October 18, 2009
Awoke bright and early at Anvershiel House, our bed and breakfast in Portrush, Northern Ireland. It’s a delightful little home with perhaps five or six different guest rooms. Our hostess, Erna, carried a friendly, joyful heart and was glad to serve us in any way.
Sorting through our luggage, Linda and I realized our clothes desperately needed an iron. I made the way down the stairs to ask Erna if we might be able to borrow one. "No?" she replied. I paused…not quite making sense of what I was hearing. It seemed she was telling me "no," but then looking at me quite expectantly as if I should say something more. So, uncertain, I simply asked again. And again, Erna replied, "No?" with that open expectant look still on her face. I paused, trying to match her facial expression with what I was hearing. Suddenly, it dawned on me that she was asking if I wanted the iron "now?"…and thus, my first trouble with the Northern Irish accent was resolved. We both got quite a laugh out of that.
Forty-five minutes later, with clothes freshly pressed, Linda and I sat down for breakfast. My morning selection consisted of coffee, juice and cereal followed by a traditional Ulster fry. In other words, a LOT of food: fried eggs, some kind of little pancakes, some sort of potato cake, fried bread, toast, baked tomato, Irish sausage (flavored differently than here in the States, much milder) , irish bacon (which is more like ham than bacon), and baked beans (yes, really), Erna mentioned that it was typical for the locals to cover everything in Heinz HP sauce, which is very similar to an A1 steak sauce. I opted to simply use it on the side…and found that option to be just a bit odd on my taste buds. Otherwise, everything was delicious!
Afterwards, we made our way on that very rainy day to Causeway Coast Vineyard for the 10:00 am service. We arrived just as the service began, and were offered sweets by the greeters who met us at the door. The church has two services in the morning, and this first one included close to 300 people. I understand that to be quite a large gathering for any Christian church in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Comparable with many congregations in the U.S., the service began with a time of contemporary worship followed by some announcements. Then there was a break for a good 15 minutes or so with an opportunity for coffee, tea, pastries and more. Very nice! The people then regathered as Alan Scott shared from the scripture. Overall, a very enjoyable time with a practical message. Before the morning was over, we met a few locals, including a woman from Texas who married a man from the area. We found the people to be friendly and engaging, and really looking to know God in a deeper and more heartfelt way.
Following the service, we returned to the B&B. Truth is, we were feeling a bit exhausted and still adjusting to the time difference and jet lag, and opted for a nap. After a short snooze, I found myself being a bit restless and opted to check out a BBC program online called "Losing Our Religion." The program originally aired in early October, but was not available to view online in the U.S. It featured former Christian (and now atheist) William Crawley interviewing various religions groups in Northern Ireland, including Presbyterians, Catholics, Fundamentalists, Muslims, Humanists, and even star-gazers.
The program depicted an increasing secular society and the increasing perception that religion is out of touch and irrelevant to most people. However, it also featured footage from a service at CCV, interviews with Alan and Kathryn Scott, footage of CCV at the ocean for water baptisms, and interviews with CCV members whose lives have changed by Christ. I found it immensely powerful, and a tremendous testimony of the real difference found in a vibrant relationship with Jesus verses the depicted staleness and irrelevance of religion. It also seemed to me that the worship service and testimonies had a surprising and unanticipated effect on the host. Pray for Mr. Crawley…it was apparent to me that the Holy Spirit was working to showcase the reality of God to that man despite his doubts, experience, and misgivings about religion.
Around 3:30, we made our way back to Coleraine to get a feel of the local economy. We went through the local Dunnes store, a department store comparable to J.C. Penneys, and discovered that much of the clothing was significantly cheaper than anything here in the U.S. We made a few purchases for family members before stopping at a Chinese restaurant called "The Water Margin" which has been greatly recommended to us by Alan Scott for having wonderful food at great value. The food was indeed spectacular…but price is certainly relative. Our impression of most eating establishments is that costs are typically high. Our three course meal (during which I drank water) cost more than $40.00 for the two of us. I was glad that we would spend most of the coming week buying our food at the grocery instead.
We arrived about twenty minutes early for the evening gathering at CCV. The ample chairs that had been in place for the morning services were mostly moved out of the way and replaced by a series of small, square, pine tables surrounded by four chairs each, complete with little candle centerpieces. A few minutes before the start, Alan arrived. He soon greeted us and spent a few moments chatting at our table. He was speaking that night on how to make important, Spirit-led decisions, and suddenly asked us if we might also share with those gathered about how we, as pastors, make decisions. Of course, we agreed, and within a few minutes were introduced to the church. Linda and I spoke for 10-15 minutes on the importance of hearing God’s voice and the importance of walking in agreement. Hopefully, it was of some insight and help to the 80 or so who were there that night.
As the night ended, we picked up a welcome packet and a music CD to leave with our hostess at Anvershiel House (we had the impression that though she was open to Christianity, she wasn’t really connected to any particular ministry or faith expression). We said our goodbye’s to Alan and we both wished for more time to spend with one another. It was good to get to know the Scotts during the previous day…and who knows what the future may bring.
After returning to our lodging, a quick check of my email revealed a note from Mike Mullins, director of Operation Mobilisation where we were scheduled to go in the morning. He wondered if we might be willing to meet with a couple of OM missionaries in Buncrana before driving down to Lacken House. We adjusted our plans and then fell into bed that night, eager for whatever adventure the morning might bring.