and-goers. God is prepared to speak and to act. Now is the time as next time it may be too late!”

From Cork

“How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? That is always a challenge but Covid-19 has made me think more deeply about ministry and mission. There is always a way, and always those who need to hear the song. The Spirit invites us to change and growth.”

From Louth

“The Lord has been speaking to me to not get lost in the fight but to get lost in Him. The fight for freedom is not necessarily our cause - our call is to preach the gospel and present the Kingdom of God. As we come to the place of intimacy, our eyes will be opened to the opportunities that have been set before us. The world has never shut down the church, we have to hear from the Lord and trust His leading for there are opportunities in every storm or circumstance.”

From Cork

“It is just so ‘grounding’ to know that God is in control, and nothing can happen without His allowing it. Over the years, realising that fact has usually made me ask, ‘Lord, you’ve seen fit to allow this to happen so what are you trying to teach me through it?’” 14

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From Tyrone

“God remains faithful and unmoved by it all. The gospel remains a simple invitation. The song Waymaker, particularly earlier in the year, was one to press into.”

From Cork

“Not being able to meet in church has allowed me to think about what church is, i.e. people who have been redeemed by Jesus. Church is and needs to be more than our meetings and rituals.”

From Leitrim

“What I have observed is that even those who claim to be Christian are consumed by fear. You either trust God or you don’t. For me, God has numbered my days and I will be taken in His time and I have no fear. “

Thought Provoking - Dublin

“I follow a daily reading pattern from the Northumbria Community. This was the entry on 8 May: Some years ago in intercession we were warned of a rising tide of the Spirit that would change the landscape all around. People who had previously never been isolated would suddenly find themselves alone on ‘small islands’ surprised, bewildered, cut off from familiar demands and expectations, learning just to seek God. What do they need, these new island-dwellers so suddenly alone? They feel isolated but actually they are more linked... by the tide of the Spirit! A small boat appears. In the boat are willing friends bringing much-needed encouragement and carefully chosen supplies. They also point out and recognise the resources already there, unnoticed and unharnessed in that place. God has prepared us for such a time as this. Are you willing to be anointed for this task of encouragement? (Andy Raine) The connection to our 2020 life is, I think, obvious. My own experience and observations suggest to me the need to develop new forms of monasticism - intensive spiritual discipline towards maturity, to prepare us for future crises that will invariably come. Too many people have relied upon public/corporate expressions of faith that demand little personal commitment (and receive even less). When these gatherings are not possible, like plants in shallow ground, these people wither and die. I think that a


A Time of Listening

WE ASKED PEOPLE TO SHARE BIBLE VERSES THAT HAVE BEEN A COMFORT AND HELP. From Dublin conversation around this, one that draws upon the many international and historical examples of vibrant monasticism, would prove incredibly stimulating.

And more from Dublin!

“It’s reconfirmed to me that the Church is most clearly aligned with Jesus’ Kingdom mission and purposes when it has left its buildings! Salt out of the saltshaker! Light, not under a basket but shining out right in the middle of a dark and discouraged world. There is a great role for the church gathered... But, as the Church in Acts 8:1 discovered, the good news about Jesus and the Kingdom of God spread widely as the church was scattered.” “I am both scared and excited to see how this pandemic changes our world once it’s ‘over’. It will be interesting to see how the world responds in good and bad ways. What will we continue to do, what will we start doing again, what will we appreciate more?” “I’ve enjoyed the slowed-down pace of life. The huge amount of positive texts/videos/poetry/ music etc. shared on WhatsApp at the start [of the pandemic] allowed me to share my faith more openly with others. People were so vulnerable and open to God, to hearing and sharing where they were at themselves. It was like months of snowdays where everyone cared beyond themselves. My pastor posed a great challenge to our congregation recently, ‘When Covid is over and we look back, how will we finish this sentence... “This happened so that...”? How will we have used this time to develop our relationship with Jesus?’” “Have loved the song Build My Life by Housefires during this season. This time has been a challenge. With all stripped away are we grasping at the loss of sport, social gatherings, etc. or grasping for more of Christ the ultimate sustainer and the only one who brings great joy in all situations we go through? It deeply saddens me how blind we can be to the mission of Christ.” “Spent more time learning and listening to Biblebased programmes as well as reading more. I miss fellowship connections but have found ways to reach out and serve. [There is] certainly much more time to reflect and plan.”

Isaiah 26:20 - “Come my people, enter your chambers and shut your doors behind you, hide yourselves for a little while until the Lord’s wrath is past.” This verse of scripture sums up 2020.

From Antrim

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

From Cork

A verse that has meant a lot when I grow weary is from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.

From Monaghan

“Be still and know that I am God” became an active reality.

From Dublin

“Be still and know that I am God” has stayed with me throughout the craziness this year and the fear many were experiencing didn’t get to me. I actually felt peaceful.

From Roscommon

Psalm 23 - He is with me as I go through the valley of the shadow of death.

From Dublin

Psalm 146:4–5 - “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish. Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever.”

From Meath

Romans 15:13 - “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” We have no control. God is in control and when I trust in Him, I have peace and joy.

From Cavan

“Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” - Psalm 126:4-6. God has always restored His people’s fortunes in the past, and so He will do it again!”

From Louth

Ecclesiastes 1:1-10 reminds us of vanity and that there is nothing new and so no need to fear l think.

From Dublin

John 14:27 - “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” JAN - MAR 2021 VOX.IE

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My2020

fresh experiences WE WERE AMAZED AND OFTEN MOVED BY THE STORIES AND EXPERIENCES PEOPLE SHARED - HERE IS JUST A TASTE...

My Rock and My Comforter - Dublin

The joy of the Lord is my strength. I am thankful for computers and the new ways we communicate with others. I have been involved in two different Bible studies on Zoom and our friendships have been strengthened. In January, I moved home to care for my parents (both with Alzheimer’s). In February, my husband had an operation for cancer. In March, lockdown arrived and in April my father died. But I can still say that the Lord is my rock and comfort.

The earth is the Lord’s - Fermanagh

Through daily walks in lockdown I have been struck by the beauty of the local environment and the real threats to it. I have discovered curlews attempting to breed near me and learnt they might be extinct in Ireland very soon. Threats are local and global and I’m much more conscious of the necessity of Christian care for the environment. Christian faith should have much to say in this sphere. A verse from the Psalms has probably been the standout verse this year “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.”

An Incredible Year of Opportunities - Down

Lockdown forced us to go online. We had planned another Alpha Course in our community but ended up running that online with 107 people signing up. We ended up with a consistent 50-55 each week. There were seven first time decisions for Jesus! We are currently running an online Freedom in Christ Course with 15 people and another online Alpha with 10. It has been an incredible year of different, and unexpected, opportunities for the Gospel. However, we can’t wait to get back to operating as ‘normal’ when possible.

Sadness and Blessing - Dublin 2020 has been bumpy at times. There is undoubted sadness at not being able to see family and friends and there was a personal family bereavement this year, which couldn’t be marked in any ‘normal’ way. I lost ‘half’ of my job and have been working from home since March and a family member is ill. But there has been tremendous blessing too. I actually feel closer to my church family, through 16

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regular zoom meetings, phone calls and texts. An app with daily reflections has challenged my faith and walk with the Lord. I have taken tremendous joy at spending time in nature. I’m enjoying the simpler things much more. And finally, I’ve been exploring my creative side with workshops and online courses, which have given me a sense of purpose and achievement.

Utterly relying on God - Clare

“Sails” by Pat Barrett has been my tune - completely and utterly relying on God’s guidance and energy. This has been a season of pressing - Hillsong’s New Wine comes to mind - in a difficult season God has pressed me but new wine has emerged. There has been a new level of seeking God in fasting and prayer, a new level of financial sacrifice and with three kids and a dog - a new level of delegation and working smart.”

Times of refreshing but also concern Dublin

“I’ve embarked on a new chapter in my walk with God, resting in His love, relying on His goodness, learning to really trust Him with my life more. The lack of communal worship hasn’t dented my faith - I’ve learned to practice it differently, which has been refreshing. However, I think for many young people (including my kids) this has been really damaging for their faith. They are only in the beginning of their journey and the social aspect of it is so important (youth groups, camps and so on) - that has been taken away and they have lost interest as a result. I’m worried for them.”

Convinced of God’s goodness but questioning church Antrim

“I’ve felt disconnection from church not because I can’t see people but because of the polarising views I see some expressing (e.g. the idea church is persecuted by Covid restrictions). I’m questioning the role of church so much that at times I’ve wondered if I have faith. But God has been good. Through sickness (Covid) and bereavement He has been there. I’m not sure what the future looks like - today I’m in bed with flare up of Long Covid symptoms - but I don’t know how to do life without Him. I have appreciated this song - especially the reference to breath when I’ve had little!”


“Goodness of God” by Bethel Music I love You, Lord For Your mercy never failed me All my days, I’ve been held in Your hands From the moment that I wake up Until I lay my head Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God And all my life You have been faithful And all my life You have been so, so good With every breath that I am able Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God I love Your voice You have led me through the fire And in darkest night You are close like no other I’ve known You as a Father I’ve known You as a Friend And I have lived in the goodness of God

A new opportunity - Dublin

“Just before level 5 in October, coffee shops were in full demand in Dun Laoghaire for a takeaway coffee and a seat with a view. An elderly couple sat a safe distance from me in the people’s park. They were engaged in a conversation with a young man whose wife was a doctor and he was very graciously advising them about best practice about staying safe. When he left I tentatively struck up a conversation about wellbeing on a deeper level. Everything I shared about faith and the futility of living for material gain seemed to register, judging from their expressions. Our conversation lasted perhaps ten minutes and we went back to our coffee time. When they left, I said goodbye and the woman’s parting words gripped me. ‘You will never know what our little conversation has meant to me today!’”

I’ve grown in my faith - Offaly

“Our church has consistently done a Zoom prayer meeting/ Bible study twice weekly since March and it has been what has kept me and pointed me to Jesus. I definitely think I would be

struggling to remain connected to Christians and to the Lord without this, but instead I feel I’ve grown in my faith and I’ve grown closer to the group who’ve participated in the Zooms.

The same yesterday, today and forever Dublin

“I’ve had surgery twice this year and I had a stroke in March. However the Lord has sustained me. The chorus that I adopted for myself is All May Change But Jesus Never - Glory To His Name. As a church we did some new ideas such as prayer buddies (ringing up a friend and praying with them each day for about an hour to bring the Pandemic front line workers before him as well as the needs of our family and church family).”

Advance Notice Longford

“For seven years as Longford Bible Alive, a small group of Christians rented a premises in the town centre to meet together to worship, read the Bible and pray for the community. We called it The Well Worship Centre. In October 2019, God began preparing us that this ministry would end in March 2020. In faith, we gave our landlord the required one-month notice in February. A major shock came when two of our small group died suddenly during February. Then Covid-19 arrived in mid March and everything stopped abruptly. It has been difficult to maintain contact with people. While I marvel at the advance notice God gave us, it has still been hard to go from meeting three times a week to zero. We now wait on the Lord for directions.”

Reconnected - Mayo

“I have reconnected with myself through my time in nature and in the garden: there was a sense of being an integral part of creation, in intimate relationship with the Creator. I have also reconnected with something deep inside me through arts and crafts.”

JAN - MAR 2021 VOX.IE

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My2020

BLESSINGS, ENCOURAGEMENTS AND THANKSGIVING A RECURRING THEME IN ALL THE COMMENTS WAS A SENSE OF GRATITUDE AND RECOGNITION OF THE BLESSINGS GOD HAS BROUGHT OUT OF A DIFFICULT TIME. HERE’S JUST A TASTE TO INSPIRE YOU: From Louth

“When all is stripped away, Jesus is the constant figure in my life.” “My faith in Jesus has carried me through this year and also through many other trials. At no point have I ever worried about finances or catching Covid because I know Jesus is with me. He is my refuge and strength, my high tower, my strong fortress. [He is] my everything. Even though I am on immunosuppressants and considered to be in the vulnerable category, I have no fear, because His faithfulness will bring me through all of this.”

From Laois

“Valued time to slow down, be still, and refocus, in a time of unprecedented uncertainty, on the Lord Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today and forever.”

From Wicklow

“I had the headspace to attend to my body [diet and exercise] as well as mind and spirit, which for me has been really healthy. I now love the liturgy which talks of the work Christ has begun in us, is continuing and will be complete - so incredibly reassuring. Also the prayer called the Benedicite where we say, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel who has come to His people to set them free” - that just makes my heart soar every time I hear it. I listen to Morning Prayer every day from Clontarf Church of Ireland, and the minister there is just wonderful. I’ve benefitted hugely from this daily worship - never thought I’d ever say that. I am astonished that my children in their 20’s have become real friends with each other even through the usual spats and being together so much - I just thank the Lord for that.”

From Kilkenny

“What a year! I have witnessed generosity, people praying more, reading the Bible more and when we can: turning up [to church].” 18

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“2020 helped me to spend more time alone with Jesus.”

From Fermanagh

“Through a scheme called Lockdown Gardening, we have shared seeds, plants and produce from the garden with other local people who may or may not have already been growing their own. We have built relationships (socially distanced over the garden fence) and made new networks - it has been a blessing.”

From Westmeath

“I love connecting with folks on Zoom - not the same but a great alternative. More time to think, study and meditate. I have known God’s peace.”

From Cork

“All my days I will sing a song of worship. I will sing of the cross of my redeemer, of the blood that never fails, sins forgiven, conscience cleansed, of death defeated and life without end, beautiful saviour, you reign over all. Hallelujah!”

From Dublin

“I’m so thankful for all God’s blessings. I live in Ireland, my pension arrives every two weeks. I’ve a fridge full of food and we have a good health service.” “The chorus of a worship song from Vertical Worship has been very meaningful and encouraging for me this year: ‘Cause You make mountains move You make giants fall And You use songs of praise To shake prison walls And I will speak to my fear, I will preach to my doubt That You were faithful then, You’ll be faithful now. “New churches have been started. Churches have grown in number of people.”

“Thank you dear Lord for your love for me and everyone else. Every day with you as my Guide, I’m at peace. I praise and thank you again. I’m very thankful for all I have. I love God more and more each day. My family mean the world to me. Thank you dear Lord for your constant presence in my life.” “I’m enjoying spending more time with my family and in nature.” “I liked the way 2020 has made us slow down.” “I have learned to appreciate things more. I feel more grateful. I am saying thanks to God more often.” “During the first lockdown, I felt peace and gratitude for all that I have. But August changed everything and gratitude is now something I have to remind myself about. My good health is something I’m so grateful and privileged to have and an appreciation for nature and the outdoors is always uplifting.” “My son Luke born on 15 February 2020. Just before Covid. I have seen the miracle of creation of my son being born. I thank God every day for my two beautiful boys and the mother of my kids. It’s the closest to God I’ve ever experienced in my life.” “I have learned to have an ‘Attitude of Gratitude’ for everything I have, I thank the Lord Jesus on a daily basis for all the blessings I have in my life, for a wonderful family and for my five beautiful grandchildren, we are definitely very blessed. I was reading Hebrews 5:7 - 10 where it speaks of when Jesus made His prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God, who could save Him from death and because He was humble and devoted, God heard Him. We have so much to learn from Jesus’ humility.”


Musings...

VOX MAGAZINE

Christian Faith and the Coronavirus With Patrick Mitchel

O

s I write, vaccines are on the horizon but SARS-CoV-2 has much of the world in its grip. About 1.5 million people have died and there are about 60 million cases worldwide. Beyond debates about lockdowns and economic responses, what are some distinctively Christian ways to think about the pandemic? Here are some musings...

This is radical stuff. These early Christians really believed that death died at the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They knew it had lost its power and weren’t afraid of its sting. What a wonderful way to see these ‘strange times’ – as a school for fearless practice of faith in the service of others.

IS GOD TO BLAME?

In a recent Zoom call, our home-group talked about how much we took for granted before March 2020. Now it’s a dream to sit around a table having a cup of tea with friends. As 21st century Westerners we are sold a story of what life ‘should’ be like: expectations of growth, prosperity, freedom, happiness, travel, safety, comfort, health, low infant mortality and long-life. We are cocooned in technology and medicine (especially if we have money). The arrival of vaccines offer hope that life can go back to ‘normality’. But let’s learn lessons before rushing back to life as it was. We are reminded that we’re not in control. According to theologian Stanley Hauerwas, in the West, we think we have the medical technology to get out of life alive. The trouble is life has a 100% death rate. We have much to learn about humility and faith from brothers and sisters from other parts of the world familiar with war, famine, death and disease. They are well used to the fragility of life and have no illusions. In prayer we acknowledge that we’re not in control. Prayer brings us into God’s presence and re-orientates us to think, talk and act in light of the truth that God is God and we are not. It looks forward to the return of the Lord and His final victory over sin, sickness, death and evil. So let’s pray ‘Marana tha. Come O Lord!’ (1 Corinthians 16:22).

We could drown in deep theological waters here but three truths need to be held together. God is good. Much that happens in this world (like a pandemic that kills people) is not. Disease and death will form no part of God’s new creation to come. Together, this points to the coronavirus being a symptom of a creation twisted by the Fall. While in itself the virus is not evil (it’s just a tiny organism without moral agency), it’s an unwelcome intruder in a creation that looks forward to renewal. If anyone is to blame, it’s human interference in the natural world.

THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL

Let’s learn lessons before rushing back to life as it was.

LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR

An authentically Christian response to suffering and inequality begins with lament, compassion and love for those most in need. From Christianity’s earliest days, it was a movement of care for the poor. Such teaching is embedded in Jesus’ life and in the rest of the New Testament. This emphasis is rooted in the Jewish scriptures which speak of God’s impartial love for the widow, alien and stranger. Christianity lay behind the development of hospitals and the idea that all people, made in the image of God, are worth caring for. Such love is revolutionary. In these pandemic times, let the church be known for its self-giving love, not a concern for its own rights.

A SCHOOL FOR FAITH

Eusebuis’ Ecclesiastical History describes plague in third-century Alexandria as recorded by Dionysius. “… But now all things are filled with tears, all are mourning, and by reason of the multitudes already dead, and still dying, groans are daily resounding throughout the city… [This pestilence was] a calamity more dreadful to them [the pagans] than any dread, and more afflictive that any affliction... To us, however, it did not wear this character, but no less than other events it was a school for exercise and probation. “Indeed, the most of our brethren, by their exceeding great love... not sparing themselves, and adhering to one another, were constantly superintending the sick, ministering to their wants without fear and without cessation, and healing them in Christ, have departed most sweetly with them.” (VII, 22.7). Dr. Patrick Mitchel is Senior Lecturer in Theology at the Irish Bible Institute. You can follow his blog at www.faithinireland.wordpress.com.

JAN - MAR 2021 VOX.IE

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CONFESSIONS OF A FEINT SAINT

VOX MAGAZINE

Press ‘Join’ By Annmarie Miles

E

very January you see them, the New Year social media posts saying how good it is to see the back of last year and how much hope there is for this new year. This January they are in abundance. 2020 did not go to plan. You think?! But what was the plan? What were your New Year’s resolutions for 2020? OK, so they probably didn’t include staring at your computer every day saying, “You’re still on mute,” or like me, spending the first 15 minutes of church holding up a sign to the camera which said, YOU HAVE TO PRESS ‘JOIN’ (yes, I actually made a sign so I could silently communicate with those still trying to get on to the church Zoom at 11.10am). My resolutions are pretty much the same every year. They are various versions of - eat (less), pray (more), love (everyone). The wording might change but really, I start every year wanting the same thing: to spend more time with God, to work on my physical health, to develop my spiritual life, to sort out the pile of stuff in the corner of the bedroom. At the start of last year, that was my plan, Then 2020 happened. Thankfully, though I was caught off guard, God was not. Our God was not taken by surprise when 2020 started to fall apart for the whole world. We were all in a flurry of confusion. Whether it was lack of loo roll in the supermarket, length of queues at the chemist, or church doors closing with only some Zoom novices to make things happen, we were thrown from our place of comfort. Shaken out of our familiarity. But God, who has seen the beginning from the end, remained where He always is, on His throne of grace and sovereignty.        So, although I, and maybe all of us, enter this New Year with a sense of trepidation, we do not have to worry. God literally has the whole world in His hands and if we trust Him no matter what comes, no matter what we face, no matter what the shops run out of, then we will get through it.  God is still in control. There is no shortage of God’s presence.  God is not distant.  God is not on mute.  Maybe 2020 was a sign God was holding up to us.  JOIN ME! Yes, it’s strange; yes it’s different, but join in with what I am doing. May we all join Him in what He is doing in 2021.

“Our God was not taken by surprise when 2020 started to fall apart for the whole world.”

Annmarie Miles is originally from Tallaght and now lives in her husband Richard’s homeland, Wales. As well as VOX articles, she writes short stories, and is working on a book about her journey with food, weight gain, weight loss and God. Visit her blog at www.auntyamo.com. On Twitter she is @amowriting.

JAN - MAR 2021 VOX.IE

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FAITH

TRACKING THE SON An invitation to intimacy

“We cannot run this Christian race outside relationship with the Lord; we must be vitally joined and connected to Him as our life-source. Relationship is costly because it will require time, and the cost of relationship with the Lord is plenty of time lavished in the place of prayer... Trying to do ministry outside of intimacy with Jesus is hard work. God is looking for men and women in this day who will know Him behind closed doors in the secret place, [people] who will walk with God, live in deep fellowship and who are carriers of His presence.” - Extract from Tracking the Son by Mary Ojevwe Evuarherhe

A

timely new book from Mary Evuarherhe calls Christians to a deeper relationship with Jesus by cultivating the “secret place” relationship of a personal prayer life. VOX magazine editor Ruth Garvey-Williams spoke with Mary to find out more.

TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF

I come from a very large family in Nigeria. When I was 12 years old, we had a Nanny who was a Christian and radically living for the Lord. She shared the Gospel with me. I surrendered my life to the Lord that night. I remembered having an encounter with God

at that young age. A few months later I went to boarding school. My encounter with God was short-lived as I drifted away from Him in boarding school. Later at university in 1993, people kept inviting me to go to church but I kept refusing. I knew that the Lord was pursuing me but I didn’t want anything to do with Him. I fell in love and all I wanted was to be with this man. But when he broke my heart, I finally decided to go along to church with a friend and her parents. I cried out to the Lord, “I will give

you my heart; my broken heart.” In hindsight that breakup was a blessing in disguise. “Oh, thank you, Jesus for that heartbreak!” The Lord mended my broken heart and I fell in love with Him.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU LIVED IN IRELAND?

I have lived in Ireland for 18 years with my husband (Prince) and we have three teenage children, a boy and two girls. We moved to Ireland from Nigeria to find a better life. We joined Liberty Community Church in Dublin and we’ve been part of that church ever since. I am a Healthcare Chaplain, working for Dublin Central Mission, providing end-of-life care for the elderly in a nursing home and two sheltered homes for the elderly.

I PRAYED, “LORD HELP ME TO FALL IN LOVE WITH YOU AGAIN.” 22

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VOX MAGAZINE

WHAT CONVINCED YOU TO WRITE THIS BOOK?

When I gave my life to God, I was passionately in love with Jesus. I was seeking Him all the time. But after some years, my love for Him started to diminish, especially when the children came along. It got to a point that I stopped seeking God. I had no passion for the Lord. I had the language of Christianity but I knew that I had forsaken my first love. Around 2008, I began to cry out to the Lord again. I prayed, “Lord help me to fall in love with you again.” I wanted a passionate relationship with Jesus. At that time, my children were under the age of six and I discovered that for me, the best time to seek God was at 4am before everybody woke up. As I began to spend time with the Lord, He became more real to me in the secret place. My utmost desire was to know Him and the more I knew Him, the more I fell in love with Him. Prayer became a pleasure; I began to enjoy and not endure praying. I began to practice the presence of God daily (as Brother Lawrence describes it in his book The Practice Of The Presence Of God). Two years ago, in the early hours of the morning, when I was spending time with the Lord, my eyes were shut to minimise my distractions. With the eyes of my spirit, I saw a picture of a huge sunflower, and I had a strong desire after my time with the Lord to research sunflowers.

is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

us our time. But when we fall in love with the Lord, His presence becomes addictive and we crave far more of Him.

YOUR BOOK WAS PUBLISHED DURING A TIME WHEN CHURCHES COULD NOT MEET TOGETHER, WHY IS THAT IMPORTANT?

LIKE MANY PEOPLE, 2020 WAS A PAINFUL YEAR FOR YOU. TELL US ABOUT THAT.

Many people have been complaining about how they miss the church. They miss gathering together with others to worship God (and that is good) as Hebrews 10:25 tells us, “let us not neglect our meeting together...” But the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul and

I lost two close relatives in June and my mother on 1 October. This was the first time in my life I had come faceto-face with deep grief. It is a bitter pill and everyone grieves differently, I don’t know how people without faith manage. I could only go through this wilderness experience because I knew the Lord was with me. When the waves of grief came like a tsunami, I had the secret place to run to and weep before the Lord. Some days were easier than the others. My hope that I will see my mother again made the grieving process more bearable. She knew the Lord and I know she is with Jesus. All this is a process, and I must go through it with the Lord; He makes it bearable. It was hard not being able to be with my mum during her illness and her last days because of the lockdown. I couldn’t travel to Nigeria. I was heartbroken that I wasn’t there to hold her hand and just be present. But I also grieve with hope because I know that one day I will see her again. There’s a future reunion coming and that’s the glorious hope I cling to.

THIS IS NOT A MICROWAVE RELATIONSHIP.

SO WHAT DID YOU FIND OUT?

From my research, I discovered that sunflowers have an extraordinary and unique characteristic of “tracking the sun”. At sunrise, sunflowers are turned towards the east; over the course of the day, they keep turning to track the sun from east to west whilst, at night, they return to an eastward direction looking forward to the new dawn. The Lord spoke to my heart, “I want you to track me every day like the sunflower tracks the sun.” The Lord wants us to seek Him, to return to our first love. With everything that has happened over the last year, we need the peace that comes from being in His presence (Psalm 16:11). How can we hear what He has to say when we are not spending time with Him? Jesus grows sweeter and lovelier day by day as we grow in the knowledge of Him. Many people go to church but they don’t know Him intimately. John 17:3 says, “And this

with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). We cannot love anyone outside the proximity of intimacy; we must draw near to God before we can know Him and fall in love with Him. The lockdown has given many of us an opportunity to spend quality time in the presence of God, knowing Him and also falling in love with Him. So many people have grown their relationship with the Lord by spending time with Him during this lockdown - what a blessing!

PEOPLE OFTEN FEEL THAT THE SORT OF PRAYER LIFE YOU ARE DESCRIBING IS JUST FOR THE REALLY SPIRITUAL ONES.

This spiritual realm is for the ‘whosoevers’ because the Bible makes us understand that God does not show favouritism (Acts 10:34). He is looking for passionate lovers. Love grows. I started by spending ten minutes with Him, and in the consistency of my love relationship with the Lord, it grew from ten minutes to an hour and then more... His Presence is so wonderful. This is not an overnight success; we must patiently learn to wait on the Lord; the more you seek Him and find Him, the more you fall in love with Him. You cannot manufacture affection; love for Him grows naturally when you spend time with Him. Many people become uneasy after spending five minutes in prayer. When you are in love with somebody talking to them becomes effortless. True prayer is measured by weight and not length; it is not the abundance of words. Prayer is communion with God. This is not a microwave relationship. It requires plenty of alone times to develop intimacy with Him. It will cost

HOW CAN PEOPLE GET HOLD OF YOUR BOOK?

Tracking The Son is available on Amazon, people can email me [Ed note: send an email to editor@vox.ie and we’ll pass it on] or contact me on my Facebook page “Mary’s Alabaster Box”.


REALITY

“I’m livin’ the dream”

A glimpse behind the scenes of the Mustard Seed Soup Run 24

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ougie Hobson has spent over 40 years helping homeless people in Dublin. But it all started when he was a young lad of 17 working behind the tea and coffee counter at Bewley’s in Grafton Street. A natural born storyteller, Dougie leans towards the screen [yes, this is yet another Zoom interview]. His eyes are shining as he recalls, “This lady came into the shop, dressed in a number of coats and carrying two big bags. I was fascinated with her.” In those days, you could drive down Grafton Street and Dougie would drive to and from work on his motorbike. Two days after that first encounter, he spotted the lady in a doorway, preparing to spend the night. “I stopped my bike and went to chat with her and I asked if I could get her anything.” The lady produced a hot water bottle and asked if he could go into a local café to fill it. She also asked for a bag of chips and insisted on paying for them. “I went and got the hot water and the chips and came back. She took them both and put them inside her coat, to keep herself warm. And that was where it all began.” Dougie was involved in various projects over the years but since 2006, he has been volunteering with the Mustard Seed Soup Run founded by Maura O’Neill. The project, which is an outreach of Trinity Church in Gardiner Street in Dublin city centre, is run entirely by volunteers. “Originally we had a walking teams that would go out on a Monday night. One team of two people would cover the north side of the city and another would cover the south side,” Dougie explains. Easily recognisable in their bright red jackets, the team would give out hot food and drinks and stop for a chat with people sleeping rough.” “Prayer is a huge part of my life. I pray about absolutely everything and at any time in the day. I don’t hear voices

but God does talk to me. I get this very clear kind of impression on my heart about something,” Dougie explains. “In the early days, we used to do all-nighters three or four times a year. We would have a special time of prayer and then hit the streets between 2 and 3am.” “This particular Monday night, we met Sven* from Sweden. We don’t know how he ended up in Ireland but he was an alcoholic and was sleeping rough. We were just about to go when I got this crystal clear feeling that I should offer to prayer for him. He immediately said yes, so my teammate Bill and I got down beside him and prayed. It was so powerful. We could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit and that was my last encounter with Sven. Two weeks later a volunteer with another soup run told me that she had just dropped Sven off at the airport. He was flying back to Sweden to be reunited with his family.” One night, Dougie’s right hand man - Ray was leading the team on the south side. It was a busy night and they began working their way down Grafton Street, stopping to chat with homeless people and to serve out cups of soup. A businessman stood watching them for about 20 minutes and then made a trip to a nearby ATM. He came over to Ray and handed him a donation of €500 on the spot. “I’d never seen such crisp new €50 notes before,” Dougie recalls. “Two days later, I got a call from this man’s PA. She wanted to meet us at Trinity Church. The business had decided to get involved by donating 50 backpacks full of quality winter supplies (woolly hats, sleeping bags, etc.). Ray and I went to hand them out, carefully selecting who should receive the packs. And at the end, we reported back with 50 names and 50 loca-

tions [to reassure the business that every backpack had been given to a homeless person who needed it].” They were so impressed that the following year they donated a catering van which Ray customised. Soon the service was extended to seven nights a week all year round. “We don’t miss a night,” Dougie says. “There are about 25 volunteers on the team and we have a weekly rota. A team of two people go out every night. Every three months we get supplies from FoodCloud including noodles, soup and drinks. But we are more than just a soup run. We receive donations of tents, sleeping bags and clothes that we distribute and our biggest role is simply to listen to our clients. Sometimes we would even pray with them if the opportunity arises.” During the pandemic many services stopped and while the Mustard Seed had to suspend its walking teams, the van continued to go out every night, seven days a week without fail. “One of the good outcomes of the current situation is that there are now more beds available and a good number of homeless people have been able to move off the streets. In some places, they are able to stay during the day whereas before it was just a bed for the night and they had to leave first thing in the morning. Some have even found more permanent housing which is very good,” Dougie shares. “Even so, some clients have really struggled with depression through recent months.”

“THE MUSTARD SEED TEAM BELONGS TO GOD. WE PRAY EVERY NIGHT AND ALL SORTS OF AMAZING THINGS HAVE HAPPENED.” JAN - MAR 2021 VOX.IE

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GOD’S MUSTARD SEED

In the last 14 years, Dougie and the other volunteers have often seen wonderful answers to prayer. “The Mustard Seed team belongs to God. We pray every night and all sorts of amazing things have happened.” For some time, the owner of a commercial van park allowed the team to park their van for free on his property. Last February, they received notice that the site was to be re-developed and they needed to move out within five days. That night the team was visiting a group of homeless people in Clontarf. “One of our team members lives nearby and every Thursday, she would cook a stew and bring it piping hot to serve to our clients,” Dougie says. “A man was talking with the lads and said he would be interested in joining the volunteers so they put him in touch with me. At the

doughnuts to give out but there was a mix up. Dougie chats with the supplier and calls the team to make arrangements. It’s all in a night’s work and he is still smiling when he returns to our chat to share about one of the Mustard Seed’s “success stories”

TRANSFORMED

While there can be heartbreaks, from time to time the team have witnessed some dramatic and powerful examples of transformation. One of those was Gary*. He was a painfully thin heroin addict who would sit with his cup, begging beside ATM machines in the centre of Dublin when team members first encountered him. After some time, volunteers were able to support Gary to go into the

Dougie grins. “He comes in to see me in the Scripture Union book shop where I work in Dun Laoghaire and one day he even brought his family along to introduce them to me. They were on their way to the cinema!” While these radical stories are rare and the Mustard Seed team don’t always get to see how the story ends, their faithful and caring presence on the streets of Dublin leaves a lasting impression on the lives of those they meet. On another occasion, a nun who was the chaplain in Wheatfield Prison rang Dougie to say, “A friend of yours is in Intensive Care in Tallaght Hospital and we’re not sure whether he’ll make it.” She

I GOT THIS CRYSTAL CLEAR FEELING THAT I SHOULD OFFER TO PRAYER FOR HIM. very end of a 20 minute conversation I happened to mention our problem with parking the van, immediately he said, ‘Well I know where you can park your van.’” The solution was a social club in Drumcondra and the team has been able to park there ever since. “In fact, they are so good to us that we are even able to fill our flasks at the club every night - thank you Lord!” A phone call disrupts our Zoom call for a few moments. This evening’s Mustard Seed team were to pick up some 26

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Tiglin rehabilitation centre. Gary graduated from the full programme, went back to school, completed his leaving cert. and then studied at UCD. Gary is married and when he meets Dougie now he’ll say, “I’m livin’ the dream!” Another client who used to live in a tent is now off the streets and has been reunited with his family. “If you saw his appearance today compared to when he was living on the streets, you would hardly believe it was the same person. His life has completed turned around and he’s gone from strength to strength,”

had spent two days trying to track him down and eventually managed to contact him through Trinity Church. “As soon as I heard the name, I knew who she was talking about. When he became unwell, this client had given my name as his next of kin.” Dougie headed straight to the hospital and once he’d been checked out, the prison officers allowed him to sit with his friend. “The wonderful news is that he did pull through, although it’s been a while since I last saw him. Building relationship with these guys is a massive privilege.”


LIFE

VOX MAGAZINE

Holding onto God in a Crisis Running a small business in the face of Covid-19 and Brexit

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or the business community, 2020 was a time of extreme stress and challenge. VOX magazine talked with Alan and Valerie Kingston from Glenilen Farm to find out how they have coped.

A small family-run business, Glenilen farm in west Cork produces dairy products such as yoghurt and cheesecakes. The pandemic lockdowns had an immediate effect. “Obviously food service went pear shaped; hotels and restaurants make up about 20% of our business. While the retail stores got really busy for a while, that still didn’t account for all we lost,” Alan said. “Overall as a business, we are grateful that we were able to keep going. We were classed as an essential business. Our thoughts are with those who had to close altogether. It is so tough on them and their staff.” There was a knock on effect on sales within city-centre shops when people were working from home and no longer popping into stores for “ready-to-go” lunch items. But behind all of this, Brexit loomed as a dark shadow on the horizon, especially for dairy producers. Speaking as the clock was counting down, Alan shared the concerns of many small businesses, “A lot is hanging in the balance. And a no deal scenario would be extremely worrying especially for famers who depend on 50% of cheddar sales going to the UK,” Alan explained. Valerie described doing a dummy run for customs declarations for a consignment bound for the UK. There

are genuine concerns (with products such as yoghurt) about the possibilities of delays at ferry ports and tariffs could add as much as 30 pence (sterling) to the price of a small pot of yoghurt. “But we are Irish, we live in hope,” Alan grinned. “We always live for tomorrow. And there is nothing we should be worried about when we trust and depend on God.” Looking for the good out of the crisis has helped them to keep going and to find new opportunities on their doorstep. “We started a Neighbour Food collection point at the farm serving as a host for eight to ten other local producers so people could purchase their products. It is a great way for people to support local producers and we’ve really seen a groundswell of support for Irish businesses and ‘shop local’ campaigns,” Alan added. (Check out www.neighbourfood.ie for this great initiative - Alan and Valerie’s farm is the Drimoleague centre). “At present seven out of every ten yoghurts that are sold in our supermarkets are imported,” Valerie said. “This is an opportunity for people to look at alternative products that are produced in Ireland (look for the IRL label) and that would be very helpful for small Irish businesses. “I just love that little verse, Come to me all you who are weary...” Alan told us. “There is a lot of weariness right now. I can see it in our own church fellowship and I’m sure for a lot more people. I just love that little invitation to come away with Him. It is possible to know peace and that God is still in in control. He knows what will happen next week even when we do not.”

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FAITH

EQUIPPING YOUNG PEOPLE TO LIVE LIFE UNSHAKEN Katherine Dickson, a Programme Worker from The Big House, shares about a new resource designed to help young people find healthy coping mechanisms when life gets tough.

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SHAKEN YOUTH

Do you like board games? Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly and Boggle are firm favourites in our house. It is all good fun until the dice is shaken and rolls off the table getting lost behind the sofa for years. We all have so much in common with dice. When something difficult happens in life, we too can get shaken; unsure of what to do, how to feel or how to live life well. Thankfully though, we often have more control over how and where we land than dice do. When life shakes us, the choices we make can change whether we land and live well, or struggle. In The Big House, we know that difficult and challenging things occur every day to shake the young people in our families, youth groups, churches and communities. Illness, family change, low mental health, identity crises, bereavement, peer pressure, concerns about the future and bullying are just a few of those challenges. Over the last year, the consequences of living amid a global pandemic and the reality of upheaval, change, and uncertainty of the future have added to those challenges. As part of their Big Conversation Survey, Barnardo’s asked 4,000 young people in the UK how Covid-19 had affected them. 41% said they felt more lonely than before, 38% said they felt more worried, 37% said they felt more

sad, 34% said they felt more stressed and 33% said they have more trouble sleeping. Similarly, in Ireland, Childline received 70,000 calls and messages from young people during the first three months of lockdown, with domestic abuse, self-harm, suicide and Covid-19 anxiety highlighted as the most common issues raised. We can look past these bleak statistics and think about the faces of our own young people in our youth groups and communities. In a world that currently feels so shaken, as followers of Christ our heart is to equip our young people with the hope and the tools to live life unshaken. How can we do this?

LIVING UNSHAKEN

The Big House exists to share God’s love with young people, on their good days, as well as their bad. We believe that all young people are precious and deeply loved by God, no matter who they are, where they are from, or what difficulty they may be facing. Within this current Covid landscape, we stand on the biblical promises that our God is unshakeable; and with His hope alongside the practical help of others, we believe our young people can be unshakeable too. Our Shaken resource has been created to provide and inspire biblical grounding, and a practical toolkit to help young people live unshaken – right now and later in life. The Shaken game

CHOOSING HEALTHY WAYS OF COPING IS A VITAL COMPONENT TO LIVING LIFE UNSHAKEN.

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encourages young people to explore and make good choices to live well when life shakes. Shaken is fun and designed to used in a group setting (face to face or online), or individually. There are 20 coping mechanisms, and a 20-sided dice. The number the dice lands on determines the coping mechanism to try out. By the end of the game, each young person will have discovered around six healthy options, which can help them when life is difficult. We have each been uniquely created by God, so there will be a unique way for each young person to cope healthily with their difficulty. Chap Clark author of Hurt 2: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers said, “Shaken is an engaging, well-designed, extremely helpful and accessible resource that can help any young person take more control of their emotional lives, especially while in the midst of struggle, without adding shame or guilt to their circumstance. As we begin to emerge from the Covid-19 cocoon, teenagers and young adults will be scrambling to try and figure out how to navigate life’s re-entry. Shaken presents a powerful and timely tool for each one.” Shaken lays the foundations to equip young people to live securely planted and steady through an introduction to practical help and God’s hope.

PRACTICAL HELP

When life shakes, each of us uses coping mechanisms to manage our thoughts and feelings. Some are healthy (and good for us) but others are unhealthy and may cause damage. Alongside the hope and presence of God, there are practical things, which young people can do to


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GOD’S HOPE

live life well. Choosing healthy ways of coping is a vital component to living life unshaken. Shaken highlights the necessity of talking to a trusted support network, and helps young people identify who and how to do this. Sharing with others removes isolation and adds pastoral and practical support from others. Shaken reveals 20 healthy and practical coping mechanisms for young people to experiment and explore and allows room for each to be scored out of 10 (ranking your favourites). Things like blowing bubbles, making stress balls, spending time with God, exercising, blessing others and dreaming of the future are just a few healthy coping mechanisms featured for young people to try. Across the UK and Ireland, we have been receiving stories of hope from young people finding new ways to navigate their day-to-day life: “I gave prayer 9 out of 10 as a coping mechanism because the ultimate comfort is knowing there is a God who loves you and who you can thank for everything.” - Ellie “My favourite was talking to a friend and I give it 10 out of 10. I think talking to someone always helps; it lets you vent and gets everything out but also lets you know you are not alone. Your friends can cheer you up or even just be a shoulder to cry on or cry with.”- Myles “I liked laughing in the unplanned choices as laughter is the best medicine!” - Faith

Alongside the practical help of others, practising healthy coping mechanisms can help young people feel steadier right now, as well as later in life. Combining practical help with God’s hope empowers young people to establish firm foundations built on the promises of our unshakeable God. Shaken encourages young people to explore and dig deeper into what God says and thinks about them and their situation, and enables them to discover their worth and value to the creator and His constant presence with them – no matter what! During shaky times, we can depend on God. The Psalmist writes, “From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Psalm 61:2 David wrote this Psalm at a time when he was far from home and safety, feeling shaken, overwhelmed, disorientated and frightened. Can we relate to David today as we are far from normality, friends, family and with an uncertainty of what lies ahead, feeling out of control, or lost? In his moment of feeling shaken, David recognises that there is one who is good, who is bigger, and stronger, and mightier than all that he is experiencing. He calls out to God. David refers to God as his “rock”, and other times as his “fortress” and “tower of strength” David’s God is unshakeable. He is solid, firm, steady, immovable, even in the most disorienting and darkest of moments. In the same way, Shaken inspires our young people to call on God just as David did. It is a reminder that in the worst of times, our unshakeable God is with us. God, who made us, knows us, and loves us, God who has seen all that has happened, God who has seen what has shaken us, is

unshaken. He is steady. He is strong. He is good. He is kind. He is able to help. He wants to help. And He will. We just need to ask Him. “In a world that is so easily shaken, Shaken has helped me see that our God is unshakeable, remains the same no matter what happens.” - Young person.

UNSHAKEN

At times life will shake us. However, with the support and care of others, and the love and care of Jesus; young people can discover new stability and hope. Our prayer is that Shaken can help you in your ministry to young people near you: Providing a practical toolkit and news of Jesus that helps them to live unshaken– no matter what may come their way. Difficult things may shake us, But we don’t need to stay shaken. Because God, who made us, Knows us, and loves us, God who has seen all that has happened, God who has seen what has shaken us, Is unshaken. He is steady. He is strong. He is good. He is kind. He is able to help. He wants to help. And He will. We just need to ask Him. For more information about Shaken, and the work of The Big House, please visit their website www.thebighouse. org.uk.

Katherine Dickson is Programme Worker for “The Big House” and lives beside the sea in Co. Antrim with her husband and two children.

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REALITY

Creating a Brighter Future A new era for Solas Project in Dublin

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n 1 December 2020, Amy Carey took over as the new CEO of the Solas Project in Dublin, a charity working to empower and support young people to reach their potential. VOX magazine’s editor Ruth Garvey-Williams caught up with Amy to find out how the charity has coped during the pandemic and what’s in store for 2021.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON TAKING OVER THE LEADERSHIP OF SOLAS PROJECT? I am excited and privileged to be entrusted with the organisation. I have worked as a volunteer since the early days and have been on staff since 2011. My predecessors Eddie, Graham and Salla each invested deeply into Solas Project creating the strong and innovative organisation that it is today. So I’ve inherited a great platform to start from. We have built a strong team and we can look forward to the next stage of growth. I am very thankful to be stepping into this role supported by such a talented team and I am looking forward to all 2021 has to bring.

WHAT WAS 2020 LIKE FOR SOLAS PROJECT?

2020 was a challenging year but it highlighted afresh to me the passion, resilience and commitment of our staff team and our incredible army of volunteers and supporters. During the first lockdown we had to shut down all face-to-face interactions but we maintained connection. It was a challenging few months but we tried to be as creative as we could, adapting our programmes to support young people in Dublin 8 through online mentoring, letter-writing, care packs, an art project and food deliveries. As soon as we could, we started back 30

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with some of our programmes with a whole new set of protocols to keep everyone safe. Our summer projects ran outdoors and in September we re-started our after-school programmes providing food, homework support and activities four afternoons a week. At times it is frustrating because it is difficult to make plans when things are constantly changing and new restrictions are brought in. However, we are so thankful to be able to be back meeting our young people face to face.

HOW HAS THE PANDEMIC IMPACTED THE COMMUNITIES YOU SERVE?

We recognise that Covid-19 has had a disproportionate impact on communities such as the ones we serve in inner city Dublin. One of the biggest impacts is the increasing educational divide and we probably won’t see the full implications of that for some time. School closures were difficult everywhere but particularly where there is a high level of educational disadvantage such as in the areas where we work. Many parents have literacy issues and cannot support their children to learn at home. Added to that is the digital divide - not everyone has desktops or laptops. Many children were trying to study using their phones and did not have high quality Internet.

Imagine trying to study for your leaving cert. on your phone? In addition, many families we support are living in over-crowded conditions in blocks of flats. Children in these circumstances do not have their own bedrooms and cannot find a quiet space to study and learn. The closure of schools had a disproportionately negative impact on their education. We know the economic impact is also likely to hit hard. Disadvantaged communities always suffer whenever there is a downturn in the economy as it is usually unskilled workers who lose their jobs first. We are already seeing that with some of our young people who had worked really hard to find employment losing their jobs. It is extremely difficult to find employment at the moment, especially for young people.

HOW DID LOCKDOWN AFFECT YOUR ABILITY TO WORK IN PRISONS?

Part of our work involves loving and supporting prisoners away from re-offending and towards a new life. This usually means going into Mountjoy and in Wheatfield Prisons but we were not able to do that. Instead we continued to write letters to prisoners and have seen the relationships strengthened. During April and May alone, our staff and volunteers wrote over 40 letters. It is quite insightful to see what people will tell you in their letters that they might not feel able to share in person. Through his letters, one inmate revealed an interest in Irish history. “Looks like we have similar interests. I love history too. I loved it when I was in school learning about the Ardagh Chalice,” he wrote. [Ed note: the Ardagh Chalice is an 8th century Christian silver chalice discovered Co. Limerick in 1868


VOX MAGAZINE

Photo by Solas Volunteer Jaclyn Visbeen

by two boys digging in a field. It is now on display in the National Museum.] The team member writing to him said, “We had no idea that he had any interest in anything more than the loud person he pretends to be in the prison.” Now this inmate and his Solas pen pal discuss Irish history together. In the six months before the lockdown, we had done a lot of training with young prisoners and trained a number of them as barbers. Two of these young men were moved into a lower security prison and they were able to set up their own barbershop using the training we had given them. Our work also extends to those who have been released and, even though there have been extra challenges, we’ve ramped up our community support for young people coming out of prison.

SO WHAT’S IN STORE FOR SOLAS PROJECT DURING 2021?

At the moment we are going through a period of transition and restructuring. My hope for 2021 is to continue our

on the ground work through our six programmes and also to start to develop a strategic plan for the next five years. There is huge scope for us to deepen the work we do and expand programmes both in terms of our geographical reach as well as the range of our youth work provision. We are looking to have more “drop in” services and targeted groups for different ages. In particular, we are looking at the major transitions that take place from primary to secondary school and the transition from secondary school into employment or further education. We have seen success in supporting young people to complete their leaving cert. but have found that often they struggle with figuring out what to do next. We see so much potential in the young people of our community and recognise that they face challenges and barriers those from more advantaged communities don’t encounter. We want to support and empower our young people to reach their full potential, pulling out the gold that we see in each

one of them and helping them to find opportunities to flourish.

HOW CAN PEOPLE SUPPORT THE WORK OF SOLAS PROJECT?

There are three main ways people can get involved. I would love for people to be praying for us, for our young people and our staff team, particularly throughout this period of transition. The second is with financial support. Due to amazing generosity, we managed ok financially in 2020 but we would have concerns for 2021 if there is a significant economic downturn. Thirdly, we are always looking for new volunteers. Our work relies heavily on volunteers for our after school programmes, mentoring, support for prisoners and skills development. To find out more visit www. solasproject.ie or connect with the Solas Project on social media.

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A LEA RNI NG LIF E

LIFE

BY ANA MULLAN

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few years ago, I was happily surprised when my husband took me to Italy. Having been raised by an Italian family, I had always wanted to visit some part of that country. Someone had recommended we to go to Tuscany and we stayed in the beautiful city of Siena, not too far from Florence. We wanted to be in a quieter place but at the same time to have the opportunity to visit the beautiful city of the Medici. I was interested to see the famous statute of David by Michelangelo. I had seen it in books but now I would have the opportunity to admire it in person. As we entered the room of the Galleria dell’Accademia that contained different works by the Italian artist, we were surprised to see that the first sculptures on display were the half finished ones. Beautiful pieces of marble showed the beginning of some work that was left unfinished though it was not clear why. As we walked to the end of the room there was the masterpiece: David. I had never realised how big it is and how much precision has gone into the carving of it. It was hard to believe, for me, that a human being could have such power of observation and such skill. Though I was deeply impressed with the statue, I was even more impressed that the unfinished work was also on display. The intention seemed to be to show that to become Michelangelo took a lot of work, hours of training under a maestro with lots of mistakes and frustrations. A famous phrase attributed to him is: “Ancora Imparo” which means: “I’m still learning”. All of life is about learning; we never arrive, at least not on this side of eternity. During the challenging times brought by the pandemic, I came to realise that at times as a Jesus follower, I can be a reluctant learner. I like the idea of following him but always knowing what is going to lie ahead, what the journey will look like. It’s a bit like saying: give me the map so I can decide which areas I want to go to and which to avoid. I want to

make sure that I don’t end up being too uncomfortable, that I am prepared for any eventuality and that by doing this, I know that God is with me. In my finite way of thinking He can only be in the places where things are going more or less ok. As I was putting these thoughts together it helped me to remember that there have been loads of other people before me who also had to learn how to follow God in far more difficult circumstances than mine. This morning, I listened to a speaker refer to some verses from the book of Daniel, a book in what is called the Old Testament. The speaker was referring to a story that, for children and adults who have attended evangelical churches, is quite familiar. It is dramatic, so children really enjoy listening to it. Daniel and his friends, committed worshippers of the God of Israel, had been taken from their homeland and were in exile in Babylon. Though they cooperated in many aspects of Babylonian life, they refused to worship their gods and in particular a gold statue set up by the king. The king got so angry with Daniel’s three friends that they ended up being thrown into a furnace. However in the flames a fourth man appeared who saved the three friends from the fire, to the amazement of the king and of the rest of the court. The speaker then asked: where was God? His reply was: “He was in the furnace”. Daniel’s friends didn’t believe that God was only in the pleasant places. They were in exile, not in their own land; they had no temple to go to for worship and offering sacrifices. So, where were they going to find God? Well, He was always there, even when they were deprived of all the things that they considered “worship.” God entered the furnace; He entered their difficulties. They held onto His word, they learnt that what He said mattered more than their circumstances. They found Him even though they couldn’t do what they were used to nor have the place of worship that was

ALL OF LIFE IS ABOUT LEARNING; WE NEVER ARRIVE, AT LEAST NOT ON THIS SIDE OF ETERNITY.

central to their Jewish faith. 2020 brought a lot of adjustments to make for people who want to worship and follow God. Much of what we were used to was not available and we don’t know what 2021 will look like. So where is God? Well, I believe He is present in our “furnace”, in the strange and unexpected circumstances. He is present because He is not a God who keeps His distance. Remember the words of Jesus? “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” The availability of God is not affected by place, time or space. It is always at hand. Jesus showed us how we can find God and His activity in everything that we do, wherever we are and whatever we are facing. For Jesus, God the Father was always near. Even when He was on the cross and in His humanity cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus also had to learn obedience so he could become the source of salvation (Hebrews 5:8-9). God was there as he said: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. And God intervened in his own time and brought forward the most wonderful historical event: the resurrection and the victory of God. To become Michelangelo meant making a lot of mistakes, leaving unfinished pieces of marble. To produce the statute of David took many hours of work, of chipping away pieces of marble, to get rid off parts that were unnecessary. For me, following Jesus is a bit like that. He is the master, He knows what He is doing and I know He wants to make a masterpiece of me though, at times, it might not be exactly in the way I would choose. By the entrance door of our apartment hangs a plaque that my children gave me; it reads, “ANCORA IMPARO”, and reminds me that I am still a learner.

Ana Mullan is from Argentina but has lived in Ireland for 35 years, the last 18 in Dublin. She is an artist, a spiritual director, retreat facilitator and an enthusiastic grandmother.

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REALITY

BRILLIANCE IS EVERYWHE “WHAT IF THAT HAD BEEN ME? I DON’T THINK I COULD HAVE HAD HER BRAVERY OR HER BRILLIANCE. I AM IN AWE OF THE WOMAN SHE HAS BECOME... SHE IS THE STRONGEST, MOST RESILIENT PERSON I HAVE EVER MET.” - NAOMI CAMPBELL, FIELDS OF LIFE NI

I

n a nation devastated by violence and inequality, northern Uganda was already impoverished when Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rose to prominence in the 1990s under the leadership of Joseph Kony. The LRA became increasingly violent in Gulu and surrounding communities, recruiting child soldiers and making them commit atrocious crimes. This brutal conflict lasted 22 years and is considered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. It left thousands dead and displaced more than two million civilians. Most disturbingly, minors made up almost 90% of the LRA’s soldiers. Many boys were abducted and turned into child soldiers while young girls were forced into slavery as “wives” to Kony and his men. It is estimated that the LRA abducted more than 25,000 children for forced conscription and sexual exploitation. The young people of Gulu and its surrounding area are a generation who missed out on education and any sort of normal life. These former child soldiers are now young adults; many of them

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still suffering from the trauma of their childhood. “This is a redemption story,” says Alex Gason of Irish development charity Fields of Life. “We believe that brilliance is all around us, there is potential within everyone, and we aim to provide opportunities to unlock that potential. Fields of Life is in the final stages of constructing a Vocational Training Institute in Gulu, Northern Uganda, the most ambitious project we have ever undertaken and doors will be open to students in February this year!” “The heart of this project is to change lives and build hope by giving young people the skills and knowledge to earn a living, to care for themselves and their families. We are creating a student-centred environment with excellent teaching, pastoral care, trauma counselling and mentoring.” Bishop Johnson Gakumba of the Diocese of Northern Uganda (DNU), explains, “The war left behind a devastated community. This is why we have been dreaming and strategising to see how we can help transform these

young people. New skills are key. We think that the vocational institute will help in equipping our young people.” Fields of Life’s Vocational Training Institute will provide training in: • Tailoring, Fashion and Design • Hair and Beauty • Hospitality and Catering • Building and Construction • Carpentry The institute will also train the students in ICT and the business skills they need to build their businesses. Council Member Douglas Peter Okao adds, “Young people need employment and something that can help them get an income. We hope that vocational skills will enable them to become employable. But we also hope they will be able to start their own businesses that will provide a permanent income and create jobs for others. They will live a life worth living and a life that transforms our society.”

MEETING JUDITH

Fields of Life Development Officer Naomi Campbell is based in Northern


VOX MAGAZINE

ERE; OPPORTUNITY IS NOT Ireland. The reality of inequality was brought home to Naomi in 2019 when she visited northern Uganda and met Judith, a young woman who is exactly the same age. The encounter left an indelible mark on Naomi’s life. “As I walked into the compound, this young woman ran towards me. My hair fascinated her; it was so different to her own. She ran her hands through my hair and was so excited about the opportunity to plait it. So I sat down on a little plastic chair. As she began to plait my hair, she started to tell me her story. “Judith had never been to school. She grew up in Gulu, the epicentre of the brutal conflict. When Judith was seven years old her mum went out to get food and never returned. She had been caught up in an ambush. Tragically just a few months later, her father got sick and died. “At eight years old, Judith was in charge of three younger siblings. When she was 12, she encountered a man who told her he would look after them and provide for them. But he was a rebel and instead he abused her. When she became pregnant, he abandoned her. No child should have to go through what she went through. “At 18, Judith was introduced to a family friend. They fell in love, got married and had two children together. But then one tragic night, the rebels stormed her home and killed her husband in front of her eyes. “I did not know what to say. I was so shocked. Time after time, Judith had to deal with trauma and tragedy. How could two girls who are the same age experience such different lives just because of where they were born? What if that had been me? I don’t think I could have had her bravery or her brilliance. I am in awe of the woman she

has become; she is the strongest, most resilient person I have ever met. “Judith was given the opportunity to train as a hairdresser at a vocational college. She had such a passion for her work. She was the happiest she had ever been. Recently, I heard the news that Judith has finished her course and has set up her own beauty salon. She is now able to provide for her young children and to send them to school. “What an exceptional individual to have endured what she has and still have the strength to turn her life around. Judith’s story represents a whole generation of young people who were denied the opportunities we enjoy. Together we can help protect them from exploitation and provide opportunities for lasting transformation in their lives.”

THEY WILL LIVE A LIFE WORTH LIVING AND A LIFE THAT TRANSFORMS OUR SOCIETY.

of extreme poverty. Therefore, to equip a sustainable college takes initial investment that can build the reputation of the college, as well as help those vulnerable students afford their fees. All students will pay something towards their fees, in order that they can take ownership, but a scholarship fund will top up fees so that the college can perform at the highest standard. For students like Judith, the scholarship costs €110 per month for two years. To find out more and discover how you can support the fund, visit www.fieldsoflife. org. Fields of Life is an international Christian development organisation that has been working in East Africa for the last 27 years. They have constructed and equipped 127 schools, put 50,000 children through education, drilled over 800 boreholes, and provided safe and clean water to over 500,000 people.

A WAY OUT OF POVERTY

For Alex and the team at Fields of Life, the Vocational Training Institute represents a way out of poverty for a group of young men and woman who have suffered in ways we could not even imagine. This offers hope for their generation and the generations to come, creating a secure future that ensures their children will be able to go to school. “It is about turning what’s messy and broken into something beautiful,” Alex smiles. The objective is to set up a college that is selfsustaining. However, Fields of Life is acutely aware that it is building a vocational college in an area JAN - MAR 2021 VOX.IE

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REALITY

I

Taking Care of your

am looking forward to the day when I can make a bonfire of all my face masks, visors and anything printed black and yellow. With the arrival of the vaccine it feels, “the allies have landed” and with them, hope that the ‘war’ will soon be over. Covid-19 has touched all our lives and changed our world, and while we will eventually regain the freedom to come and go, travel and hug everyone, it has changed the way we think about and do life and it has left a lot of scars that will take time to heal. It has robbed us of much that we just took for granted. It has brought disruption, change and uncertainty. As

human beings we do not like change and uncertainty and the loss of control that comes with it. Worst of all, it has taken the lives of people we know and love, leaving devastating loss and grief compounded by being unable to be with loved ones in their last days. Fear of catching the virus and the possibility of its long-term debilitating effects still hangs like a dark cloud through the relentless messages about staying at home and social distancing.

FEAR, ANXIETY AND UNCERTAINTY MAY STILL BE PRESENT. BUT THEY DON’T HAVE TO RULE.

LOVE, FREEDOM, SIGNIFICANCE AND FUN

Social distancing is absolutely foreign to the human soul and to our four basic emotional and psychological needs. We are created for love, belonging and connection with each other - it took away our normal interacting with family, friends, colleagues and church. Freedom is a primal human drive. The opposite of freedom is to feel trapped - it took our freedom to come and go and we could barely leave our homes. We also need to feel significant - that we can contribute to life. We get a lot of significance from our jobs and being able to give something of ourselves, but it severely threatened jobs and livelihoods and shut down church and other creative and meaningful activities. Another basic need, often overlooked, is the need for fun laughter, ‘craic’ and learning new things. At the beginning of the first lockdown, I often laughed at the plethora of funny creative posts I constantly read on social media (remember the toilet rolls!). But after too many lockdowns, humour has all but disappeared, replaced with a gutting-itout endurance. Just like we need food, air and water 36

VOX.IE JAN - MAR 2021

to survive, these powerful emotional and psychological needs are also not optional. Covid-19 has depleted our ability to meet these deep and complex needs. It’s no wonder there are high levels of depression and anxiety at this time. However, we are not helpless. Trials often bring out the best in people too. There are countless heartwarming stories of wonderful random acts of kindness. Doing something for someone else, even when our hearts are full of pain, has an amazing effect on our sense of significance and connection. This crisis has demanded new and creative ways of doing things. We have had to (and still need to) rise to the challenge of finding alternative ways to ‘connect’. Some of my best moments of church during the pandemic have been the ‘Zoom’ coffee and chats with others. Thank God for Zoom, WhatsApp and other platforms that have enabled us to work, connect and find ways to meet these important and significant basic needs in other ways.

WHAT DO YOU CHOOSE?

So much of good or bad mental health begins in the mind. “As a man thinks, so he is.” Every feeling I have is always connected to a thought. My thoughts and feelings powerfully affect my behaviours. I perpetuate my own depression and anxiety – it is not so much the circumstances I find myself in but how I think about and brood over them. What is your inner self-dialogue like? I can think and talk myself into depression and anxiety but I can also think and talk myself out of them. [Note: we are not talking about clinical depression or chronic mental illness here - these often need medical support


VOX MAGAZINE

Mental Health

BY JOANIE REILLY

and intervention - but rather the ups and downs of life.] Covid-19 may take your loved ones, your freedom, your job and your fun, but it can NOT take away your choice of how you will react and behave. Will it be grumbling, worry, fretting and negativity? Or will it be thankfulness, gratefulness, hopefulness and faith? You choose. We are not victims of Covid-19 or any of the other circumstances of our lives, unless we choose to be. God has made us with ability to choose how we will think and this will have a profound effect on how we feel and live. Hedy Schleifer‘s mother was a survivor of Nazi concentration camps. Speaking of her, she says, “she taught me how to live instead of just coping – she had an indomitable spirit… a woman who was committed to living no matter what, no matter where.” What a legacy! I read those words in the early days of the pandemic and felt the challenge. I want to live, not just cope. Faith is not a feeling. Faith is a deliberate act of the will. A turning of the mind and will toward God’s truth when my thoughts and feelings may be screaming something else. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). It often doesn’t come easily to be still and to keep your mind on God and His promises. We have to fight for it. We change our feelings by changing our thoughts and behaviour, our negative thoughts by replacing them with alternative truthful thoughts. Sometimes it means declaring and repeating the same words over and over again, and choosing to believe them. This is how we fight the good fight. We have to fight for peace, and wrestle against every thought that seeks to take it from us. “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). Trusting

God is positioning the heart towards the facts that God is with me in the middle of all things and that He will never leave me despite how I feel. Fear, anxiety and uncertainty may still be present. But they don’t have to rule. This is an opportunity to grow, to exercise the muscles of faith, thankfulness and patient endurance, which will develop positive mental health and resilience. It is hard to lift ourselves up and fight for our freedom, and to wrestle with replacing our negative inner dialogues with positive ones but it is also hard to stay in the unrelenting, unhappy place of fear, anxiety, and negativity too, so pick your ‘hard’ carefully.

HOW TO HAVE A GOOD DAY WHEN YOU DON’T “FEEL LIKE IT”

Control all the things you can control without consulting any of your feelings, get up at the same time every day and make your bed. Getting hold of structure and routine in your day gives you a sense of control. Having a shower and refusing to dress sloppy just because it’s ‘comfortable’ will make you feel better about yourself. Give to God all the things you can’t control - make time to sit down, and centre your thoughts on God - His character and promises. If you work from home, separate your work space from family space as much as possible. Take regular breaks from screen time by going for five-minute walks outside and looking up at the sky, breathing in some fresh air and noticing nature – even if it’s only round the block. It will improve your productivity, as will sipping lots of water! If someone comes to mind, take a minute to send them a quick text or voice message telling them you are

CULTIVATE THE MENTAL HABIT OF THANKFULNESS, GRATEFULNESS AND APPRECIATION.

thinking of them. You will bless them and yourself. What you give often comes back. Take responsibility for your frustrations. Write them out on paper, give them to God and then tear them up. Don’t dump them on your family. Be fast to apologise, let go of grudges and be a ‘kindness machine’. Cultivate the mental habit of thankfulness, gratefulness and appreciation. Start by thinking of five things you are thankful for…and then five more… and then five more. This is a particularly good thing to do as you go to sleep at night. When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.

Joanie Reilly has been a Pastor and also Counselling Supervisor and Psychotherapist for many years. She is also a writer, speaker and teacher on all issues regarding emotionally healthy spirituality and pastoral care in churches. She lives in Naas with her husband, James.

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FAITH

A GOD-GIVEN OPPORTUNITY Trust develops vision for a new Christian centre at Guysmere

F

or over 80 years, a site of “Outstanding Natural Beauty” in Northern Ireland has been home to Christian camps for young people. Owned by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland since 1926, Guysmere, near Castlerock eventually fell into disrepair and there were plans to sell the site until a small group of volunteers came to the rescue. VOX magazine spoke to retired Presbyterian minister, Rev Jim McCaughan to find out more. “Guysmere is right beside a blue flag beach and ideally located on the main railway line between Derry and Belfast,” Jim told us. “I came to Castlerock to serve as minister of the local Presbyterian Church in the 1980s and for ten years I served as chaplain of the annual boys camp.” Around 140 boys would arrive at the camp every summer for a packed programme of sports and activities, combined with Bible teaching and a strong missionary focus. “People came to faith. Others were called into all kinds of Christian ministry and many more went home to their churches and local communities to serve God right there,” Jim said. Gradually over the years, the buildings became outdated and in need of renovation but with the financial downturn in the early 2000s less young people were coming on camps and eventually the centre closed. “Finally in 2017, they were talking about selling. I was shocked to hear that and I started to a campaign to save Guysmere. We believe it is a God-given opportunity to have a site like this and not to use it would be a sin. We want to make the most of the opportunity we have. Our heart is for mission and ministry,” Jim explained. The group set up the Guysmere Trust and are seeking charitable status. They are drawing up a vision to regenerate and use the site as a Christian centre. Jim and his fellow directors see huge potential for a wide range of ministry opportunities. “It could be a centre for church weekends, training youth weekends, mental health retreats and conferences. Ensuring that the site is accessible for people of all abilities is high on the agenda. At present people in wheelchairs cannot get onto the beach. We would want to provide facilities for wheelchair users and their carers to enjoy everything that Guysmere has to offer. “It is a massive task. At present we are very much clarifying our vision and doubtless we won’t be able to do everything we dream of, but there is so much potential,” Jim said. The trust has the support of the Friends of Guysmere Castlerock - a Facebook group set up by people with fond memories of former camps and programmes at the centre. “The best two weeks of my youth for three years,” one recalled. Describing the centre as a place of “great potential” the Friends of Guysmere wrote, “Today it presents a heaven-sent opportunity to develop a new facility for the Lord’s work in the 21st century.” If you are interested in finding out more, contact the Board of Directors at guysmerecastlerock@gmail.com.

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VOX MAGAZINE

JAN - MAR 2021 VOX.IE

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e l b a l i a v A Now paperback & ebook

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“Every one of the contributors to this gripping book made a journey of discovery into their own locality and found the most unlikely mission opportunities.” James Reilly, Christian Churches Ireland “This book is a small treasure for those involved in mission and ministry. It will take them beyond ‘what shall we do?’ to a deeper conversation about how and why.” Dr Anne Francis, Spiritual Director at the Galilee Spirituality Centre in Boyle, Co. Roscommon

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BOOK REVIEWS

VOX MAGAZINE

Born out of lockdown, Ireland’s newest online Christian bookshop - Teach Solas - is already delivering dozens of titles across the island. Here owner, John Moriarty, shares some of his top picks for the start of 2021.

CORONAVIRUS AND CHRIST

By John Piper

While the title might put you off if you are sick of hearing about the coronavirus, this is a quick read that is packed with reminders of who God is, and what He is doing during this pandemic. The first section of this book discusses how God reigns over coronavirus, while the second section explores what God is doing through coronavirus. The sovereignty of God is hotly debated within Christianity but John Piper is firmly of the view that God is sovereign over all things, even coronavirus: if we believe God to be sovereign in the good things that happen to us and the world, we must also believe God’s sovereignty in these times. John Piper outlines how Coronavirus can be a wake-up call for the world, as well as for the church. In times like these, Christians are to follow the example of Jesus. We are called to fulfil the commandment to help those in need and bring the message of the gospel to the lost. Coronavirus and Christ challenged my view of the sovereignty of God, and caused me to consider how God is using me to further His Kingdom at this time. This book is relevant now, and will continue to be relevant once the pandemic passes. It will help you deal with personal suffering and the question of evil in the world. In all things, we can look to Jesus, our Rock and Foundation, and be assured of His work and ultimate victory over evil.

CONFRONTING CHRISTIANITY

By Rebecca McLaughlin

As the title suggests, Confronting Christianity deals with 12 of the hardest questions that are asked of the

Christian faith. The questions cover topics such as diversity in the church, the role of women in Christian faith, why God allows suffering and whether the Christian faith is homophobic or not. The book is accessible and well laid out. Every piece of information given to combat each point is referenced so there is plenty of further study should you see fit. The writer includes examples from her own walk with God as well as of people she knows or famous Christians throughout the ages. She backs up her points with facts and statistics as well as the word of God. It is a book that you will come back to reference in the future when you encounter some of the questions it tackles. I thoroughly enjoyed this hardhitting book and was eager to read on as she unfolded each topic. The book strengthened my faith and has given me more tools to be confident in discussing my faith with others. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in the area of Apologetics, those who struggle with questions of their Christian faith or to give as a gift to someone you may know who often has questions about the Christian faith.

Popular Children’s Books: JESUS STORYBOOK BIBLE By Sally Lloyd Jones This beautifully illustrated book introduces children to the stories of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Each story points to Jesus as our

Saviour, and talks about ‘God’s neverstopping, never-giving-up, unbreakable, always and forever love’. The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the Story beneath all the stories in the Bible, pointing to Jesus as our Saviour. From the Old Testament through the New Testament, as the story unfolds, children will clearly see that Jesus is at the centre of God’s great story of salvation - and at the centre of their story too. This book is a great resource for families and teachers, visually bringing Scripture to life for children.

THE ACTION BIBLE The Action Bible brings the Bible to life through comic-book style illustrations. It presents the stories of the Bible in chronological order, building up to the climax of God’s redemptive story. It is aimed at children aged 8-12 years, and is an exciting way for children to explore God’s Word and get to know Him personally.

INDESCRIBABLE By Louis Giglio

Indescribable is a collection of 100 devotions about God and science for children aged 6-10 years. This devotional shares facts of science and talks about how Scripture and God’s creativity relates to each one. It encourages children to explore the wonders of the universe - space, galaxies, geology, weather, animals alongside the Creator of them all. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens tell the glory of God. And the skies announce what his hands have made.”

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Join in praying for six Christian prisoners during the six weeks of Lent. Begins on Sunday 21 February.

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VOX.IE JAN - MAR 2021


MUSIC REVIEWS

First of all I’d like to wish all my readers, listeners and friends here a Happy New Year. Please God I pray this year will be a better and healthier one for us and for our world. 2020 may have been a year that we want to forget; thankfully music is not one such reason. In the face of every obstacle 2020 threw at artists and songwriters, there was some amazing music produced and released. Ar aghaidh linn.

Mystery IAN YATES

I came across this album at the tail end of last year. While everyone else was releasing Christmas albums, the Liverpudlian Christian singer/songwriter was bucking the trend with his album called Mystery. I must admit to not having ever heard of Ian but how he has managed to fly under my radar for so long is, in itself, a mystery. He has already released three studio albums and a number of EPs over the past few years, and having binge-listened to his previous recordings I realise that I have been missing out. If you are looking for a return to authentic and simple worship, Ian’s new album will take you there. Produced by Trevor Michael Mystery comprises 12 high quality songs that will speak to hearts, mind and souls. The song First Love is achingly beautiful and although all 12 tracks are pretty brilliant, this for me is the standout song, with Mark Us With Your Love a close runner up. This is a brilliant album from a songwriter I have become hooked on. I think you will be too. www. ianyatesmusic.com

Take Heart (again) HILLSONG

It is usually about this time of year when Hillsong release a live praise and worship album. I must admit that I tend to avoid them. This year however, they have given us not so much a “new “ album, but rather a re-imagined one. The album is called Take Heart (again) and it is very good indeed.

VOX MAGAZINE

They have revisited their recent releases and re-fashioned them to suit the dark Covid times we find ourselves in, turning stadium anthems into intimate ballads that will speak hope into the despair that so many have felt during the past year. An example of this is the album’s title track “Take Heart (MMXX)” which brings an air of confidence in the promise of Jesus in John 16:33. Here are 12 brilliant songs, mostly acoustic, piano or guitar, with crystal clear vocals that showcase beautiful lyrics that create a sense of intimacy with God. I do wish they would produce more of this type of music. An album that is perfect for such a time like this.

Poured out LOULITA GILL

Loulita Gill is a busy person these days. Running her own graphic design business, raising a family of young children, leading worship at her Bristol-based Church, writing a book, and producing some of the most beautiful Christ-centered music imaginable. It is astonishing how much she squeezes into the average day. Loulita released her debut album in 2018 charting her faith journey through the ups and downs of life. The songs resonated with so many people and received widespread acclaim. Loulita’s new album Poured Out was released in late November and is already making waves. Its title reflects her deepest gratitude to God for the love and grace He has poured into her. Poured Out consists of 12 tracks of impeccable quality that will take you into the heart of worship and help you to foster an attitude of deep gratitude. A mixture of mid-tempo and soulful songs that showcase the versatility of her vocals and musicianship. With so much on offer in this album, it is hard to pick a favourite track but for me the standout songs are the powerful Spirit of God, which when it takes off will have you punching the air, and Grace and Mercy. A contender, even at this early stage, for my album of the year. www.loulitagill.com

Patient Kingdom SANDRA MCCRACKEN

In October 2019, I fulfilled a lifelong dream to visit Nashville, and spent two weeks

there at Hutchmoot, a gathering of Christian creatives, songwriters, poets and authors organised by The Rabbit Room, a collective started by songwriter and author Andrew Peterson. One of my favourite Nashville-based singer/songwriters is Sandra McCracken, and her sound is unashamedly Nashville - a mixture of country, folk and gospel. Patient Kingdom is Sandra McCracken’s new album and it features nine songs that just ooze peace and serenity. Sandra wrote or co-wrote all the songs, and the album was recorded across four States during the lockdown in collaboration with some of her musician friends. Patient Kingdom by Sandra McCracken is mighty fine music... y’all have a listen now.

Holy Water WE THE KINGDOM

Ed Cash is one the most successful and prolific songwriters and producers in Christian music. His list of credits is endless but includes songs written for Chris Tomlin, Amy Grant, David Crowder, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Casting Crowns. In 2019 Cash formed his own band, We The Kingdom and released a six-track EP called Live At The Wheelhouse. The first single released from it, Holy Water, topped the Billboard Chart. Three of the songs from that EP, are included on this their debut album along with nine new tracks that are quite stunning. If ever an album was released to lift our spirits, Holy Water is it. Brilliantly produced yet still feeling raw and authentic, this is a must-listen-to album.

Albums reviewed by UCB Ireland Radio producer/presenter Vincent Hughes. Listen to his programme 124pm Monday to Friday and 11am3pm on Saturdays on Virgin Media Channel 918, on Sky Channel 0214 or via the smartphone app. You can contact Vincent at vincent@ucbradio.ie | www. ucbireland.com.

JAN - MAR 2021 VOX.IE

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Self-catering accommodation and conference centre for small retreat groups. www.bethanyatbridesglen.com Residential and Non-Residential

These facilities can be booked together or separately. Contact us and we will do our best to accommodate you. Betty Stevenson | 01-2822510 |bettystevenson2014@outlook.com

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For your quotation please contact Rodney Croly at: Email: Rodney@crolyinsurance.com Phone 01-2989166 | www.crolyinsurance.com R J Croly & Co Ltd is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland Registered in Ireland no. 108865. Registered office 4 Finsbury Park Dundrum Dublin 14 Directors Rodney Croly QFA FLIA , Sylvia Croly QFA

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BOOK REVIEWS

VOX MAGAZINE

A tale of two prophets By Jo Sheringham

I admit to getting Elijah and Elisha mixed up, but not any more, having read this re-telling of their stories. The author has taken the Biblical accounts and let her imagination loose. What she has produced is an account which fully conveys how epic their tales were. Political intrigues, natural disasters, ministering angels and spiritual battles abound. She has set the lives of the two prophets against a future backdrop (e.g. God sends a solar powered landship to transport Elijah to Zarephath!) At times this is amusing but it never seems disrespectful of the Biblical narrative. What’s more, she gives us a glimpse into what it must have felt like personally to have been a great prophet of God. We realise that they didn’t always feel so great. After Elisha miraculously multiplies the widow’s oil, he tells us: “It is often so difficult to see the end of a problem, or that there will ever be an end to a problem at all. But when it happens, when the light of a miracle dawns, there is nothing, nothing at all, with which to compare it. When the Lord answers and sends His word, then obedience opens the door. When a hope is realised, then a prophet can sing, and rest in the true knowledge that his God is enough.” I’ve often listened to preaching about these prophets, and taken part in Bible studies but this version of their lives gave me far more grasp of what they accomplished with God.

Nobody’s dog By Eleanor Watkins

We know that dogs are ‘not just for Christmas’, so here’s a story about a dog whom Luke notices, who seems to be ‘nobody’s dog’. Luke and their neighbour, Mr Bronzovi, befriend the dog, and call him Bushy, because of his bushy tail. But Bushy is wary of people. They decide that he must have been treated badly. Dogs are not allowed in their apartment block, so they worry about him living alone in the park. But Luke decides to pray for Bushy. But then things go really wrong for Bushy and for Mr Bronzovi. Just as Bushy had to learn to trust Luke, so Luke learns to trust God: “God answered a lot of prayers for us didn’t He?” said Luke. “He did,” agreed Mr Bronzovi. “Not always in the way we thought we wanted. But always the right thing in the end, even in the hard things.” “Will more hard things happen?” asked Luke … “Oh, there’ll be more,” said Mr Bronzovi. “But we’ll get through, with God’s help. Learning to trust Him, a bit more each time.” For 6 - 8 years, a first Chapter Book in a dyslexia friendly font.

Blessings for life By Sylvia and Elizabeth Gunter

The Bible is full of blessings. That’s because they are something that we all need. When someone speaks a blessing over us, they are speaking words of truth about how God sees us and loves us. This book contains 50 blessings, each a page long, based on Scripture, and written by a mother and daughter. Particularly in these uncertain times, I would recommend that you first read them over your own spirit. They will root you further into the love of your heavenly Father, drawing you into your true identity. Then out of the overflow of what God does in you, you can speak them over others. Later in the book, there are blessings for particular life situations, to be adapted as appropriate. This book also includes some teaching on why we bless our spirits, some answers to frequent questions, and Scriptures about the human spirit.

Book reviews by Julie Carvill of christianbooks.ie, from where you can order these and other inspiring titles: info@christianbooks.ie or +353 (0)86 839 1870

JAN - MAR 2021 VOX.IE

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VOX PS

SSSHH... BY SEÁN MULLAN

L

ockdown in the world’s cities produced fascinating footage of wild animals roaming urban streets. But in Dublin we didn’t see Phoenix Park deer turn up on nearby Smithfield Square where I live and our urban fox was a regular visitor long before COVID. For us the big change in the first lockdown was birds. With few trees, Smithfield bird sounds are usually seagulls and pigeons, neither of which produce what qualifies as “song” in my book. But during the Spring lockdown I woke often to birdsong; blackbirds and other songsters were in the area. For a few weeks Smithfield had a dawn chorus. Sadly the second lockdown didn’t produce an encore. The building site remained in full swing, which probably wrecked the possibility. The birds’ song raised a chicken and egg question. Which came first, the silence or the song? Did the absence of delivery lorries, building machinery and early morning traffic cause the songsters to take an Air B & B in Smithfield? Or were they here already? Did the silence bring the song? Or did the silence allow us to hear the song that was already there but never heard? Silence, the absence of noise is disconcerting for many of us. People used words like “eerie” or “strange” to describe the urban quiet of lockdown. If we live by reacting to noise then silence can be weird. In the city noise fills our day. But noise is not just the stuff that makes our eardrums reverberate. There is plenty of head noise that is as

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intrusive as external noise. If we live in reactionary mode then noise and movement are essential to normal living. What do I do with silence and stillness? The understanding is that the city is never silent or still. And the people of the city are never silent or still. They tend to be always in motion – reacting to whatever stimulation the city’s noise and movement conjures up. Now and again when tiredness or frustration reaches an unacceptable level we move towards silence. But like the child forced by the teacher to sit down we’re “sitting down on the outside but standing up inside.” We pause activities and turn down the outside volume but the volume knob for inner noise is not working so well. That inner noise and restlessness may be worse while the country is on hold. External silence can turn up the internal volume. Our inability to move around as much makes our inner space a place of restless activity. The activity serves no purpose; it’s just endless chatter. Was the external silence an invitation? A call to inner silence? Moving towards post-Covid when noise and movement return to “normal” is maintaining an inner journey towards silence and stillness possible? Most of us dismiss that idea. We look down the trail that leads that way and see a large barrier across with the words, “You? No chance.” There is an inner conviction that you don’t have what it takes. That’s a lie. You’re a human being - you have what it takes. The journey

begins with the desire. Don’t ignore it. Ignore instead the voices telling you that you were not made for silence or that it was not made for you. There is within every human being a capacity for life at a deeper level. Listen to the invitation of silence. Be willing to let go of noise. At the start, we will struggle dealing with thoughts that will not rest. Like Internet algorithms they lead us from one link to another until eventually we stop in frustration, knowing we have lost focus, we have not been still. We are better off letting them be, those crazy rabbit trails – fighting them just leads to another rabbit trail. Pause rather at the moment of frustration and give thanks – not thanks for the rabbit trails but for the chance to pause and be aware of them. For that moment you have paused. You are still. You are aware. And from that moment you can move into greater silence. For those who believe in God, this is where you connect: be still, and know God. Long before Internet algorithms led us on cyberspace trails we had our internal algorithms leading us on inner space trails away from peace and rest. We all become that absent-minded person who ends up in a room with no idea why they went there. We need help. The craftsman from Nazareth offers it - “Come to me… I’ll show you how to take a real rest.”

THERE IS WITHIN EVERY HUMAN BEING A CAPACITY FOR LIFE AT A DEEPER LEVEL. LISTEN TO THE INVITATION OF SILENCE.

Seán Mullan has been working in church leadership for many years. He has developed a project in Dublin City Centre called “Third Space”.


SEE THE END FROM THE BEGINNING Matha had a bad start in life, inside an orphanage in Cambodia. But that wasn’t the end of her story. Today, thanks to our partner M’Lup Russey, she’s had training in life skill and tailoring and been able to return to her family and community. Now, she’s sharing what she’s learnt with other vulnerable young people to ensure that they don’t end up in orphanages unnecessarily.

We want to see vulnerable people’s story right through to their happy ending. Will you help us? Please consider making a regular gift. Whatever you can give, we will make every cent count where the need is greatest. Thank you! If you give €250 or more in a calendar year (or €21 a month), we can make your gift go even further by claiming tax relief. On donations of €250 we can claim back tax of €112.32, so your giving becomes worth €362.32 – or 45% more.

Visit tearfund.ie/donate or call 01 878 3200. Tearfund Ireland, 2nd Floor, Ulysses House 22–24 Foley St, Dublin 1 D01 W2T2 Registered Charity No. CHY 8600. Charities Regulatory Authority Number: 20021337

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Spirit Radio on FM Athlone 90.6FM, Bray/Greystones 90.1 FM, Carlow 90.5 FM, Cork 90.9 FM, Drogheda 92.1FM, Dublin 89.9 FM, Dundalk 90.4 FM, Ennis 90.3 FM, Galway 91.7 FM, Killarney 91.2 FM, Kilkenny 93.1 FM, LeJerkenny 87.7 FM, Limerick 89.8 FM, Naas/Newbridge 92.2 FM, Navan 92.4 FM, Sligo 93.4 FM, • Drogheda 92.1Tralee 88.0 FM, Waterford 90.1 FM, Wexford 94.5 FM, Letterkenny 87.7

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VOX January 2021  

My 2020: A year of Reflection, Opportunity and Rest; a look behind the scenes of the Mustard Seed Soup Run; Holding onto God in a crisis -...

VOX January 2021  

My 2020: A year of Reflection, Opportunity and Rest; a look behind the scenes of the Mustard Seed Soup Run; Holding onto God in a crisis -...

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