mara ireland

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Students at West are challenged that faith in Jesus Christ is not something that was done once in the past but a disciple of Jesus (student/learner) is a life long pursuit.  One of the was they are challenged  is to take a short term mission trip, before they graduate, to see what Christ’s church looks like in a different country.  Engaging and sharing the Gospel in this way expands their view of the Church, helping them see it’s so much bigger than our local body.  Recognizing the church is made up of every tribe and nation because of Christ’s work on the cross is a powerful yet a humbling experience.

Mara Johnson, pictured 3rd from the right, has done just that and what follows is her story from her trip to Northern Ireland.

What was it like doing mission work in Northern Ireland? A first world country torn apart by hate tide up in religion and politics, struggling to heal after hundreds of years of violence. Nothing short of miraculous when you are doing everything in the name of the Lord (with His hand to do all the heavy lifting). My team as well as all the other teams from the United States were partnering with Cornerstone City Church. The people who make up Cornerstone are an amazing extension of the body of Christ who are consumed by the Holy Spirit and intent on seeing their hometown, Derry, lit up by the love of Christ. One of the most important parts of this trip was becoming acquainted with these brothers and sisters of ours across the ocean.                

              Cornerstone planned five different city wide projects that all of us were going to tackle together throughout the week including: VBS at four different locations, a street long service project, prayer tents set up in a few key locations in Derry, a mobile medic station to offer free basic medical services and a football (soccer to all the Americans) tournament open to any local youth teams.

              All week long I took a half hour bus ride through the winding hilly Irish countryside to a little country school called Donemana. This was one of the locations for VBS and where I spent most of each day hanging out with kids. Our sight director stressed the importance of always loving on and encouraging the kids, and helping them as much as possible to remember the memory verse and understand the Bible stories. This put VBS in a whole new perspective for me. I had always shrugged it off as a fun week for kids, but not really an effective way to teach them about God. After all, how are a bunch of kids going to remember anything from attending a summer camp only two hours a day for one week? I was unwittingly understating the power of God, however, and one thing out of the many things God taught me while in Ireland is He can work with anything. After a week of investing into these children’s lives it was more than encouraging to see over three quarters of the kids from Donemana come to church.

              The last Friday night of our stay in Ireland we went out with a large team to a square in the city. From one a.m. until three a.m. we talked to, prayed with, and encouraged the masses of people pouring out of the closing pubs. I had never seen so many intoxicated people at one time and of all ages too. There were fifteen year olds all the way up to sixty year olds in the crowd. The official drinking age in Ireland is eighteen but I heard someone say they’ll give anyone a drink who comes in and can see over the bar. I was amazed that the girls, most of whom were scantily clad and stumbling around stilettos, didn’t break and ankle or freeze to death. I, along with two of my friends, talked with another threesome of girls our age, a girl who was having a breakdown and could only be in her twenties, and a woman who looked to be in her forties and was so drunk she could barely stand. Despite their various conditions I was sure each conversation was meaningful. God could reach them even in their drunken state, and that is yet another thing I learned about the power of the Gospel message. So when my friends and I weren’t engaged in conversation we were earnestly praying for the droves surrounding us. When three o’clock came it did not feel as if we had been standing in the biting cold and misting rain for two hours. It was even difficult to forsake the drunken crowd and cold night for a peaceful place to shelter and a cozy bed. There were still so many people staggering around in the dark that you didn’t really care that your fingers were numb or you were so tired you didn’t want’ to stand another minute.

The final thing I want to share, although I could fill several more pages with stories, is about a man my teammates and I met in town one day. After expressing to each other our shared desire to witness to someone on our walk back to the bus a man approached us while we had stopped to read a sign explaining a brief portion of Derry’s history. He began to recount to us the struggles and turmoil that had plagued Ireland and the city of Derry for so long. I was incredibly thankful to hear a local’s perspective on the deep division between people of different political and religious backgrounds here. We interjected when we could with what we hope were Christ centered words of encouragement, but one more thing I learned through this experience was that you don’t always have to be the one doing the talking when witnessing, sometimes you have to be a good listener.

If you want to go on a mission trip then go, and if you don’t want to, go on one anyway. Go to a first world country, go to a third world country, and go down the street. People everywhere need Christ. When you give your time to focus on serving the Lord, He will use you to help build His Kingdom and change you in the process.

Mara Johnson