Grant Swank
At Easter, I'm reminded that Jesus lives in Ireland
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By Grant Swank
March 26, 2009

The attractive red head heard our speech slant to conclude we were from the US. Therefore, when my wife and I left the village shop, the stranger approached to ask, "Are you from America?" Her brogue was definitely Northern Ireland.

We replied in the affirmative. Then we continued to chat, for Irish are especially friendly. She next gave away a code. She said, "My husband is returning from a mission in India." That word "mission" translated as "Christian" to me.

"Oh, so he was on a Christian witness mission there?" I asked. The answer was Yes. And with that we realized that the three of us were believers.

"Would you come to our home for tea?" So we did.

And then after tea in their lovely abode, they treated us to lunch in a Broughshane eatery. Just plain terrific and more of the same was forthcoming during the two weeks' stay in that manicured country.

It seemed that when we turned to right and left, we came upon believers.

On our first Sunday there, we attended the First Presbyterian Church in Broughshane. All were dressed in their Sunday-go-to-meeting best except for my wife and me. We had not packed upscale clothing, settling for casual. But that did not deter parishioners from welcoming us royally.

That Sunday afternoon we drove to Glenarm to visit the famous Walled Garden. While seated on the Tea Room's outdoor patio, we came upon two elderly women who motioned for us to sit at their table. After about half an hour's conversation, I realized they were particularly articulate.

"Are you both teachers?"

The one responded she was an art teacher. The other said "Uganda and Nigeria."

My wife asked: "Are you a missionary?" The woman said Yes.

I asked: "Catholic?" She said Yes.

I then said, "I am a minister." She asked: "Religion or government?" I answered: "Not government!" We chuckled at the response.

We continued conversing, realizing of course that in Ireland there has been over the years much tension between Catholics and Protestants, sometimes turning quite bloody. But at the tea table there were two believing Protestants with two believing Catholics having their Sunday afternoon time of their lives.

When we were ready to bid farewell, we four stood. Then I said, "Let us pray together." With that we held hands as I asked the Lord to bless our lives for Jesus' sake.

In the evening, my wife and I attended the Broughshane Gospel Hall. After, we conversed with a young woman in the parking lot. Our conversation ended with her and two children inviting us to their lovely estate the next Tuesday morning — for tea, of course. Naturally, we closed our visit in prayer. Jesus had been our unseen Guest.

All in all, we were invited into about half a dozen strangers-turned-friends' homes in a two-week stay in Northern Ireland. Quite the pleasant surprise!

At the close of that first Sunday, I phoned an Irish friend touring the United States at the same time we were in Northern Ireland. I said: "In the morning we were Presbyterian. In the afternoon Catholic. And in the evening Brethren. So in less than twenty-four hours we have done what we can do for the peace of Ireland!"

The second Sunday morning we were invited to another Presbyterian Church where once again we were greeted with warm hearts. James and Irene were our host and hostess who lived in the spacious home adjoining the 1709 farmhouse we inhabited via a house swap with a young couple who lived in Lisburn. The farmhouse was given them by the fellow's in-laws. So while we enjoyed their Broughshane dwelling, they enjoyed our Maine cottage.

After church, James and Irene invited us to chicken dinner in their home. Then James played chauffeur, driving us till nearly midnight around the Antrim Scenic Coastal Route. Daylight stays till about 11 o'clock during summer in Northern Ireland.. So we made the most of it.

Whether it was in a flower bedecked home, outside an eatery or on a tea room patio, we discovered ourselves closing conservation with prayer. Jesus was our Friend in all cases — shared by newly come-upon-to-us believers.

Even when we went to Belfast International Airport for our return flight, we encountered a security policeman. In conversing, he mentioned that a section of Belfast was known as the "Bible belt."

Once again, the code language gave him away. I said, "And are you a Christian?" He answered Yes. We chatted further and then it was time for us to leave him.

"Before we say Good-bye, let's keep our eyes open as we pray." When I concluded with "Amen," my wife said to me later: "Did you see the tears in that man's eyes when we were praying?"

On the flight home I realized that we had been on a two-week mission ministry guided by Jesus in Northern Ireland. We had not only come upon the gorgeous scenery surrounding us in that country but the flowering in one soul after another.

For that we are especially thankful to Him.

© Grant Swank

 

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Grant Swank

Joseph Grant Swank, Jr., is a pastor at New Hope Church in Windham, Maine... (more)

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