Thursday, December 06, 2007

10th Birthday...

It was 10 years ago on Saturday 6th December 1997 that i gave my life to God. I remember it very well, and some of you probably remember it too! It happened at Mannafest at the Ulster Hall. Sadly, my memory isn't good enough to remember the name of the guy who was speaking that night but i remember he was particularly talking to people who believed in God but had not received him into their life. That was exactly what i needed to hear as God had been messing with my head for about 2 months. Prior to that i didn't even believe in God!

From that moment on everything changed for me. It's hard to imagine what my life would have been like if i had never become a Christian. I reckon i would probably have pursued a career in Accounting or Finance because that's what i thought i wanted to do at that stage.

My faith gave me an understanding of what life was really all about - a new perspective and purpose that gradually changed my goals, dreams and desires. It has been an amazing journey over the last decade with lots of highs and lows but never once have i ever had any serious doubts or regrets about living for God. I have gotten to know God better in this time and yet i still know i have only scratched the surface of who He is. Here are just a few truths that i have collected and stored along the journey:
  • I am not always faithful but God is always faithful.
  • There are times when i feel incredibly far away from God and yet those are the experiences that have lifted my faith to an entirely new level.
  • Without strong Christian friends i would have given up on faith long ago. Thank-you.
  • God is incredibly patient with me and constantly reminds me that He is not finished with me yet.
  • Sadly there are lots of Christians who give God a bad name.
  • God is interested in making disciples not just saving people.
  • I am convinced that nothing else can provide the peace and fulfillment that God brings in a life.
As for the next decade? Who knows? I'm really happy with life at the moment. I love my job at WPC and can certainly see me sticking around for a few years yet. God is stirring many dreams within me for the local area that i long to see becoming reality. Family and friends are both very important to me in providing constant support and encouragement. What more could a young, single but eligible bloke want! ;-)

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Have a little patience...

This term in 20:20 we have been looking at the Fruit of the Spirit. Last week was 'Patience' and our in-house drama team decided to put together this little sketch representing one common situation they get really annoyed with - parents! It's really funny so i hope you enjoy it. I think they are amazing and i believe the next episode has already been filmed and is being edited as we speak. I am led to believe that it is even funnier so watch this space!

Maybe you find yourself being impatient? What are some of the things you get impatient about? Here are my top 8, in no particular order:
  1. People who want to try and talk to me when I am watching a movie or TV show like 24/prison break.
  2. Strangers who stand too close to me in queues.
  3. Bank queues that move really slow.
  4. Messiness.
  5. Really slow drivers.
  6. When my PC breaks down.
  7. Family – much less patience for family than non-family.
  8. Technical Helplines where they don’t understand me and I don’t understand them.
Here are just a couple of thoughts and quotes on patience i shared last week.

Our prayer is not ‘Lord, take away all the things that drive me crazy’. No, God wants us to grow in patience through our troubles. Thomas a Kempis wrote:
‘Patience is necessary in this life because so much of life is fraught with adversity. No matter how hard we try, our lives will never be without strife and grief. Thus, we should not strive for peace that is without temptation, or for a life that never feels adversity. Peace is not found by escaping temptations, but by being tried by them. We will have discovered peace when we have been tried and come through the trial of temptation.’
Finally, another fantastic quote about patience i found in Wikipedia:
"Patience with others is Love, Patience with self is Hope, Patience with God is Faith." Adel Bestavros

Thursday, November 22, 2007

We'll support you evermore...

Got back from Gran Canaria at about 7.30pm tonight! Just 12 hours traveling to get home, compared to 18 hours on the way there - nightmare! It was a really fun trip even though we didn't qualify. As always, the Norn Iron fans just sang all the way there and back. Below is a couple of videos i took to prove it! The first is on a public bus on the way to the match - it was hilarious! The second is after the match finished and the team gathered to applaud the fans.

It was 29 degrees in Las Palmas and i think i am struggling to re-acclimatise to the harsh N. Ireland temperatures!

Monday, November 19, 2007

We're all off to sunny Spain...

...Viva Espana. So i was there on Saturday night to witness an awesome victory over the Danes. Nearly wet my pants when Healy scored the winner - what a goal! If you didn't see it then you can watch it in the clip below. It's actually a really funny clip to watch as you hear the co-commentator on BBCni laughing the whole way through!

It's great news for N. Ireland fans as it leaves us with a ray of hope that we can still qualify for the European Championships next year. So myself and a few mates are jumping on a plane (actually, make that several planes) bound for Las Palmas, Gran Canaria for the big showdown on Wednesday night with Spain. Direct flights to Las Palmas where ridiculously over-priced because of the match so we are taking the scenic route of Dublin-London-Madrid-Las Palmas! Sure it's only taking us about 12 hours to get there (and the same home!)! It'll be my first away game for N. Ireland and what a showcase to go to!!!

Anyways, i'm leaving at 5.45am so i'd better sign off, do some packing, and get to my bed!

Monday, October 29, 2007

MAD 9...

Just Back from MAD 9! For those of you out of the PCI loop (like me until i started this job!), the MAD weekend is a youth weekend for 11-17's run by the PCI Youth and Children's Dept and this was the 9th year of it. The weekend is held at University of Ulster, Coleraine and the 800 young people that go each year sleep in local church halls. This was my first MAD experience and we decided to take our Fusion age (11-14) to it. 19 of us went including leaders and it was an excellent weekend all round - the young people had a ball! It was great fun for them and on top of that i believe they all experienced God and got to know Him a bit better.

I was so encouraged over the weekend to see our young people really engage with the God stuff. Andy Flannagan was leading the worship and did a fantastic job in getting the young people excited about worshiping God. It was loud and high energy and our guys loved it! Mark Oestricher from Youth Specialties was the speaker and he was excellent. With our guys being very young i wasn't expecting them to enjoy the talks too much but they loved Marko because he was dynamic, funny, had good stories, had a simple message and he never spoke for longer than 20 mins. The theme for the weekend was 'One Life' and all of our young people were challenged in some way about their relationship with God and making the most of their lives.

Our young people really amazed me over the weekend! I think because i had no interest in God until i was 17, i have little expectations of their interest in God or faith until they get a little older. God really challenged me about this over MAD 9 and not just because the young people loved the worship and teaching. On the Friday night as i was getting ready for bed (at 2.30am might i add!), one of our youngest guys was using his mobile phone as a torch to read his Bible! Speaking to him the next day i found out he tries to do this most days, usually in the mornings! Also, at the very end myself and the other male leaders got all our boys together to have a time of prayer. Again, i wouldn't have been surprised if none of them had prayed but every single one of them prayed, and they prayed really personal prayers to their personal God - it was awesome!

One of my favourite verses is 1 Tim 4:12 as it informs us to 'set an example in speech, life, love, faith and purity'. I've been reminded this weekend by my own young people that there is a first half to this verse too:

12 Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Exciting news for the future...

Haven't blogged in a wee while, no real excuse for that except busyness! Got some exciting news to share though, although many of you will have already heard! I work with young people in the community who have no interest in church. This started about 18 months ago with detached youth work and then we progressed into the Basement of Cafe Rigmarole in December 2006. Since then we have been open 3 afternoons and 2 evenings per week. We have contact with 40 young people and have approximately 270 users each month, facilitated by a team of 6 volunteers and myself. However, the Basement is tiny which really restricts the amount of young people we can engage with and what we can offer them in terms of facilities.

So what do we do with them? The work is primarily relational - hanging out with the young people and getting to know them and what is going on in their lives. We also have engaged in group work and ran a Youth Alpha course which was a great success.

Has there been progress? Yes i believe there has been! There seems to be less evidence of anti-social behaviour in the village as supported by the Neighbourhood Watch and the PSNI. As leaders, we
have seen HUGE changes in the young people over recent months. At times relationships have been very frustrating with young people showing little or no respect or appreciation towards leaders or the facility. However, recently that has certainly not been the case and we have seen a much more settled atmosphere in the Basement with significant progress in relationships. Through this ministry i have had the opportunity to talk to young people aboutmany of their struggles:
    • struggles at home.
    • struggles with a sick relative.
    • struggles with their sexual activity.
    • struggles about life being rubbish.
    • struggles with whether God is real or not.
    • struggles with a parent who has left home.
In all these conversations, myself and the rest of the leaders are able to give God answers.

So what about the FUTURE? Well that is the exciting news! We have been offered use of the Village Inn as a community facility for the next 2 years until it is ready for development. The VI is a huge facility and will allow us to do grow and expand the work with the young people as well as develop work with other people groups in the community.

My vision for the youth work in the community raises some challenging questions for the people in our church family:
    • why not think bigger?
    • why not contact with 80 young people?
    • why not open 7 nights per week?
    • why not a team of 30 volunteers?
It's not everyday that you are given a pub! God is doing something in this community and it's exciting to be part of it! In fact, at the moment i am struggling to keep up with what God is doing but it's a great place to be!

Friday, September 14, 2007

3 great fires...

I have had many great nights with people around a fire. It's something i absolutely love doing with friends or with groups of young people as i always find it a 'memory making moment'. As such, this has been a good week for me with 3 memorable fires. Let me share them with you...

As you know, i work with young people in the local community through a little drop-in centre in the village. These are primarily young people who do not go to church. One of these lads, aged 16 headed off to the army on Sunday so we a had a bit of a farewell night for him last Thursday round at my house. About 25 young people showed up and half a dozen leaders and we had lots of desserts to go round. I had got my hands on a firepit for the back garden so we were able to light a fire and sit round it. I had got a a little farewell gift which i presented and said a few words about how he would be missed but i would be thinking and praying for him. What happened next was amazing because everyone in the circle shared a few words of encouragement for their friend who was leaving. It was a lovely moment to listen to all these nice things being said to this guy, i could tell he was really moved and just didn't know what to say!

Then last
saturday myself and 9 other youth ministry leaders from church headed up to Donegal for an overnight retreat. This had been programmed in for a while as i felt i really wanted to get away and have some quality time with leaders before we launched into another academic year. The purpose of the retreat was to build relationships amongst the leaders, to listen to God's call for us and the ministry for the year ahead, to think about our roles and to engage in some basic planning for the year ahead.

Of course we also had lots of time to just chill out and on the Saturday evening we ventured down to the beach and lit a wee fire and sat round it for a good few hours sharing stories and laughing a lot! I'm excited about our team of leaders and feel privileged and blessed by every one of them. There is a strong group there who give sooooo much to the young people week in and week out and they are deeply committed to it and love it - what more could you want from a group of leaders!

Much of the content for this retreat came from a book i read recently called 'Contemplative Youth Ministry' by Mark Yaconelli. The book is excellent and one of the areas of teaching he focuses on is how we can be 'present' with young people and increase our effectiveness in our relationships with young people. He highlights 5 keys:
  1. Seeing - we need to see young people with the eyes of Jesus. Do young people feel noticed in our ministry?
  2. Hearing - young people remember when they feel genuinely listened to by someone else.
  3. Moved to Compassion - when we see young people with the eyes of Jesus and hear them with the ears of Jesus then we cannot be failed to be moved to compassion by the heart of Jesus.
  4. Acts of kindness - the compassion we feel will move us to small acts of kindness that can bring so much healing to hurting young people.
  5. Delight - we know we are genuinely called to youth ministry when we find ourselves being amazed by young people and therefore a sincere desire to spend time with them.
There is lots more in this book i could share here but i don't want to make this post so long you stop reading! Get the book if you are involved in youth ministry.

Tonight was the launch of our youth ministry programmes, Fusion and 20:20 for the academic year. We did this with a trip to Murlough Beach for a BBQ and, you guessed it, a bonfire! I booked a 57 seater bus last week and was confident we might have 50 young people there. By Wednesday we had 60 signed up and the final numbers for tonight including leaders was 80 people! A fantastic night had by all i believe. We had a bit of a 'moment' at the end of the evening around the fire, with everyone putting an arm round the person beside them as we prayed for the year ahead in Fusion and 20:20.

I'm excited for this year ahead! To see young people grow in faith and maturity is such a privilege and a gift that i am very thankful for!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Wild at Heart...

Recently i was at a meeting where this book by John Eldredge was given a very critical review. If you were there and have never read the book you are probably never going to read it. If like me, you were there and have read the book and found it excellent, then you were probably left feeling embarrassed.

I've been thinking about this a bit over the last few days and felt i had to have an outlet somewhere where i could review the book from my perspective to add a little more balance to the argument.

I have read this book probably about 3 times and have given countless copies away as gifts to other men. I have found it to be a great book to read with a few guys as it provokes a lot of positive discussion amongst men who are perhaps not that open and vulnerable but yet they are able to find some truths within the book that they can relate to at the deepest level of their own experience.

I found the book brought me to a greater level of understanding myself, why i am the way i am, and it often reassured me that i am normal! Eldredge spends a lot of time emphasising the importance of parental roles, especially that of a father, in child development and how this can impact our behaviour throughout our adult lives. Parents (or significant adults) have a massive role in affirming their children. Men and women each have a deep question that needs to be answered. How these questions are answered during growing up will affect them for the rest of their lives. The question for men and women is different.

The question for men is ‘Am I really a man? Have I got what it takes?’ A man’s strength, not just physical but also at soul level, is very important to him hence the desire for adventure, climbing trees, wrestling, etc. If this question is unanswered or answered negatively then it makes for weak men in adulthood who lack commitment in relationships and when the going gets tough, they up and leave. The question for young girls is ‘Am I lovely?’. A woman’s beauty is very important to her, not just physical beauty but also her heart. This explains the desire of young girls to dress up as a princess and look beautiful. If this question is not answered positively for a young girl then it can have devastating effects on her self-esteem throughout the rest of her life. Only parents or significant adults can properly answer these questions.

The book, as you would expect, also highlights some of the struggles that are exclusive to men and sets them within a useful context that helps you to understand why certain areas could be weaknesses for men. Eldredge emphasises that we all have a 'battle to fight' as we seek to be more like Christ and presents a helpful strategy for this.

The book of course has criticisms. Firstly, it is American written which presents obvious cultural differences that come through as Eldredge talks about his family life and experiences but i think the discerning reader can look beyond this and find value from his teaching. Secondly, if you are looking for a Bible Study of considerable theological depth then you will be disappointed. That said the book has Scriptural references throughout to support and communicate the views presented in the book.

Personally speaking, i would happily recommend this book to anyone (male or female). I would be interested to hear other opinions of the book in the comments section below to see what the general consensus is!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Youth Week 2007

Youth Week finished over a week ago but i think i'm still recovering! I showed this video of highlights on Sunday morning at church so i thought i would stick it up here too! It was a great week of fun activities with a fantastic group of young people! The video says it all!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

How much do you love God?

So Youth Week started today with a full days activity at Craigavon Watersports Centre. It was great craic and the weather stayed dry for a change! Each morning of this week we begin with some worship and a short devotion or thought for today. I led this today and this is what i shared...

How much do you love God? Think about it right now? How much do you love Him? How important is He to you? How high does He sit on your agenda?

It’s a hard question to quantify isn’t it? I mean it’s not like ‘how good are you at maths, or football?’ You can quantify those things much easier. Love is harder to quantify.

I bet if we went round the room and asked everyone what God meant to them we would use words like: Savour; friend; Father; forgiver; healer; EVERYTHING.

BUT how does that work out in our daily lives? How much do we love God in our everyday life and relationships?

I recently heard a quote that helped to quantify my love for God and really challenged me in the process.

Dorothy Day, co-founder in 1933 of the Catholic Worker Movement said this:
"You only love God as much as you love the person you love the least."

I don’t know about you but when I first heard this it really made me stop and think about how much I love people (or fail to love people) as an indicator of how much I love God.

Author Brennan Manning went on a spiritual retreat and he wrote this:

‘One lonely night in the Colorado Rockies, I heard this message [from God]: “Brennan, you bring your full presence and attention to certain members of the community but offer a diminished presence to others. Those who have stature, wealth, and charisma, those you find interesting or charming or pretty or famous command your undivided attention, but people you consider plain or dowdy, those of lesser rank performing menial tasks, the unsung and uncelebrated are not treated with the same regard. This is not a minor matter to me, Brennan. The way you are with others every day, regardless of their status, is the true test of faith.’

Can’t we all relate to this? Why are we like this? I think it’s our INSECURITY. We want to hang out with the ‘cool’ people, the ‘funny’ people, the ‘hot’ people because that makes us look ‘cooler’, ‘funnier’, or ‘hotter’. But what about Jesus? Who did Jesus hang out with? The disciples were pretty average really, they were awkward and they often got it wrong. They fought with each other and they abandoned Jesus when he needed them most. Who else did Jesus hang out with? Tax collectors, Samaritan women, prostitutes, lepers – people with questionable character and often people on the fringes of society.

So my question this morning is this – how many people with questionable character do you know? Do you know many drunks, thief’s, prostitutes or homeless? What about people on the fringes of our culture and society? Gay people? Immigrants? Disabled folk or the elderly?

How much do you really love God?

So how does this fit in with the Bible? Does the Bible agree that we ‘only love God as much as the person we love the least’?

Matthew 5:46-48 (New Living Translation)
46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends,[c] how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

This passage challenges us not to measure our love by how much we love the people who love us back. Also let us not forget about the passage of the sheep and goats when Jesus makes it clear that how we treat others is directly linked to how we treat Him.

45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

So there is a challenge for us all this morning. Are we going to chase after the adoration and approval of others to find our value, worth and SECURITY. Or, are we actually going to be radical enough to believe God when he says that HE LOVES US, and respond accordingly in the way we treat the rest of the world?

What if it is true that:
"You only love God as much as you love the person you love the least."

Let’s meditate on the following Scripture for a few minutes:

19 We love each other[a] because he loved us first.
20 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister,[b] that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? 21 And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters.[c]
~ 1 John 4:19-21

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Having a moment with Foy...

Hello there, a while ago i promised a bit of a blog about the new Foy Vance album. It's called 'Hope' and was released in the UK at the start of July. If you are not familiar with Foy's music then your life is less fulfilled as a result! He is one of those artists whose music will touch you to the depths of your soul with a combination of his emotive, real-life song writing and powerful vocals. Not only that but he is a local Christian guy hailing from Bangor - so go on, buy it!

On my travels this summer i spent a lot of time listening the new album and i think it is fantastic. So i thought i'd just highlight 3 songs that particularly caught me:

1. I Was Made. This seems to be a song about Foy's encounter with God. The song begins with an expression of his lifestyle before he met God - 'i didn't know what i was missing'. Then God finds him and he professes:
i came round to all the truths i found
i threw down all of the chains that bound me
i was made for loving you

He goes on to make reference to Christ's suffering for our sins:
i left you hanging all alone
threw my stench upon your throne
after all that you'd been through

'I was made for loving you' - great truth within a beautiful song.

2. Indiscriminate Act of Kindness. This is probably Foy's most well known song and i have heard it hundreds of times before but as i listened to it on a bus one day on my travels, there was a particular line that just grabbed me and challenged me deeply. The song is about a one man's kindness in a random encounter with a down and out drug addicted woman. The line that got me is when the woman asks:
how is it you can see past me as i am?

Surely as Christians we are called to see past people as they are but the sad reality is that many don't. Ive worked with lots of young people over the last few years and when i ask them what they think of church people, more often than not the answer will be 'they don't like us' or 'they think they are better than us'. Just a few weeks ago i was chatting with some of the local young people and this question arose and one guy said something that really struck and chord with me:
'they [meaning church people] see us drinking [alcohol] and just think we are bad people.'

How sad, that often Christians are not defined and known for their ability to accept and 'see past people as they are'.

3. Two Shades of Hope. Hope is a word that is woven throughout this album - hence the title i guess. 'Gabriel & the Vagabond' speaks of the 'gentle whisper of hope' that leads to life transformation - again referencing a God encounter. 'Hope, Peace & Love' is a simple song that has echoes of 1 Corinthians 13. 'Two Shades of Hope' however attempts to portray the harsher side of hope. He opens by explaining the two shades: 'the enlightening kind', covered in the above songs, and; the other which he likens to a 'hang man's rope'. He goes on to share some real life stories including a loveless broken relationship and a lost battle with cancer where on each occasion 'it was hope that dealt the hardest blows'. His conclusion? Despite the pain and despair that comes within relationships, he still has the realisation that:
'i cannot help myself but hope.'

A moving song that i'm sure we can all relate to in some degree.

I can't endorse the album to you enough - you will not be dissapointed! On top of that he has a few gigs coming up at the end of the month at the Black Box that would be worth checking out. Foy Vance has yet to attract mass attention which means it is still possible to see him in small intimate venues at little cost (£10) but this is could change very soon, so take the opportunity while you can!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

It's your move...

So i got back on Saturday from SU camp and i was completely exhausted! Maybe that's a good indicator of how good the camp was! It was one of the best weeks of residential youth work i have ever been involved with. There were 22 trainee leaders (aged 16-18) at camp and our role for the first 4 days was to train them so they could lead the camp when the p7's arrived. This group were probably the best group of young leaders i have ever worked with. They were very teachable, committed, passionate about God and soooo funny. That's a recipe for a great week in my book!

The most exciting thing about the week for me was really getting to know these guys and girls and then sitting back and watching them lead the P7's. It was amazing to see them really take on responsibility and do things they never thought they could have done. For most of them, this was their first experience of leadership - giving talks, leading games, teaching memory verses etc. There were a lot of fears and nerves but this taught them to rely on God more than ever, and He was definitely FAITHFUL! At the end of the week we had a team de-brief and it was obvious that this week had been extremely significant for each of them.

It was a reminder to me of how much that age group thrive and grow on responsibility, especially when they have the correct support, encouragement and training.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Mothers are like maps...

Just got home late Wednesday night and already I've been soaked by some of the heaviest rain i have ever seen - feel like i need another holiday! Anyways, i had left my car at my parents house and when i picked it up i was delighted to discover that it had been miraculously cleaned both inside and out! It was pretty bogging when i had left it so i kinda wasn't surprised that my mum was unable go look at a dirty car for 2 weeks! So i happily drove back to my little house which i must admit had been left in an equally bogging state before leaving. It's not that I'm a dirty person, it's just that life had been a bit hectic for the couple of weeks prior to going on hols and i just had no time!

So i walk in the door to find my whole house spotless from top to bottom! Floors mopped, carpets vacummed, bathroom
cleaned - even my bedroom was tidied and my bed was made with clean sheets! To top it all off my grass was cut too! I promise you i did not leave a list!

I've come to the conclusion that mothers are a bit like maps, sometimes they can be very frustrating, but at the end of the day you would be lost without them!

I'm heading off again tonight for one week to help lead a Scripture Union camp at Castlewellan Castle. The first 3 days we will be training a group of 16-18 year in leadership. They will then be taking on the responsibility of leading the camp for a group of 30 P7's who will arrive for the last 4 days. The theme for the camp will be 'It's Your Move' - teaching the p7's how to deal with change as they move to secondary school using the Biblical model of Daniel. Please pray for the camp leaders and the young people - and the weather!.

I wonder if i will come home to find my drive power-hosed or spoutings cleaned???

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Niall on segway in Prague...

The aforementioned segway moment!

Czech this out...

Hello there folks, just arrived in Prague this morning after an extremely uncomfortable 8 hour journey on a train that seemed to stop at every hole in the hedge. All sleeping cars with beds were fully booked so we were stuck in a carriage of 8 seats with 2 other Spanish guys. We had a good bit of room but it was still impossible to lie out flat and to top it all off, you had regular people coming round to wake you up and check your ticket or passport! Toilet facilites are brutal too, far worse than anything i remember in school and they surely haven't seen any toilet paper since well before you or i were born! 3-4 hours of broken sleep was enough to see us through though and so after dumping our bags at the hostel (very modern and beautiful, more like a hotel really), we ventured off into the city.

At this stage of our trip, after seeing 6 other cities, we are a bit weary of seeing the city sights because each church, castle and square looks much like the rest, so in order to spice it up a bit this time we opted for a Segway Tour of Prague (thanks for the idea Craigo!! The 2 hour guided tour was fantastic fun as we got to see the whole city without expelling any energy or shoe leather! I'm going to try and upload a video of the segway action on a separate post. The footage will show Niall raking it on a patch of grass and nearly falling off after hitting a pot hole! I laughed a lot at this but what unfortunatley wasn't captured on video was myself 2 minutes later hitting a pot hole at top speed (a hefty 12mph!) and completely tipping the segway and falling off! I thought i had wrecked the whole thing but the guide wasn't even concerned so i just climbed back on and cracked on! Segway tours are becoming more popular in many cities around Europe so if you get the chance, give it a go for a good couple of hours craic!

A few other random thoughts on eastern europe:
  • Sausage dogs - seem to be an obsession with them here as we have seen many!

  • Pedestrian crossings - EVERYONE waits for the green man, even if the coast is clear. Maybe this is a discipline that has been passed on through communism to the next generations (?) but it is amusing to observe.

  • C&A - it's great to see that this department store has not gone bust but is alive and thriving throughout much of Eastern Europe!

So that's me for now, probably see ya in norn iron soon! Is it still raining there?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Too much happening and too little time...

Ok, its been a few days and 3 cities since last post so let me give a brief update. Im currently in Krakow, internet access not so good at this hostel, hence the lack of updates and no photos this time. Enjoyed Vilnius a lot. Highlight was probably heading up to the castle on a hill looking over the city at night. From there we jumped onto another bus for 8 hours to get to Warsaw. Although it was long, i had the ipod in and had a bit of a 'moment' watching the beautiful countryside go by! I was listening to the new Foy Vance Album - Hope (album cover to the left). I've a whole other post to make about it but i'll reserve that for when i get home and have a bit more time. Needless to say, you should defintely get the album!

Warsaw was ok but probably my least favourite city so far as it is much more spread out and i didn't really feel there was much to see. It probably didn't help that the temperatures now are soooo hot that it's much less comfortable to walk around cities.

On Saturday we caught the train to Krakow and i have really fallen in love with this city! If you haven't been here then make it a must for a city break. The old town is really amazing with the hugest town square i have ever seen. There is a really good buzz about this place with lots to go and see.

On Sunday we took a bus to Auschwitz. When we first discussed travelling to Poland we definitely both wanted to get to see this place and it was definitely worth the trip. It's hard to put into words how harrowing it is to visit the place where approximately 1.3 million people (mostly Jews) were sent for extermination. I think what hit me the hardest was seeing the mass pile of childrens shoes. Approximately 230,000 of the people sent to the camp were children and almost all of them did not survive. I don't think anyone can ever understand how anyone could ever inflict such brutal cruelty on another group of people. It's sobering to remember that this attrocity only ended just over 60 years ago.

Today we visited the Saltmines near here which was interesting and then took a walk around the old town of Krakow. Tonight we catch a 8 hour train to Prague to spen our last 2 days there. Home on Wednesday night - sniff, sniff!

Aside, i think we have a tall bald stalker from USA! First met this guy in a tour in Tallinn then he turned up at our hostel in Vilnius and in Warsaw and now in Krakow too! We have not spoken one word to this guy the whole time so it's all a bit humourous! I'm expecting to bump into him in Rigmarole next week!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Latvian doughnuts and Vilnius so far...

We left Riga yesterday morning bound for Vilnius (Lithuania) by bus (5 hours). Just before boarding the bus i stopped at a little bakery to grab something for breakfast with our last 60cents. The lady had 3 types of what appeared to be filled doughnuts on the counter. I was thinking the fillings may be chocolate, or creme or something nice like that. When i enquired, this disgruntled old lady informed me the first one was filled with meat (generic term for substance that could originate from any animal), the second was cabbage (? i know!) and the third was 'patatenne'. It was a tough choice but i opted for the third one - i hadn't a clue what it might be but surely it was better than either meat or cabbage? Well low and behold when i take a bite i discover it is filled with mashed potato! Needless to say it went straight to the bin. A gravy ring filled with champ - only in Latvia folks!

Since arriving in Vilnius yesterday we have been walking around the city. It's more spread out than Riga or Tallinn but again really beautiful. You can see that this city is a little bit behind on Riga or Estonia but with evidence of lots of construction, it is catching up very fast. We visited the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul today which has a breathtaking interior that would rival anything i have seen before, even in Rome.

I have been really surprised by the Baltic cities we have visited. I think i naively expected to see more poverty here than home, more litter, poorer quality food and generally 'less trendy' if you understand what i mean. On the contrary, i have seen more wealth in these cities than i would ever see in Belfast. For example i have seen more Mercs, BMW's, Bentley's, Hummers, and other top range vehicles than would be the norm at home. There is definitely less homeless people and begging here than in Belfast. Also there is less litter, excellent quality food and everyone is extremely fashion conscious. I understand i am only seeing city centre life and there are bound to be other areas that are less well off that would perhaps explain the influx of nationals into the UK and Ireland, from some of these countries.

Oh yeah, my reflection on Finland is that the boys love their skinny jeans. I think Niall was going to get a pair too but i talked him out of it!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

My Bungee Jump as promised!

Here it is folks, videoed by Niall in the cable car! I still get a bit nervous watching it!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Niall Bungee

This is Niall's bungee jump. I'll get mine up here asap!

The journey so far...

Hello there, haven't had much chance to update this since i left as i haven't had great internet access or its been expensive but lots has been happening so here is a quick low down! Arrived in Helsinki on Wednesday afternoon (weather was wet and miserable!) and dandered around the city, it's quite nice and modern but not stunning. On Thursday the weather was nice and sunny so we went to Suomelina (left picture). It's an old island fortress just off the coast of Helsinki (15min ferry). We got a guided tour which was interesting - a good spot to go visit if you are ever there.

We left Finland on Friday and got a 90minute ferry to Tallinn in Estonia (3 pics on left). This is is a beautiful medieval looking city (large town really) with lots of cobbled streets and squares with market stalls surrounded by cafe's and bars. It's to sorta place that's great to walk about and stop for a coffee and watch the world go by. We took a walking tour of the city which was interesting. The people in Estonia were very friendly which i suppose you expect when they are thriving on tourism. Lots of nice hotels and restaurants with great food so it's definitely a place i would go back to. Not as cheap as i expected though.

On Sunday we departed by bus for Riga in Latvia (5 hours). When we arrived and found our hostel we headed off on another 1 hour bus journey to Sigulda which is described as 'the Switzerland of Latvia' in the Lonely Planet. It's a beautiful small town which boasts snow sports during the winter and so we really went for some adrenaline summer activities. First we had a go at bobsleding down an olympic bobsled track in what basically resembled a tin bath on 4 wheels. The 80km/hr rush was well worth the cost of 5 pounds!

Next we headed off to the Cable car where we had read off the opportunity to bungee-jump (check out their website) from the cable car suspended over a ravine with a river at the bottom! At a cost of only 25 quid this seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. The cable car takes you out and stops half way for your jump of 150feet! We had to queue for a couple of hours and weren't sure if they were going to have space availble for us or not but they did and before i knew it i was being fitted with a harness and strappings around each ankle. At that point the nerves started to kick in and i began to think that maybe this was not the brightest idea! However, that was nothing compared to the feeling you get 150ft in the air in a cable car with the door open and some bloke looks at you and says 'you're turn next'! Next thing you know you are clipped in and you have 15 other people in the cable car waiting for you to throw youself into mid air attached to a big elastic band. The peer pressure is immense! To top it off, you are beside a bridge and so the passing traffic stops to have a good gauk at you too and they beep their horns if you hesitate at all! So the upshot of all that is that against my rational thought, i did it! It was undoubtedly the scariest thing I've ever done and i don't think i would rush to do it again but i did it and managed to keep my pants clean! Niall has a great video of my jump on his camera so i'll hopefully get that up here soon!

Today we have been having a bit of a walk around Riga city. It's much larger than Tallinn and more cosmopolitan but still has loads of relly beautiful architecture. Apparently it's a lot like Prague. Also it is very cheap. We had a nice lunch today and it only cost about 8 pounds for both of us.

Tomorrow we move on again to Vilnius in Lithuania so i'll keep you posted on that one. Over and out...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

2 wise men head east...

Just back from Summer Madness and Streetreach with our young people. I wrote a blog about it with some pics on our Youth Ministries blog so check it out here. I leave tonight for my holiday in Eastern Europe (see last post for details) so it's been a pretty quick turnaround. Praise the Lord for mothers i say as thankfully i was able to dump all my washing with her on Sunday and collected it (ironed and all) yesterday - my mum loves a good challenge!

So i awoke this morning with that slightly nervous yet excited feeling that comes with heading off. Nervous because we only have accommodation booked for the first 2 nights and the rest we'll figure out as we go! However I love travelling and in the next 2 weeks I'm going to experience the culture of 6 countries i have never been to before which will be fantastic! On top of that i will meet plenty of people from many more countries along the way which is part of the enjoyment.

I hope to keep this blog fairly up to date as i go with some pictures too so keep on dropping in if you are interested!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Eastern European Adventure...

I wasn't planning on any adventurous holidays this summer but the closer it got and as i heard the plans of others for the summer, the travel bug got the better of me!

As such, on 11th July i will be departing for 2 weeks of back-packing in Eastern Europe. Myself and my mate Niall will be starting in Helsinki (Finland) and then we will get a boat to Talinn (Estonia). From there we will travel by bus/train to Riga (Latvia), Vilnius (Lithuania), Warsaw and Krakow (both in Poland) before finishing in Prague (Czech Republic). The plan is to spend a couple of days in each location to see the main sights and get a flavour of the culture.

I love travelling to new places, meeting people from other countries and eating different foods! I'm excited about journeying between places listening to the ipod and reading a good book or two (that's as much multi-tasking as i can manage!). I look forward to some good chats about life over the trip with my friend.

Anyways, this post is not intended to provoke jealousy within you! I'm thinking that many of you have probably already visited some of the places we will be going so can recommend either:
  • things to see/visit
  • places to stay (hostels)
  • good food to try!
I await your comments eagerly!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Holy Club...

I got an e-mail today from a friend inviting me into a 'Holy Club'! My only reference to such a term is usually a derogatory attack on the church or a group of Christians. This isn't far off the mark really as the Holy Club was the name given in mockery to a group started by John and Charles Wesley, which was the first sign of what later became Methodism. Begun by Charles and led by John after his return to Oxford University in 1729, the Holy Club members fasted until 3 PM on Wednesdays and Fridays, received Holy Communion once each week, studied and discussed the Greek New Testament and the Classics each evening in a member’s room, visited (after 1730) prisoners and the sick, and systematically brought all their lives under strict review. If you want to read more about the 'Holy Club' then click here.

Now i don't expect that the group i have been invited into would be able to engage in that degree of intensive community but the intention would be to create a medium sized group of 15-20 men to dialogue with each other and figure out how to keep our Christian identity alive in the context in which we are living.

Interestingly, here are 22 questions the members of John Wesley's Holy Club asked themselves every day in their private devotions over 200 years ago.

  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
  3. Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told to me in confidence?
  4. Can I be trusted?
  5. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
  6. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
  7. Did the Bible live in me today?
  8. Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?
  9. Am I enjoying prayer?
  10. When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?
  11. Do I pray about the money I spend?
  12. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  13. Do I disobey God in anything?
  14. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  15. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  16. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?
  17. How do I spend my spare time?
  18. Am I proud?
  19. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?
  20. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it?
  21. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
  22. Is Christ real to me?

If you get through all of these in a morning devotion then you are doing well! If you get through all of these and haven't been challenged to change in any way then i think you need to refer back to question 1!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Rob Bell's latest effort...

Just finished reading 'Sex God' by Rob Bell wich according to the subtitle 'explores the endless connections between sexuality and spirituality'. It's an excellent read with Rob Bell's unique and creative style of writing, and ability to draw so much context and depth from Scripture. The highlights of the book for me where around the following issues/quotes:
  • how we value ourselves and others.
  • how with every action 'we're continuing the ongoing creation of the world.'
  • 'freedom isn't being able to have whatever we crave. Freedom is going without whatever we crave and being fine with it.'
  • how stealing is the ultimate selfish act and giving stuff away is the ultimate act of generosity.
  • 'Love is handing your heart to someone and taking the risk that they will hand it back because they don't want it.'
  • 'Jesus always chooses the path of love, not power.'
He also writes about singleness which resonated a lot with a conversation i had recently with a friend. Have you ever been chatting with someone who you maybe haven't seen in a while and they say to you 'well any girlfriends?' (or boyfriends, if that's your preference!). I have no problem with that question, and more often than not over the last 5 years my answer is 'No'! It's what sometimes happens next that i find frustrating. Their facial expression will change and their head will tilt a little to the side and they will say something like 'Ach well, sure it'll happen sometime!' Words of pity, as if my life is in some way incomplete or unfulfilled - it kinda makes me mad!

Rob Bell talks about this:
'It's possible for destructive messages to be sent to people who are single. That they are second class, less than, that they don't fit, that they should find someone, get married, and join the rest of us who are "normal."

If you are single, and you've been sent messages or it's been hinted at or even said to your face that you are somehow missing something, that you aren't good enough, that you don't fit in - that is not true. It's not just that you're fine single. The premise of the Scriptures is that you are able to connect with God and serve God in ways that those who are married can't. The tilt is for being single, not away from it.'
I meet people and their life revolves around finding a man/woman. They feel incomplete and believe their life will only really begin when they meet someone and get married. The sad thing is that God has a plan for their life NOW and they are completely missing out on it. I'm not saying relationships are wrong, on the contrary i think relationships are good, but being single is good too. I can't accept the view that one status is better than the other, they are just different. What do you think???

By the way, Rob Bell is speaking at Spires Conference Centre in Belfast on 12th June as part of his 'Calling all Peacemakers' tour. Click here for further info. Note that tickets can be purchased from Wesley Owen bookstore without having to pay the online £2 booking fee.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

One year in...

So last week saw me complete my first year with WPC - hard to believe! The year has gone incredibly fast and so i still feel incredibly new to the role but yet at the same time i feel very settled in the church with lots of very strong relationships as if i have been here for many years! With all that has gone on in the last couple of weeks i haven't had much time to reflect on the last year as my thoughts are still very much with Alain and both family circles. However, i did have to complete a report for church leadership which forced me to reflect and evaluate to some degree.

I have to say it was an encouraging process as i considered the progress of youth ministry in the church in the last 12 months. The most encouraging things are as follows:
  • Passionate and enthusiastic leaders. When i started, several youth leaders 'retired' from service and the remaining few were a bit disillusioned and tired. The last year, especially since Christmas, has seen this change dramatically. We now have a group of 18 leaders (some came back from retirement!) who are passionate and enthusiastic about the youth ministry in church!
  • Young people growing in faith. We have a fantastic group of young people in church who are passionate about engaging with God through WORSHIP and hungry to hear what God is saying to them through the TEACHING OF GOD'S WORD. This such an exciting place for me and the rest of the leaders to be.
  • Youth work outside of church. This was started from scratch last summer with detached youth work and has now developed into a drop-in centre that opens 3 afternoons and 2 evenings per week. We have 9 leaders involved and have contact with approximately 40 different young people and the centre has around 250 users each month. I was also involved in running a Youth Alpha group with 8 lads which was a fantastic experience.
  • Church family. I have been made very welcome at WPC from the outset which has made it a joy to build relationships. I have found the people in this family very encouraging to me directly (on a personal and professional level) with both their words and actions, and also indirectly as i watch people seeking to live out their faith in a way that makes a difference to those around them.
So what are the hopes for the next year? That's a really difficult question! Yes i want to see the ministry grow so that we have contact and relationships with more young people. Yes i want to see new areas of ministry develop so that we don't stagnate and just do the same things. However, I can honestly say that i am more excited about youth ministry now than i have ever been, so above all i want to feel as encouraged in May 2008 as i do now which will come from the 4 things highlighted earlier:
  • passionate leaders
  • young people growing in faith
  • progress with youth work outside of church
  • encouraging church family.
Check back in 12 months time for another evaluation!

Monday, April 23, 2007


As most of you already know Lindsay went home to be with Jesus yesterday morning. Please pray for Alain and the Anderson and Emerson families at this time of grief. Pray that they will experience the God of comfort and peace.

Sometimes the most beautiful things of this world only last a moment - a sunset, a butterfly, cherry blossom, are all so beautiful and yet short lived. Lindsay was only 23 and she was one of the most beautiful people i have ever met. Stunningly beautiful in appearance but more than that she had a very beautiful spirit - warm, kind and compassionate. I will miss her.

Friday, April 13, 2007

For sale...

The day has come when i am selling the 'yoke'. The Megane and I have been together now for 10 years so it's a reluctant sale but my loss will definitely be someone else's gain! Here are the important details:

Year: 1997
Model: 1.6 16v Megane RT Sport
Miles: 133,000
Other info: full electrics, alloy wheels, remote central locking.
Price: £550 (negotiable!)

If you are interested, or know of anyone who may be interested then leave a comment!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bulgaria baby...

Just back from a week of snow-boarding in Bulgaria. I was away with 115 other people from Waringstown Presby so I'm pretty sure that makes it a working holiday - yeah right!!! Anyways, it was a great trip. We were staying in Pamparovo and managed to arrive during the best snow of their season and so had a great week on and off the slopes! This was my third full week of snow boarding in the last few years so I'm definitely getting the hang of it. My mate Dave was there too (same level of boarding as me) and we went to try and get some 'intermediate' lessons to improve our technique but the instructor told us we were 'advanced'! Both of us laughed about this a lot cos i don't think he would have called us advanced if he had seen how much time we spent on our butts!

It was great going away with so many people because no matter where you went there was people from our group and the banter was excellent in the evenings. It was also a great trip for me to get to know a few more people from the church. It's scary to think that at the end of this month i will have been at WPC for a year.

I had to do a morning devotion whilst away and so focused on a verse i have been thinking about recently from John 20. I've been thinking about this ever since Pete Greig highlighted this verse at the Nua conference i was at recently. The context is the resurrection of Jesus. Mary Magdalene has found the tomb empty and is understandably upset and then she has a conversation with what she thinks is the gardener but is actually Jesus. What we read here are Jesus' first words of the new covenant to humanity and they are 'why are you crying?'. This amazes me as it speaks several things to me about who God is:
  1. God is a God of COMPASSION - He cares deeply about our hurt, pain and sorrow. 'Why are you crying?'
  2. God is a God who UNDERSTANDS - He identifies with our pain in that He suffered and died in his humanity. 'Why are you crying?'
  3. God is a God who LISTENS - Jesus listens to Mary's pain and hurt, even though he knows exactly why she is crying, he still asks 'why are you crying?' and he listens.
In our pain, hurt and sorrow, we can run a to a God of compassion, who understands and listens and ultimately we will find COMFORT.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

27 for me and Healy does it again...

So it was my Birthday yesterday - grand young age of 27! It's funny cos i really don't feel like I'm 27, more like 23 maybe! Although i got a toolbox, complete with tools from my parents so that kinda made me feel at least 27!!!

Coincidentally my birthday fell on the same date as N. Ireland v Sweden. I have been going to all the home games of this European campaign so what better way to spend a Birthday but with 14,000 people in Windsor Park singing 'Stand up for the Ulstermen', 'Green and White Army' and 'Lets all do the bouncy'. Despite N.I's recent run of form i still found myself braced for defeat but no dissapointment was to be found! It was an amazing game with 2 cracker goals by Healy the legend. Sweden were outplayed and N. Ireland played out of their skin! So now we find ourselves top of the group - 'we're gonna win the euros'!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Scandanavian experience...

I realise that this blog is turning into a 'wish you were here' programme and i assure you i am not on commission from Thomas Cook! However, this time last week i was over visiting my friend Alan in Sweden. I went to school with Alan and he has been living in Sweden in the city of Lund with his girlfriend Helena since last June. Above is a picture of the 3 of us and one of Lund.

This was my first experience of Scandanavia and it was a very positive one. Lund was a quaint little city with a huge student population. The Swedish pace of life came across to me as being a little more relaxed than home as people mostly got around on their bicycles - people seemed less in a rush! It was a very relaxing few days for me with lots of time to just potter about the town and chill out together and play some cards - they play this game called 7's at which i think i excelled!

Lund is situated only 50mins from Copenhagen (Denmark) by train. So on Monday as Al and Helena were both working i took myself off to explore another country for the day! Copenhagen is a beautiful city and well worth a visit. It's quite small so it was great for me to just wander about for a few hours. One really interesting place i visited in the city was a
community called 'Christiania' which is home to approx 1000 people who are seeking to live an alternative way. The community started with a group of squatters in 1969/70 in an area that was an abandoned military base. The area covering 85 acres soon attracted publicity which resulted in massive immigration of people who wanted to create another life based on communal living and freedom. This led to a political situation with the government trying to remove the people by force on several occassions but the numbers of people and large area have made this impossible. So they are left with this constant tension. There is a constant heavy police presence in the community which was intimidating for me at first. This was heightened as you see many groups of men standing warming themselves around barrels of fire on every corner (see picture). Part of me felt like a riot could ensue at any moment but i was reassured that this was just normality for Christiania.

The people see themselves as a community living independently of Denmark and the EU and so don't pay taxes. Anyone who lives within the community must therefore have to contribute in some way to make it work. For lots more info on the history and current situation within this community click here.

Anyways, ive just had a weekend at home for a change and it was lovely, i must try it more often!

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Barca baby, and a couple of surprises...

So I just got back last night from a wee trip to Barcelona from Saturday to Tuesday. Stefan and i went over to visit our mate Simon who we met a couple of years ago when travelling around Europe. Simon lives in Barca with his parents (his dad is Spanish and mum is S. African) who live across the street from the Nou Camp stadium (seriously, the picture on the left shows a view from their apartment balcony). Simon is a season ticket holder at FC Barcelona and was able to get us great tickets for Sunday nights match against Athletic Bilbao. Barca won 3-0 and it was fantastic to see Ronaldinho turn on the fancy footwork in the second half.

Had an amazing trip and one of the big highlights was experiencing a bit of Spanish culture by staying with Simon's family. Every Sunday his whole family (2 brothers and 1 sister) descend on the family home for a meal together. Simon's dad has been cooking his famous paella (see pic to left) every Sunday for the last 35 years and it tastes absolutely amazing! Not only that but it was a fantastic experience to sit around a table with a Spanish family and be part of their culture. Spanish families are still very close which i was surprised to hear. Sometimes we are arrogant enough to think that families in other countries couldn't be as close as our wee families in NI. Simon's family was one of the most friendly, hospitable, affectionate and loving families i have ever met and so it was a real joy to spend a bit of time with them - they all spoke good English too which helps cos my Spanish is about as good as my Chinese!

Outside of the Barca match we did a bit more sightseeing around the city. As Stefan and i had been to the city before, Simon took us to less touristed and more inaccessible areas outside the city. Barca is surrounded by a few hills and one of these hills called Tibidabo has a lovely old chapel on top of it (see pic to left). Simon knows of our religious interests and so he thought this particular place would be of interest to us. Not only did it offer some fantastic views over the city (see left) but there was a jewel to be found inside that i just blew me away. Inside this beautiful old building there was a room that tourists were not allowed into - it was a prayer room. After asking a few questions we found out that this was a room for 24/7 prayer. This immediately excited me and so i got Simon to ask the priest how long people had been praying 24/7 in this room for? I was completely taken aback when he replied 40 YEARS! That kinda blows our 3 day prayer crusades out of the water eh?!

Other place we seen were Sitges, a beautiful coastal town, the olympic village and the Dali museaum in Figueres (not sure what i think about Dali except that he was a crazy genuis)! All in all a great trip and Simon was a great host! We are already planning the return leg to Ireland before the end of the year!

A very funny story happened to me on my way home. Simon and Stefan dropped me off at the airport for my Ryan Scare flight home to Dublin (Stefan was flying to Manchester later that day). You know the bit after check-in when you go to departures and have to put your bag, coat and contents of your pockets through the x-ray machine and then walk through the metal detection. Well i beeped - and i never beep! So the guy told me take off my watch and belt which i duly did but lo and behold i beeped again! So this disgruntled Spanish guy then pulls out a hand held version of the metal detection machine and begins to wave it around my body starting from the top. Suddenly the machine starts beeping when he gets to the right pocket of the jacket i was wearing. As it dawns on me what is in that pocket my face quickly turns a shade of crimson. He signals to me to empty the pocket and imagine my embarrassment as out of my pocket i pull a condom! Now before you write me off completely as a lost cause, let me explain what had happened 10 minutes before this moment! Simon has a friend who works for Durex and so he has a bag in his boot filled with free condoms that he gives to his mates. As a bit of a joke, when i was leaving, my good friend Stefan discreetly placed one of these in my pocket without me realising. As i stood in the check-in queue i found it in my pocket but not being near a bin to dispose of it i returned it to the pocket with the intention of dealing with it in a few minutes - but of course i forgot all about it until i find myself emptying my pockets in front of this disgruntled Spanish bloke with no way of communicating to him that i have been set-up! Anyways, my embarrassment quickly subsided and i was able to have a good old chuckle about it all the way home!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Memory making with the lads...

Took our Youth Alpha guys away to Donegal for a night on Saturday. These are a group of 8 lads aged 15-17 who use the basement drop-in centre. Myself and another leader have been running a Youth Alpha course with them each Wednesday for about the last month. We decided it would be good to get them away for a night and chose Donegal because it was completely out of the way of any distractions (i.e. alcohol or girls!) and we were kindly offered the use of a house outside Carrigart.

I was a little anxious in the run up to the weekend. My main worries were that they would mess about and i would lose the rag with them, and that they would be completely bored and hate it! I was thinking about it a lot on Friday night and by Saturday morning i had a real peace about it and i was excited about what was going to happen! more than anything i just wanted this group of lads to have a night away that they would remember for years!

We left about 2pm on Saturday, loaded into 2 cars and arrived about 5pm. We went straight to Rossapenna beach and played a bit of frisbee and Nerf ball and then started collecting a bit of wood for a bonfire later that night. Then we headed back to the house, settled in and prepared dinner. Each week we have a different volunteer from the church who prepares dinner for our Alpha which is such a blessing. Sharing a meal together each week is such a great place for building relationships. So for the night away i had a couple of volunteers prepare two meals that could be easily reheated. After our feast we started into our Alpha discussion. Being honest with you, this group do not make discussion easy and in fact are not used to sitting round having a serious discussion. Each week we are lucky to get 5-10 minutes of good discussion. So i was expecting a similar pattern on Saturday evening. On the contrary, we launched into an hour long discussion covering questions like:
  • Do you feel like you should be living your life differently?
  • Do you know anyone who's life has been changed by God?
  • Have you ever prayed? Have you ever seen God answer prayer?
  • Have you ever read the Bible?
It was so encouraging to see almost all of the guys really engaging with the discussion and not getting distracted. Hopefully this will set a pattern for the weeks to come! After the discussion we made our way down to the beach, picking up some more wood on the way. I had hoped the guys would really enjoy the whole lighting a fire thing and sitting around it because it's something i love to do! I wasn't dissapointed! I think there is a bit of a 'pyro' within all of us guys - it's that God given adventurous spirit we have! So within half an hour we had a great fire going. At that stage i suggested the idea of going in for a wee swim - i was half serious and half joking and most of them were like 'aye right Neil, whatever!' Then one or 2 decided they would go in if i did so that was it, i wasn't for backing down at that stage so within 10 minutes there were 6 of us charging into the freezing cold February Atlantic for a quick dip!!! This was quickly followed by a dash back to fire to dry off and warm up! Now we were definitely starting to make those memories! After that we sat around the fire for about another couple of hours just chatting, telling our most embarrassing stories and when we have been most scared. It was one of those really special nights - a shared experience with a group of people that we'll still talk about in 10 years time!

The rest of the night back in the house involved little or no sleep for some but the craic was good. Sunday was basically breakfast, tidy and clean up, back to beach for some 'ultimate nerf ball', lunch and then home! The guys all had a ball, so much so that they want to go next weekend to do it all over again! Here is a picture of the unforgettable Donegal 10!