Monday, April 13, 2009

Day 8 - Going Home

People sometimes say they wish there were more hours in a day. We had 28 hours in this one due to the time zone changes. It was great. The plane ride was longer than the first, but even more enjoyable, as I wasn't completely sleep deprived. We got out of the airport and into the van relatively fast, rode another 3 or 4 hours back to campus. I ate dinner in KB's apartment that night. That was awesome. I also got to talk to Megan Clapp about how her service trip went, and that night, Ian, Amanda, Molly, and I drove back to my house to talk about their service trip with the homeless in Syracuse and we drank tea and went to Providence in the morning.

So far, I have neglected to do a lot of commentating on the trip to Northern Ireland. I wanted to get out all of the things we actually did before I forgot (seeing as there was no internet connection where we were). I will commentate now.

When people ask me how my trip went, I don't know what to tell them. Do they want the 2-second, 2-minute, or 2-hour summary? We all know that short term missions is a touchy topic. Are they effective? Are they just an excuse to feel better about ourselves and remain detached from the actual people? Are they financially legitimate? Are they glorified vacations?

Messiah's goal with their short term trips is to have ongoing trips. The Agape Center is about the relationships between Messiah and people. One great thing that came out of this year's trip to Northern Ireland is that we are now developing the technology to have ongoing dialogue and online webcam meetings between Messiah College, The Church of the Nazarene, and schools local to Lurgan/Craigavon.

If nothing else, I am so glad that I met those who went on the trip with me. All of them are so different than myself. We have different worldviews, different backgrounds, different lifestyles. I was glad to be not only unique, but challenged to have nobody like me around.

It was also great to recognize my friendship with Messiah staff. Chad is a professor, the director of Messiah's service center, a guy I interviewed for a Swinging bridge article by sitting down at the Falcon Express, a guy at who's house I performed a song while opening for a touring musician, and just a good friend in general. He pushes me to think critically and differently. And he's not the only person on staff that I can have a down-to-earth conversation with.

It was also good to have great guys to hang around. Let's face it, I don't typically like guys because they cover up their insecurities by putting up this tough-guy front. I'd rather live on a girls floor, even if they want to be dramatic and gossip all of the time. I just hang out with girls more. I don't like being around fake guys. But Jason and Quinn were incredible role models to me. Their passions and mindsets and actions were something that I could consistent feed off of.

The mix of personalities among the girls was awesome. I think this is one of the reasons that Gary told us this was one of the best groups of Americans that his town had experienced throughout the years. They were leaders in their own way, and as guys, we were not aggressive. In fact, it was beautiful how we did not let gender roles interrupt our ministry to the community. Meghan's testimony and passive way of getting us to collaborate were essentials to our week. Jo and Genna's portrayal of selfless friendship was effective to our group and to kids. Kate and KB's control and service to the kids were so strong. I'm not just rubbing egos.

For me, I did not think that I would want to return home. However, I have a new love for America. Mind you, my love is not for it's dream, it's arrogance, or it's selfishness, but for it's opportunity, diversity, and beauty.

I figured out why I'm in cross-cultural ministry and not youth ministry. I really like to push the minds of others. I love to get them to think outside the box, and while I think I got some kids to do that, I was more passionate about studying the culture and "why's" of the Northern Ireland society than I was in engaging the youth. I would've loved to work more with teachers to help empower their ministries. It doesn't always feel good to come to a realization that you aren't as passionate for something as you'd like to be. But still, I think I was able to maintain a conviction and attitude of humility toward loving on who Christ refers to as "the least of these." And I hope that I was a backbone and support to the leaders in our group that were super thrilled about working with kids.

I highly recommend this trip for Messiah students. Although the point isn't necessarily to have a blast, I definitely did. I will probably visit the country again some day. Especially since I saw a few traveling hitchhikers on some of the know by that that the country is hospitable and there are significant resources for vagabonds....

Day 7

Our last full day in Northern Ireland.

On the schedule, this day was called our "Day Off - sort of."

We went to Waves at 8 and hung out for awhile because the manager extended hospitality to us by letting us try out the jacuzzi/steam room/sauna. That was a nice relaxing and social experience. Then we were dropped off in town to shop. I don't think I actually bought anything, but it was awesome to walk around with Jason and Chad, checking out the shops and architecture and all of the small family-owned businesses. The church that divides the town by Protestants and Catholics was very pretty. Outside of it, there was a cool stereotypical European architecture garden.

Our next stop was a two hour drive to Dunlap Castle, where we had a tour of a beautiful old castle on a cliff looking out toward Scotland. It was cool to hear about the history of the family feuds and all that, but it was even cooler just to explore the crevices and landscapes.

Giant's Causeway, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, was only a few miles away. We went there next. The rocks on the shore there are hexagon shapes formed by some type of chemical or element in the water, I think Basalt. It was a good place to wind down and the weather was lovely.

After we drove two hours back to the church, the young kids youth group came and we entertained them for awhile. After that, the teen youth arrived for their last night with us. It was sad in some ways to say goodbye to some kids, but glorious in other ways, seeing changes in a few of them since the beginning of the week. Adults in ministry overuse this phrase "planting seeds," but sometimes I wonder if that's a phrase that we just use to convince ourselves that we did God's will even though we didn't see much fruit come out of it. Either way, at least we had some delicious ice cream sundaes.

One last night sleeping in the church.

Day 6

Like usual, we woke up to shower at Waves. However, this morning was a little bit more alarming than the previous mornings. We were just sitting down to our cereal (The Fiber Challenge as I call it) when P. Steve bursts into the room yelling, "Get up, we have to go, my daughter just texted me saying 'where are the Americans, we've been sitting in assembly for twenty minutes'."

So, obviously, the staff at Craigavon Sr. High had told P. Steve to bring us to the school at the wrong time. Consequently, when we arrived, all the kids in the school were sitting down on the gym floor. We walked inside and pretty much improvised a skit on the spot. It was about "peer pressure." You know, we all walk together as a group, trying to convince an innocent Christian to do "worldly" things with us like smoke and party and fight and slash tires. We actually did really well, if I do say so myself. Then we went to the classrooms for the day. I was the only guy this time, along with Meghan, Jo, and Genna. Quinn had to switch groups because Chad was taking the day to study in the library about how to develop Messiah's annual mission to Northern Ireland. After a few classes, we went to "The Canteen." It's the cafeteria. I ordered a regular sized meal, thinking that I would not get another chance to eat (it was only 10:40 AM). I was wondering why not many people got food. I found out later that that time was just for a quick break/optional snack, and that the true lunch time was later. As a result, I didn't eat much during lunch. Those kids probably thought that I was a typical gluttonous American during the first trip to The Canteen though.

The classes throughout the rest of the day were great. I got to tell a few groups of kids about my trip across America. They asked a few questions. Kids asked about cannabis and if I thought it should be legalized. Different members of our group had different things to say which I thought was good. A girl asked what we thought about sheep in Northern Ireland. Some kids asked questions related to American spirituality and our own faith. One teacher was persistent about giving us opportunities to share our opinions and beliefs about religion. I always want to say deep things and really engage kids, but I know there are certain things that if I would say them, they'd take it the wrong way, so that was kind of a challenge.

A secretary informed me that P. Steve had called the school and told us to walk back. using my keen sense of direction, I proudly navigated our group back to the church. At the church, I think it was Jo who brought up how she wished we didn't have to give the opinions of the church that we stayed at. Like we can't talk about our opinions on smoking, drinking, etc, but we have to give the Church of the Nazarene's stance on those issues, which is very conservative. I said that I agreed with Jo, and I said to give the opinion of a specific church was not necessarily to give the opinion of the Kingdom of God. Chad felt struck pretty hard when I said this and we talked about it for quite some time down in the kitchen/basement. My favorite part of the trip overall was the discussion and continual dialogue we had with each other.

The little kids arrived at church after school for our VBS-type program. We had a blast with them. KB dominated crafts and games, and Quinn dominated with storytelling, like usual.

Later that night, we went to the Annexe. The Annexe is an after-school program that is actually run by the Jr. High School. I think they just want to give kids a safe place to go away from the influence of drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, etc. There are tons of snooker tables, foosball tables, craft areas, video games, etc. We played indoor football for at least half an hour and then I worked on a hemp bracelet for my roommate Blake who is back at Messiah. I then joined some kids for a game of football inside the school. I was one of the last people picked, but my team enjoyed playing with me. They didn't mind that I wasn't as good as them at football. We had fun playing, anyway, and they asked me a lot of questions about Messiah College. The Annexe was definitely one of my favorite experiences of the week. It got us at work outside of church and in the true, transparent social lives of the kids.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Day 5

The fifth day. Adequate amount of sleep. Steve drove us just after 7 AM down to WAVES where we did our routine. Today would be spent at Lurgan Jr. High.

The junior high school was perhaps my favorite of all the schools we went to. Kids that age are so predictable. They ask you offensive questions and are entirely honest, and I love it. Preteen rebellion is so transparent.

My group consisted of myself, Meghan, Jo, Quinn, and Genna. We went to the classes where the subject "Religious Education" was being taught. Jo, a pastor's kid, and Genna gave a sweet co-speech thing about how Jo used to judge Genna for being Catholic. Eventually, after overcoming prejudgments, the two became friends. Then Genna would talk about how Catholics can learn from Protestants by looking at their heart and passion, while Protestants can gain knowledge from Catholics. The whole Protestant vs. Catholic thing is much different in the states, according to the students in the schools. On the island of Ireland, the religious separation is not too religious. It's mostly a cultural association/dispute over land/argument of who has the better football team. But still, there are frequent killings and acts of violence.

We had four classes totally that day. My favorite part was when we allowed kids to write questions down on paper anonymously for us to answer. Some asked if we lived next door to celebrities. We explained that the flight to Hollywood is as long as the flight to N. Ireland. Some asked if we liked burgers. In every class, at least one question was geared toward fast food.

One kid asked, "Why do you think America is best? it was founded by us." I had the awesome opportunity of answering his question. I said America was not best. Give me a reason why it is. Please stop being arrogant patriots.

"What kind of car do you have, a Ferrari?" and "How many pints of Guinness have you had?" were among some of my other favorites.

After school, we walked down the hill to the church. I went with Pastor Steve and Quinn to pick up pizza. I didn't even notice at first, but the place was called "Bada-Bing NY Style Pizza." The pizza guy knows P. Steve well because he is a frequent customer/evangelist. Steve explained that that pizza guy wasn't "saved" but has "religious" relatives. Again, spirituality is a lot different in Northern Ireland. Anyway, the guy gave Steve free Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream and a great deal on the pizza and chicken.

The pizza and chicken were fantastic. I couldn't eat enough. Then I peer pressured Steve into letting us eat Ben and Jerry's ice cream even though I think he was going to save it for his family or his congregation or something noble like that. But c'mon, it was Ben and Jerry's. I swear I'm not selfish.

That night we could either stay at the church for a congregation prayer meeting or go to the Presbyterian church across town for a guest speaker. Due to the topic of the sermon, we decided to go across town. The speaker was a Burmese missionary, part of the persecuted church. English was his 6th most fluent language. He spoke about the harvest being ripe, but not enough laborers to bring in the harvest. This is in reference to spreading Jesus' Gospel. His speech seemed really cynical toward Buddhists which kind of surprised me. I went to talk to him after the sermon about this fact, but it was hard to communicate for him, as he is not primarily a speaker of English. So instead of answering my questions he just invited me to teach at his Bible college in Burma once I graduate with a degree in cross-cultural ministries. Who knows? I gave him my email. That might be cool. That might serve God's Kingdom. Probably won't happen, but we'll see.

All of us recognized that evening the paradox of hearing about foreign missions while on a foreign mission trip. I have no further commentary on that paradox.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Days 3 and 4

Today is the big day of the week: the schedule is full.

7 AM: Wake up and shower at the public facilities at Waves.
We walked across town and walked all the way back from our showers. For our walking, we did get a little surprise. The owner/manager/some guy decided to show us around the building. He showed us the workout gyms, pools, and hot tub/sauna that he said we could use later that week if we wanted to. We want to.

We then grabbed a quick breakfast and walked to Dickson School, a local primary school with war murals painted on nearby buildings. Primary school is for grades P1-P7, similar to preschool to about fifth grade.

The first thing we did at Dickson was present a skit for the kids at assembly in the morning. They wanted us to do a skit directly related to the Gospel (in public schools, it is legal and encouraged to talk about faith and religion). We did a little play where we made a boat. I was a Jamaican Jesus that asks the disciple (Quinn, in this case) to walk out onto the water. The kids laughed. Quinn was a good actor. I wasn't. I'll confess, we just winged it.

We also individually introduced ourselves to the school. We told the kids about weird talents we had. When it came to me, I said, "close your eyes if you have weak stomachs and ask your parents before trying this." I flipped my eyelids inside out and the kids loved it.

Jason, KB, and I formed a group to go around to all the different classes. We could tell that kids were a product of their teacher in this school. In our first room, kids were silent, and the teacher gave us a blank stare until she finally asked us in monotone our opinions on Obama.

We walked upstairs to the oldest group of kids and did a trust walk camp-like initiative with them, you know, one that's easy to explain the spiritual metaphor behind. They did really well and not many kids cheated.

Back downstairs, we played with preschool-age kids in a class ran by an award-winning teacher. She speaks softly and has a therapeutic way of getting the kids attention. She is professional in every way.

When we got to Mrs. Pillow's class (she's the principal and a teacher), we played a game where we stick nouns to kids' foreheads and they have to find their partner without saying that noun. Mrs. Pillow made it quite clear that my little eyelid trick was gross. I overheard some other teachers condemning it, but my vibe the whole day from Mrs. Pillow was quite negative. To be honest, I began to question why I'd even bother coming if I was just causing a disturbance. Then I remembered that every teaching and action of Jesus was basically disturbing anyway.

The funniest questions all day were asked by young girls. The first: "Have you ever been to Las Vegas?" - a question asked by two different young girls in two different classes......The second: "Have you ever been to Playboy Mansion?" - that one embarrassed the teacher a little I think.

We walked back to the church after eating a fun little lunch with colorful plastic silverware (aka "carvery"). Here, we prepared for the youth group lock in, an event that local kids had already signed up for before we arrived in the country.

We began a pick-up game of keep-away soccer (which from this point I may refer to as "football"). I fell on the gravel and scraped my hand. It bled like nuts and I would have a significant gash between my ring and pinky fingers on my right hand for over a month.

After washing up my wound, we watched the first Narnia movie. I began to feel sick, so I went and sat on the toilet for half an hour.

When I came out of the bathroom, we went to the sanctuary where Chad was prompting what he called a "very serious discussion in which guys need to support each other and be honest." We made vows not to talk about anything said during this discussion. You can imagine what we discussed. Yes, it is common for children to begin engaging in such things at age twelve in Northern Ireland (not that Americans are any better at all). The response was very good.

The boys wouldn't sleep that night, but I was out despite the noise. I slept next to them from 2 AM to 8 AM. I woke up tired and grumpy and not ready to deal with kids. I was feeling a little better but still out of it. At breakfast, I was wearing a hat and an older man came over and accused me of not eating and removed my hat, saying that it was impolite to wear it at the table. I explained that I was sick. Meghan kinda of looked at me with a "what the heck is that man doing" expression, which kind of lightened me up and reminded me that I wasn't a complete failure. But at this point, with all the disapproval from authority, Mrs. Pillow, this random churchgoing man, etc....I'm starting to wonder if my presence is actually impacting kids or anyone else positively.

We went to Belfast with the kids for Laser Tag. This put me in the right mood. I'm competitive. I play serious. I dominated. Second place, only behind the guy that worked there. I'll take it, but next time, it's his throat.

When we got out of the Laser Tag arena, I was feeling refreshed, especially since I knew the next stop was Newcastle. We were dropped off and given a few pounds each to walk around town for a few hours. We went to some rather large indoor arcades and walked across the beach with the boys. Gambing is huge in Newcastle, so the kids were all about those games where you shoot a quarter in and try to knock down all the other ones.

For food, we went to a Subway and a KFC. There were also several ice cream shops. I'll admit it, I flirted with an ice cream girl. She was cute, but I realized that our relationship could not last because she said she wanted her "boyfriend" to be a "cowboy" in "Texas." I think she would've been disappointed if I told her the only time I went to Texas was for Chick-Fil-A. I did get to eat some delicious honeycomb and turkish delight flavored ice creams, though. I'll take those over a long-term relationship with an ocean between us and four hours time zone change. Okay, I didn't flirt that much, give me a break.

On the ride back in the van, KB and I had a wonderful conversation about living and road trips and earth. It was liberating to have an open mind like hers in our group, an accepting personality.

The kids were all picked up at the church when we got back.

Pastor Steve Hughes turned our "Night Off" into a long meeting. It wasn't bad though. We talked a lot about his family, the kids, how to act and be effective around them, the nature of his church, and the building itself that we were staying in. Then Meghan did a "Bible study" - more of a discussion - about forgiveness. I like thinking about forgiveness because I always learn that I'm in the clear. I'm pretty sure that's the wrong reason for liking to study forgiveness. Anyway, I also started reading Shane Claiborne's "The Irresistible Revolution" before going to bed.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Day 2


I got ten hours of sleep!

In Sunday school (yes, we slept inside the church we would attend in the morning - sure makes getting to church on time very easy), the guys half of the team (Jason, Quinn, Chad, and myself) had the boys. The boys taught us how to play snooker, their version of billiards, and then we read out of Daniel, the story about how the government releases a law that all must bow down to the king. Daniel decides not only to bow down to Yahweh, but also to keep his window open for all to see while he's doing so. Consequently, he is thrown into the lions den. We only intended to read a chapter or so, but the kids kept insisting with excitement that they wanted to read more. I think we read about three chapters. Chad asked the guys to think of the last time that they felt loved. One kid said, "when I got saved." He mentioned it had been a year since he "got saved" (Northern Ireland religious folks love the word "saved"). I wondered if he'd ever felt loved since then.

In the main church service, KB (Kate Beiler) and Jo sang "Hungry" for special music and they had really good harmonies in the chorus. Since Pastor Steve was away for a congregational meeting with Nazarene churches, a guest pastor did the service. He was probably the equivalent of a Christian fundamentalist in the US. There are both good and bad things about this. For one, he intimidated the heck out of the kids during "children's church." He also spoke out of Ezra with great passion and enthusiasm. We was very loud, which made me feel guilty if I wasn't paying attention. His sermon was packed with theology. Personally, I think he kind of made the Bible say want he wanted it to, but I guess every pastor does that in some way, shape, or form.

After church, we were taken to eat at The Carvery. It is a big fancy ballroom with delicious selections of meat and potatoes and top-quality desserts. I felt like a king eating there. I always feel awkward in sophisticated settings though because I like to stay real as a person, not act like I'm some big important human being that has my nose stuck in the air. Not that the people there did, but it seemed like they should, on account of all the fanciness. Regardless of how awkward I may have felt, the food was beyond excellent.

Chad Frey gave the "sermon" for the Sunday night service at the church. He spoke "with" the congregation, not to them or at them. He got down in the middle aisle with a marker board to illustrate his points and talk with people. Megan and Genna both gave testimonies to aid to the intercommunication and message. We closed with two worship songs. I played drums, Jason played guitar, Jo played piano, and KB sang. The service was followed by a potluck where we got to meet some older members of the church (the Church of the Nazarene really lacks a middle generation, it is mostly old and young folks).

Closing the night was a game of keepaway football outside with the kids.

The biggest thing I noticed today was the activity of a church's congregation. A few people do many things, always on the move, while many people simply show up for church once or sometimes twice a week.

Day 1

Friday, March 13:

Last night I stayed up quite late studying for my theology and world religion exams. I figured I'd be able to catch up on sleep in the van to the airport and on the plane. I neglected to remember that I am horrible at sleeping in vehicles and that we'd lose four hours due to time zone changes.

At 3:15 PM we met at Eisenhower circle to wait for our van to the airport. We did the whole circle-up-and-pray-like-Christians thing and got on the turnpike, a three hour drive to Newark, NJ - just south of NYC. We were through check-in and security with no lines or hold-ups, which was wonderful. As we sat at our gate, eating Chinese food, I spoke with a European man who told me to expect cold and rainy weather, which was the norm in the Belfast region.

On the plane, I sat between Jo and Quinn. For half an hour, I contemplated whether I should catch up on sleep or watch a movie on the awesome Continental Airlines personal video screen. Eventually, I compromised and played a game of virtual mini golf with Quinn because his screen would not turn on.

Despite the fact that I could not sleep in the upright position for more than 45 minutes on our six hour flight, I am a new fan of Continental Airlines. They gave us blankets and pillows and had a kind staff. They also fed us like mad. I'm pretty sure we had six meals before getting off the plane.

The best thing about our flight was the sunrise. I have some pictures of it. Gorgeous and very surreal - pink and orange. I thought a lot about how a child might wake up to see a plane flying over such a colorful sky, but then I remembered that we were flying over the Atlantic Ocean. Oh well.

I don't think that God ever intended for humanity to be able to see the tops of clouds. I think about this whenever I am on a plane. It's so mystical. If you've been on a plane, you know what I mean. It's like another universe that only God was supposed to see.

We arrived at 8 AM local time outside of Belfast. The drive to Craigavon/Lurgan (the town we would stay in for the week) was fantastic. It was everything I expected Northern Ireland to be. That became apparent to the others in our group as I attached the adjective "enchanted" to everything that I saw: "Look at that enchanted forest," "Look at those enchanted sheep," "Check out that enchanted palace."

We arrived in Lurgan at the Church of the Nazarene, which was the church we would work with. We looked around for about a minute, but then we all collapsed on mattresses for several hours of daytime sleep. We were exhausted. In Northern Ireland, heat is expensive, so we often were cold in the church because we'd leave the heat off. I didn't bring a pillow or sleeping bag, so sleeping in the cold was tough. I ended up waking up because the midday sun was peaking through the windows. I stood up to close the blinds more. After I did that, Jason and Quinn simultaneously gave me thumbs up. Chad Frey, Professor at Messiah College and Director of the Agape Center of Service and Learning, was still out snoring. I dug in my bag for my overcoat, knowing that it had worked well in the past as a blanket.

We woke up to the noise of two joyful women working in the kitchen adjacent to our room. We walked out into the main room that connected these two rooms and found nice chinaware set out across the table with soup and bread prepared. Food is the Northern Ireland form of hospitality, and in a patriarchal society such as the island of Ireland, women cook nonstop. Our stomachs were always full.

After the meal, some local youth group kids started showing up at the church. We met Gary and Dowdsy, senior high schoolers who would be our two junior leaders for the week.

The kids played football (aka soccer) with us for awhile. I had my dirt bag, so I taught them hackysack. They accused me of teaching them to be gypsies, instead of American culture.

In the evening, we met Connie, Pastor Steve's very active wife, who had us take showers at WAVES. Waves is a fitness center where we would use the public showers (unfortunately, not the pool) throughout the week.

With wet heads in mid-forties temperatures, we walked a few miles back to the church. Dinner was about ready when we got back, and it was fantastic. They love potatoes. We also found Nutella in the kitchen, which is a delicious hazelnut spread.

The kids came back later that evening with some new friends as well. Jason and I sang a few songs on guitar with them. Then we watched one of Rob Bell's Nooma videos entitled, "Dust." It's about Jesus being our rabbi and stuff like that. He's got some good videos, for sure. The night closed with a popcorn and soda snack (gotta love Irish flavored water) and two games: "womp" and "signs."

Honestly, the culture in Northern Ireland, I realized early, may be different than the United States, but it is not that hard to adapt to once you get past the accent and a very small amount of social norms.