Monday, March 16, 2015

Driving Through the Irish Countryside: Learning to Walk by Faith, Not by Sight

We were in Ireland some time back, heading to Belfast to meet with friends for some ministry, when we stayed at a backpacker hostel in Bonduran on the way. While having breakfast, we met a man who suggested taking the scenic route through “The Bloody Foreland” on our way to Belfast.

We figured, why not take a little adventure along the way through the Bloody Foreland, as it was called? Wow, what a name! Sounded like a wild place, plus the man told us it would only add a couple extra hours…

The Bloody Foreland, as it is called, is a frontier-like, largely undeveloped, outer peninsula on the northern part of the Emerald Isle. It is known for rough seas, tough weather, and harsh winds. As we ventured out to the peninsula and motored out past deep scenic valleys we were blessed to have God’s leading confirmed by a cloud leading the way for a short time. We’d need that confirmation, as the hours would draw out longer than expected.

It was easy to lose track of time as we passed through villages with ancient churches surrounded by grassy hills, with picturesque streams running through the valleys.

No matter what Irish locals tell you about how long it will take you to get somewhere, we should have remembered to, at least double that and maybe even triple it. Flying fast around blind little hairpin curves without room to spare is a “locals only” deal. Sane people shouldn’t think they can keep that pace (you’re there to see the place anyways).

I just had to brace myself for trying to remember how to maneuver when driving on the left side of the road next to a steep cliff with the very occasional car coming right at you on those narrow little roads. Thankfully, we only saw a few other cars the entire time out there, quite the unusual experience anywhere on this earth these days; seemed like there were more sheep than people in many of these parts.

Recurring mental flashes of driving off the side of a cliff aside, Ireland is just one of those places where jumping in the car and driving out somewhere can leave you awestruck with the beautiful scenery!

The midnight sun finally began to fade away. With no idea where to eat or sleep we just prayed and pressed on. Little pockets of civilization were beginning to pop up every now and then. We came into sleepy little Irish villages with old pubs with names like O’Malley’s and O’Neill’s. Even late at night, the scenery remains entertaining in Ireland.

We were somehow, by the grace of God, able to find the birthplace of the historic missionary Columcille (aka Columba).

Columcille took the Gospel from Ireland in an act of daring, across the sea in a little boat called a curragh over to the Picts in Scotland, landing on the sparse windswept Isle of Iona. Through divine leading and divine appointments, he finally won some converts when Brude, the king of the area, was now willing to listen to his message after seeing the gate he had locked to keep Columcille out, fly open after Columcille prayed before it (you can hear his story on our video).

With the extended days surrounding the summer solstice in the air and the allure of another picturesque sight around every corner, we were lured into a bit of a time warp, not really catching on to the reality that evening was setting in, because it looked like mid-afternoon with the sun so high in the sky.

After all that driving, it was time for a break. Having to drive on the opposite side of the road leaves one a bit worn. You need to think all the time about what you’re doing rather than just reacting from learned behavior. I knew that having a go out in the cold surf would give me the fresh bolt of energy I needed after all this time on the road.

Just getting to the surf, however, turned into a whole other adventure. We overdrove a good 20 miles only to come back to the original spot we’d passed by earlier. You have to maintain a good sense of humor in those situations and have fun with all of it and remember at least it wasn’t missing the turnoff by about 200 miles like we did one time in France. We could see a little point break from up on the road; getting down there would be another task altogether.

After some exploratory driving in circles, we found a dirt road leading off the main highway that seemed to go in the right direction, but which also seemed to keep ending in an isolated house/farm backyard. After a couple more attempts, we still kept ending up in the backyard. We finally got out and knocked on the door of the place to be informed that their yard was indeed part of the route—“just drive through the little opening in the middle of the farm equipment, pass through some laundry, then go down a dirt embankment which will hook you up with the dirt path that will take you out to the beach.”

We proceeded on driving past the farm equipment and then right around and under the hanging laundry, one of the more unusual routes to a surf spot ever, and eventually reemerged with the dirt path leading out to the surf spot.

We made it out to the point, through laundry and other hazards, and had ourselves a situation few surfers get to experience anymore in this modern crowded world. A point break that was completely empty, not another soul in sight as far as the eye could see. After enjoying the scenery and relaxing a bit, the wetsuit was finally donned, and it was out into the cold water and wind for a few fun waves on one of the most northern tips of civilization. With the exception of an overfriendly lonely seal, no one was around for miles; it felt very surreal. The sun shone on into the late hours of the evening. We were in God’s country, with just the waves, a few sheep, and a lonely seal, out there at the top of the world.

We got back on the road a bit more awake and refreshed now, and as we marched on, we realized the last time we ate a full meal had been in the morning; we had a little snack on the way, but it had long worn off.

The hour and remoteness of where we were led to the quick realization that you would find nothing to eat in this area unless you killed it and cooked it yourself—but catching a rabbit? Don’t think so!

Onwards we went with no idea where we could find anything to eat or a place to stay the night. One thing seemed for sure: it didn’t look like we’d even get close to Belfast tonight. So much for just a couple extra hours! We’ll just keep heading towards Belfast and see how far we get tonight and do the rest tomorrow.

We amazingly found an open “fish and chips take away” in a little village in the middle of nowhere. What it was doing open, at that late hour, in a tiny little village, is hard to figure—but it was, it just was—hallelujah!!! An answer to prayer for sure!

Fish and chips had never tasted so good. It sure satisfied our hunger, and what do you know, it wasn’t just some fast food joint we had to settle for, it was something authentic and tasty from the area. The guy closed up shop right after we finished eating. It seemed like he had been waiting for us to come to serve that one last meal of the night before heading home. It was another surreal moment, seeing that the whole town was closed up and fast asleep as we drove off, yet somehow this one lonely fish and chips place had been waiting open, just for us it seemed…

Thanking God for that answer, we kept pressing on into the night, and after some more driving, we finally came into a bigger town that was more than just a pub, petrol station, and a fish and chips stand.

We found two places available to stay there. The cheaper one seemed like the obvious choice.

For some reason, I said, “Let’s pray about this,” thinking at the same time, Why should we pray about it? The answer looks obvious. As soon as we did, I wished we hadn’t done so. The next thing I knew, I was wrestling with God who was leading us to stay in the more expensive place!

We’re used to making money go as far as possible so going to the pricier place was still a wrestling match. I felt strongly one way in my natural mind about what to do, yet we felt led by the Holy Spirit in another direction. It really is not an easy thing to pray about your decisions sometimes, and especially so when the Lord starts taking you in directions other than what you think look right. This is why most Christians don’t pray about their decisions and why they often make fun of those who do pray about even the small things.

It is much easier to just go forth on what you think you should do from your own natural inclinations. This can cause us to miss out on the better things, however, when we only rely on the natural. We are spiritual beings and the Lord does use our natural senses, but he also wants to lead us by the Spirit. There are things we can’t see right off in the natural that God may want to bless us with that we’ll miss if we don’t seek Him.

It is much easier to make your own decision and say, “God bless this,” than to pray and say, “What do you want me to do Lord?” and seek an answer from Him. It is a part of surrendering what the reformers call “the bondage of the will.”

At this point we were getting tired, but we both felt the same thing, so at the end of it all we were obedient to what we felt the Spirit’s leading, and went to the higher-priced place.

We checked into the hotel, and it was refreshing to get a shower and relax a bit without having to worry about making noise. We happened to see the other place the next day in the full light, and it looked to be quite the dump, it was hard to tell that it was that bad at night. Furthermore, it was so tightly quartered it looked like they’d hear a pin drop, or you going to the bathroom, and complain if you did either. We truly enjoyed the place we were in, and even though we should have been zonked from all the adventure of the long day, we seemed to have some renewed energy in spite of the lateness of the hour.

With Patrick fast asleep, we were able to unexpectedly have some quality time alone. Something that with all the traveling we hadn’t gotten to experience in a while nor would we get to for some time after this point. For the next few months, we would be hard on the missionary path, staying in people’s homes, sleeping on floors, and even in cars some nights on the road.

We woke up the next morning to a breakfast you get to experience only now and then. Some of the best smoked salmon, pastries, cold cuts, cheeses, and other foods you could find anywhere. The fact that the place that cost a bit more included an incredible breakfast had eluded us the night before. And it was a breakfast that was in fact quite outstanding, and would end up carrying us through the whole day, and in the long run, actually saved us a lot of money that day. The Lord knows those little details we sometimes don’t figure in, that is why it is important to seek His guidance. Not always an easy process, but well worth it when we do: “Father knows best!”

Rested and ready we headed off to Belfast where we had a powerful Holy Ghost meeting with other missionaries and friends that day. The power of God showed up and poured out His glory. It was quite a moment with the presence of God completely overwhelming some people to the floor while we prayed together there.

We’d spend the next three months constantly ministering and being always on the move with little time for rest or relaxation. When traveling and ministering for long stretches like we did for months on end afterwards, there was just no opportunity for any time alone or to relax; it was the right choice in the end to go to the pricier place but one that was not obvious to the natural mind at the moment of decision.

We were quite glad we listened to the Holy Spirit at the end of that long day in Northern Ireland. It’s important to listen and be led by the Holy Spirit in our regular lives. Not just in ministry or for big decisions, but in everything, by prayer and petition, let your requests be made known to the Lord…Paul says in Romans 8:14: “As many as are led by the Spirit of God these are the children of God.”

It is not always an easy process but is something that is well worth going through as you find that God has so many unexpected blessings in store when you do, just as we did in those few days in Ireland traveling from the Bloody Foreland to Belfast.

How The Trip Through The Bloody Foreland All Got Started

While in Bonduran that morning I was reading the Bible and noticed an open map on a table next to us which seemed to beckon to a remote northwest region with a strange name called “The Bloody Foreland.”

Just a bit later when we went down to breakfast, the little hostel we were staying at had a man filming for a TV show who popped in with a cameraman in tow asking questions and interviewing those sitting around eating.

Finding we were from “The States” he asked us a few questions and we got to share on camera for the TV show about some ministry we were doing and explain a bit of the Gospel. This opened up a conversation with the TV interviewer after the filming.

He told us he admired what we were doing and then went on with, “You know, I’m a good Roman Catholic, I go to church every Sunday, but you know, I don’t really believe in God.” He kept traditions alive but faith was far off; religion had more to do with national identity and social connections.

He explained that this was the same situation with many of his fellow parishioners, friends, and countrymen, as well as many throughout Europe, many who were religious were so without real faith he said.

The religious system for him, he explained, was more of a barrier than a bridge. He told us, “You know, with its corrupt history and all those centuries of the Catholic Church burning people at the stake and on and on, it hasn’t really inspired faith in me.”

Listening to him was a view into what we already knew and seen so much in Europe in so many places: religious forms with no reality of relationship or connection with God at all.

I shared my testimony and worked to plant seeds as I explained that I didn’t come from a religious background at all myself, but had actually come to know and experience God in a very personal way. We shared from our hearts about the Gospel and he had never heard it this way. It clearly planted some seeds in his heart. We explained that Jesus himself was killed by those who were religious, the Pharisees, but whose hearts were actually far from God. It is not religion that saves but faith in and relationship with Jesus Christ.

It was a divine appointment with a view of the need for the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ to be organically shared and communicated on the European mission fields today. Only 3% of Europeans have any kind of real or saving faith, according to the US Center for World Mission. The Gospel must once again be shared, preached, and testified to throughout the continent.

He returned the favor of our sharing from the heart by telling us about “The Bloody Foreland” and how it was worth “the short drive.”

Well, the drive wasn’t really short, but it was a great adventure and experience and well worth the little extra time and miles it all took. By God’s hand, we got to plant seeds of the Gospel as well as have some amazing experiences.

To learn more about the Celtic Christian legacy, click here.