June 17, 2017

'Encounter'

Greetings from a YWCA in Greystones, Ireland... where I’m enjoying the quiet after watching a chattering gaggle of our students ramble off to the harbor beach a few moments ago to enjoy the rare warmth and sunshine. A blazing 78°F predicted in Greystones today, way beyond the usual. We’re all celebrating.

We’re here for ‘Encounter’. It’s the summer mission and discipleship program for Irish and American university students that Serge co-sponsors with Christian Unions Ireland, the Irish version of InterVarsity. We have 9 American and 8 Irish student interns for the summer, 4 other American young adults who serve as 2-year apprentices with Serge, a variegated crew of Serge and CUI staff, and a few other visitors mixed in.

Right now we’re in the middle of two weeks of intensive teaching and reflection on our identity in Christ, grounded in Serge’s ‘Sonship’ curriculum and a detailed study of Galatians. Then the interns and apprentices will head out in small teams to serve Irish churches for two weeks. That’s a big deal because most of our Irish students are actually from the Protestant Bible belt of Northern Ireland, which is a whole ’nother country. They’ve had very little experience of Catholic Ireland here in the Republic and this will be a significant cross-cultural challenge for many of them. We’ll come back together July 7-10 to debrief and say good-bye to our Irish participants before the American interns and apprentices go out again for two more weeks of team outreach. Then one final end-of-program debrief before the Americans go home on August 2. It’s quite an intense – and hopefully transformational – summer for these young adults.

And what’s my part? I led some of the initial cross-cultural training sessions – déjà vu all over again since in many ways this is similar to InterVarsity’s summer missions program we used to direct in Kenya back in the 1980’s. (In fact, I’m feeling practically ancient because one of the Serge staff visiting from America is the daughter of a couple who were InterVarsity staff with me on the Kenya program before she was even born. I am so old.) During this segment I’m leading one of the small groups through a manuscript study of Galatians – again shades of InterVarsity over the years – and I’ve been assigned to mentor two of the young women interns through the spiritual formation material. And mostly I’m here to learn in more depth how Serge does ministry in Ireland, because Encounter is a big piece of it.

But I confess I’m secretly relieved that I don’t have to go out with the student teams… Instead, this marks the watershed between the two parts of my six-month stay in Ireland. The first three months were focused on settling in, getting to know Ireland and Irish people, and meeting folks working in various church ministries and theological education. The second half started last Monday when I gave up my seaside apartment in Dun Laoghaire, became homeless (I don’t know, does ‘vagabond’ sound better??) and launched out on what I think is going to be a three-month whirlwind of ministry connections and building relationships for my role as theological education specialist within Serge:
  • 8-24 June: Encounter training
  • 30 June - 7 July: Academic biblical studies conferences, Tyndale House, Cambridge, UK
  • 7-10 July: Encounter debrief
  • 22-29 July: Serge Ireland ‘Prayer Summit’ – see here for more
  • 29 Jul - 2 Aug: Encounter final debrief
  • 6-11 Aug: Society of Biblical Literature International meeting, Berlin, Germany
  • 12-21 Aug: Vacation in Germany/Prague/France (I’ll already be there and I’m homeless anyway, so I might as well enjoy it!)
  • 28-30 Aug: ‘Textual Scholarship on the Bible’ conference, Dublin
  • 31 Aug - 2 Sept: British New Testament Conference, Dublin
Any gaps in there are filled up with finding places to land either in retreat centers or housesitting or crashing with friends, along with teaching my summer online course for Fuller Theological Seminary on ‘The Bible, Hermeneutics and Christian Mission.’ Then Sept 3 I fly to Bangalore, India, to teach for a month at the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS).

Yeah, it sounds a bit crazy even to me. I’ve found it works best if I mostly think about what I’m doing now and not too much about whatever I’m going to be doing next. But I’m very grateful for this crazy, amazing, overwhelming, significant ministry that God has allowed me to be part of – and for the many of you who make it happen through your prayer and giving. “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (2 Cor 9:12). Thank you so much!

 

Vacating my Dublin apartment... So there's the bag to go to my team leaders' house until I leave for India in September, the bags to store at the church until I get back in 2018, the bag to go to the US with a colleague next week, and the bag to haul around with me for the rest of the summer. And my carry-on/computer bag.

What are the odds that I managed to get all the right things in all the right bags...?



They're here! American university students arrive in Dublin for Encounter



Encounter training in full swing... with a little relaxation at the pub next door thrown in

 






Love these people. My Serge 'Metro Dublin' team: Team leaders Tom & Vicki Gilliam (2nd & 3rd from left) and 2-year 'apprentices' Kristen, Jes, Katie, and Amy. 
 



May 8, 2017

Where's the craic?

Greetings from Dublin, two months in! My favorite new Irish word is craic (pronounced ‘crack’), which means something along the lines of fun, banter, good conversation, good times with friends. As in ‘the craic was mighty last night’ or ‘we had great craic’ or ‘where’s the craic?’ So for an older American woman new to Ireland, who wants to meet local friends but doesn’t quite think walking into a pub alone for a pint of Guiness is the best approach, where’s the craic? There's an app for that: Meetup.com.

Meetup is sort of an online notice board for social interest groups. Someone in your town starts a group for, say, restaurant lovers or hikers or singles-over-50 or whatever. Others join the group and people post events you can RSVP to online, and you go. You have to be a bit brave that first time, sure. I started doing Meetups in 2014 when I moved back to Virginia after living overseas for 17 years. The first time I went I told a friend, “If I’m not back in an hour and a half call the police, because I have no idea who these people are.” But it turns out they're all just pretty much like me. Maybe new to the area, or newly retired, or single with married friends who aren't always available to go out.

Just before I moved to Dublin in March I thought, ‘Hmm, I won’t have anything to do when I first get there. Maybe I should see if there’s a Meetup group I can go to,” so I checked online. Oh. My. Goodness. Turns out Dublin and New York City are the Meetup capitals of the world. There’s not a Meetup group in Dublin, there are hundreds. I’ve gotten involved in four – a walking group, two over-50’s groups (one does a lot of theater and concert events, one more casual restaurant dinners, etc.), and one especially for the suburb where I live. And let me tell you, the craic is mighty. These people are great at welcoming newcomers to share good fun and lively conversation, with a warmth that envelops everyone.

But here’s what else Meetups mean for me. At some point someone always turns to me and says, “So what is it you do?” Then I get to say, “Well, I’m a Presbyterian minister, but I don’t do parish work, I’m an academic. But I focus on theological training in the developing world, so I travel a lot.” Usually the entire rest of the group are post-Catholics of some sort, so that gets everyone’s attention. And then we talk. About religion. About faith. Sometimes about the Bible. And, I listen. Often I listen to the painful stories of people who have experienced Christianity as an authoritarian and sometimes abusive system. In those stories I get a glimpse of Irish hearts. Wherever the conversation goes, I pray to be the ‘aroma of Christ’ (2 Cor 2:15) in that place whatever God might want to do with it. Do I see enthusiastic responses and instantaneous conversions? Nope. Many of these people have deep spiritual wounds and it may take years for someone to be willing to trust ‘religion’ again. But in a small way I get to be part of that. And in the process I’m enjoying some lovely new friends and some great craic.

Meanwhile, in my main role as international theological education specialist I’m inching forward in discovering what this new work may actually look like. Most recently I’ve been:
  • Teaching my spring New Testament Introduction course online for Fuller Theological Seminary, and prepping for a new-to-me summer course called ‘The Bible, Hermeneutics, and Christian Mission’
  • Getting to know Irish Bible Institute here in Dublin – attending their ‘open day' to observe classes, using the library, chatting with members of the leadership team – with an eye to how I might help in the future
  • Meeting with Serge Ireland staff to plan for ‘Encounter’, Serge’s intensive summer program for Irish and American university students in partnership with Christian Unions Ireland, the Irish equivalent of InterVarsity. (You can see more about Encounter here.)
  • Making arrangements to attend academic biblical studies conferences this summer in Cambridge, UK (29 Jun - 7 Jul), Berlin, Germany (6-12 Aug), and back here in Dublin (28 Aug - 2 Sept)
  • Contacting Serge leaders in other parts of the world to ask about theological education needs in their region and start identifying two or three key projects for 2018
Of course that whole 2018 thing is dependent on God supplying the remaining financial support I’ll need to return to Ireland after this initial six-month stay. But you knew that, right?! Please do pray that the Lord brings the new partners he chooses into this work. I’m so excited about the possibilities and I can’t wait to move forward!

So that’s what I’m up to this month. Settling in, exploring, listening, discovering. And drinking endless cups of Irish tea.



The temperature soared to a blistering 64ºF (17ºC) in Dublin yesterday, with the added bonus of rare sunshine. So the Sunday afternoon Meetup was a picnic in the park - my first time to serve as host for an event.





Another night a group introduced me to traditional music at an Irish pub. Definitely good craic!





Sometimes it's coffee and chat on a Saturday morning. 


 
I also spend time each week with Dun Laoghaire (pronounced 'dun leery') Presbyterian Church, a short walk from my apartment. Sunday worship, midweek Bible study, and weekly home group. So grateful for Rev. Chris Kennedy's gifted Bible teaching and getting to know Irish believers in my home group.





I have a small sublet apartment in Dun Laoghaire for the first few months I'm here. With gorgeous views of Dublin Bay from the balcony.

Think there's a leprechaun and a pot o' gold somewhere at the end of that rainbow?



And lastly, those of you who know how much I love to cook holiday meals (really!) will understand how happy I was to have new acquaintances via Serge and Dun Laoghaire Pres come for Easter lunch. Such darling young women, fun and good food!