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!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Better late than never!

I know it's been almost 2 weeks since the aforementioned Youth Weekend but i thought i'd give you an update of how it went anyway!

This year’s retreat was held at Castlewellan Castle and including leaders we had 62 attendees. I have been on many YF weekends both as a young person and a leader but without a doubt this was the best ever! I say this for a number of reasons:

1. The programme as a whole was excellent and every aspect of it was delivered with excellence by our team of leaders. I had to take no responsibility for any of the games & entertainment stuff. A group of leaders (mostly students with time on their hands!) looked after that aspect and it was excellent. You can tell this by how much the young people enjoyed it.

2. The worship (provided by our young people) was of a very high standard. It was encouraging for me to see young people engage with worship and really enjoy it.

3. The teaching streams were all encouraging.

  • Fusion (1st-3rd year) looked at a programme exploring the Fundamentals of faith e.g. sin and grace. This was led by 4 of our leaders and approximately 16 young people were part of this programme.
  • The 20:20 age group were split by gender. The girls programme was facilitated by 2 female leaders and explored the area of identity and self esteem – a major issue for young girls. 20 girls were part of this programme and feedback has been very positive with a lot of girls getting the opportunity to open up and share some of their experiences in the group.
  • The boys programme was led by myself and another male leader and explored the issue of ‘Purity of heart’ (Matt 5:8). There were about 20 guys involved in this programme and our goal was to make it very discussion based – tackling less talked about issues that young guys struggle with in an open forum. This worked really well and feedback from some of the guys involved has been very positive.

4. One of the major encouragements about the weekend has been the leaders. I have been chatting to many of them since the weekend and they are all buzzing and excited about being involved in this ministry. Many have told me they can’t wait until Friday night again! For me this is so encouraging because as a group we can see progress and development with the young people – relationally and spiritually.

All in all it was a very encouraging weekend. I am excited that we can offer programmes to young people that are obviously meeting their needs. As I look to the future, it excited me as I can only see this area ministry growing!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

I know, I know, I know...

... you've heard me say it before and i'm saying it again - apologies for lack of regularity of posting recently. Excuses are:
  • No t'internet yet in new house. Will hopefully be online from 9th Feb so that should increase my blog frequency.
  • General busyness at the moment! Got our youth weekend to prep for this week so it's been a bit hectic.

Anyways, this is really just a courtesy post to the impatient folk our there giving me abuse. please bear with me for just a little longer and i'll be a better blogger! I have this great idea for a blog series in the pipeline so please watch this space.

If you are a pray-er then please pray for me this weekend - i need wisdom.