Hot off the press! Travel: in tandem with God’s heart (IVP UK)

It’s here!  From October 18th (today!), Travel: in Tandem with God’s Heart is available on:

The Publisher’s Website (*ebook and paperback)

Amazon and with free postage to Europe: The Book Depository

The Evangelical Bookshop (*cheapest, and includes free postage to UK)

Unbound Cork (*10% off when you enter “welcome” as giftcode when paying)

All good local bookshops

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Some more questions around Identity

Thanks for all your feedback, phone calls and comments from a wide range of folk about my last blog post here. It appears our setting on this island resonates with many places in the world. I want to quickly respond to a few common questions that many asked, as a means by which to generate further conversation – please do keep chatting! As numerous people replied with these questions, having similar conversations with me, please don’t think I’m speaking about you specifically if you see ‘your’ question(s).

  • “Clearly no Christian says they have their full identity in their flag. Can we not have part of our identity in it – in the place God has us born?” (about a dozen people said this)

God has lavishly given us everything in life that we have (including our new identity in Him). The only question we have, is how we respond. Because I have been given everything, I hope to say I have everything to give, and God within me to empower me to do so, even when that’s hard. It is hard to read Philippians chapter 2, and still ask questions of “what can I keep speaking about loudly in my identity?”. We follow a Christ who thinks not of His own needs, but that of others as he lays down His life for His enemies, even to death, death on a cross. The Apostle Paul responds to the Corinthian church to say (1 Cor 9:20-22) that he would give up anything for the sake of the gospel, even across cultural divides. If you are British, how can you use that to God’s glory, and to love your enemy (or your neighbour as yourself)? If you are Irish, what about you? Yes be proudly British or Irish, but let’s realise:

  1. every culture is beautiful in some way (Gen 1 – do we celebrate others’ beauty?)
  2. every culture is fallen in some way (Gen 3 – do we repent and show humility?)
  3. the Kingdoms of this world in most ways are temporary and are NOTHING (stronger language could be used) compared to the glory of knowing Christ Jesus (Phil 3:8 – do we hold loosely to even what we are most precious about?)
  • I am not called to speak Irish, to play GAA or to live in a nationalist area. That does not make sectarian or make me responsible for the problems you write about.” (about 6 people messaged, though many more have similar feelings that I’ve chatted to)

In our individualistic western world, we speak a lot about “callings” and individual responsibility. Some of that is Biblical of course, but a lot of the Bible was written to groups of people. But our trouble is, that as The Church (capital C), we do not enjoy what our groom gives us to enjoy. If we all sit back and say “it’s not my responsibility”, we miss the fact that Christ thinks that for our good and His glory, we could enjoy his heartbeat for all peoples – most of all, His enemies (us all, at one time). We are not all called to “go” to the areas with less Christian presence, but we all should ask ourselves what part we are playing in showing Christ’s love to such places, and consider why we are not willing to go. (There are many gospel reasons to not go.) I’ve written about this a lot here. Ulster has generally shown great vigour in going to the ends of the earth (praise God!), but hasn’t figured yet how to go to Samaria.

GAA – the Gaelic Athletic Association of Ireland, as exampled in this picture of a Gaelic Football (taken from here: all copyright)
  • “Sinn Fein/Westminster are blackmailing us. I will never give in, even if thousands of lives are at stake (through abortion). The blood is on their own hands.” (few were brave enough to express what two readers did, to this extent, but several agreed)

Politics is a messy game, for sure. But I would think twice about gambling with thousands of lives. If I was a hypothetical unionist supporter (which I’m not revealing here whether I am or not), and I could save thousands of lives for giving up an Irish Language Act Bill which I resented, then surely even if I felt I was being blackmailed to do it, I would? One is demanded by scripture, the other is not. In Biblical times, they were called to primarily serve God and flowing from that, to honour the King, regardless of who was on the throne, even when their tax money went to corrupt and evil men (c.f 1 Peter, Rom 13). God will be the final judge of who is responsible or not but I personally will do my best to stop them and be vocal about it, even if I’m blackmailed for it. But as I said before, perhaps we lost this one when we voted perpetually for sectarian division, year after year.

  • “Playing GAA has too many connotations with political things for me to touch it.”

Let’s go back to Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well. Firstly, as a Jew, He deliberately goes via Samaria (he didn’t have to). Choosing to go to Samaria, when war-like hatred was shown between the people, had its connotations. Secondly, as a male, he chose to sit with a lone, promiscuous woman in the heat of the day at a well (see here for the history of wells). That had its sexual connotations in middle eastern culture. Jesus didn’t seem too concerned with connotations. What He did seem concerned for was mission, flowing from a pure heart. For us, that might mean we choose not to go up to women in nightclubs and offer them a drink as a means to show Christ’s love (perhaps a parallel modern situation). But it will mean we cross borders (metaphorical ones and real ones) for the sake of the good news.

  • “You are secretly just promoting your [insert political thought here eg: nationalist, globalist] politics and forget that you yourself are highly political and are only asking those of a certain political view to pipe down.” (three people publicly, many more privately)

I will happily admit that nobody is neutral. I have my politics, and people may assume what they wish. Nationalists in the north think I’m Unionist because of my schooling and sport association. Unionists in the north assume I’m nationalist because I’ve lived in Cork and write blog posts like this.

But my argument does not lie on any political view. I argue neither to downplay national sovereignty, nor to advocate a nationalism of any sorts. Setting aside John 4 that we’ve already considered, let’s turn to Galatians. Paul (in chapter 1) sets our his stall that he has received this good news by revelation, and that He hasn’t spent time anywhere else to learn such an unusual gospel (chapter 2). It demands that righteousness comes freely from outside of human action – circumcision makes no difference! Titus is relieved – he sits in the corner of this debate, wondering whether he’ll need to be circumcised as a new follower of Jesus. The answer resounds clearly – no! Salvation is a free gift, needing no such thing added to it. But turn to Acts 16 and we suddenly see Paul circumcising Timothy! Why? Has Paul changed his mind?! No! It’s because they are going to a Jewish area to reach out.

Was Paul advocating a type of globalism that stuffs Jewish national identity when he dismissed the need to be circumcised? No! Was he advocating a nationalist perspective when he circumcised Timothy? No! He was doing all that he could to reach the people at hand, while sacrificing what was secondary importance. I’m sure Timothy minded – it’s painful! And it’s not even needed as a Greek – so why bother? Hardly as if many people check! But he was willing to lay down his identity to reach others. Nothing to do with politics. But at the same time, utterly political. And I could go onto other passages. Me advocating this has nothing to do with what politics I support. (But it is utterly political in action)

  • “By speaking of a mission organisation like that, you are doing something very unhelpful. They are not like that in general. You will put people off going on mission through writing such things.” (4 people)

May I suggest that the only people I’ll put off going on such teams, are the people looking for a perfect mission organisation or experience? But I hate to tell you, they don’t exist. But they don’t exist because the one true mission organisation that God has given the world, is The Church (from which flows these Acts 13-like mission teams). And it’s a bunch of messy (but both sanctified and being sanctified) people, who all make cultural mistakes and place their identity in many false places, all too often.

I lead teams year after year for that mission organisation and would flag-wave endlessly for them (not that kind of fleg). They have taught me so much of what I know about evangelism. And as I said in my first blog post, I LOVE that these mistakes are being made (if we learn from them). Like my colleague Izzy says, we must not be paralysed by thinking we must be perfect. And I am the first to have made, and still make MANY mistakes in my own culture, never mind in others. And I pray that my team members and others will forgive me my mistakes, will point them out to me, and help me change to have more of God’s heart too, as they have done even in this (I hope).

Finally, let me tell you about one of my friends.

She is my age, was brought up in a protestant, unionist home, and continues to live round the corner from me, under the shadow of Windsor Park, where the kerb-stones are painted red, white and blue and my car arriving with a Cork-registration plate gets the neighbours out to their windows. She works a normal job. She has never learnt a word of Irish, couldn’t tell you who is playing in the GAA All-Ireland final this Sunday, and attends a protestant church in the heart of east Belfast.

But she does this, whilst enjoying Jesus, dying to herself, and living for Him. She is still thoroughly British, but her friends (non-Christian) when asked about her all say “she is the only person who loved us when we moved house here”; “she loves different cultures like I’ve never seen before”; “she is one of us”.

Because every morning she wakes (when she remembers), she asks Jesus, in light of what He’s done, to help her lay her life down to love some of the most unreached people in the world on her doorstep. She abandons some of her clothing choices, to fit in with them. She eats differently, so that she can share meals with them. She changes hobbies, to enjoy what they like to do. When asked about Israel and Palestine, she side-steps questions or asks good questions back again, even though she has views of exactly what’s right and wrong. She finds they don’t find her sense of humour funny the same way her close friends growing up did – she suffers it. She finds a church community, who will welcome outsiders, or learn how to do so with her help. She even learns their language and takes all her annual leave visiting their country, to do so. Yes, I’m not talking about nationalists. I’m talking about Arab neighbours.

Arabs in Belfast welcomed, as reported by the Irish Times (here). Photo credit IT.

Somehow that makes sense for her. But if it makes sense for her, why doesn’t it make sense for us, even in our normal jobs and normal lives to support and have such a heartbeat, even when we can’t be the ones “going”?

Sadly my non-Christian friends (the ones who I’ve been close enough to give them opportunity to speak into my life) have seen all too clearly where my identity has seemed to lie, at times:

  • You’re so busy rushing around doing Christian things, we never see you. (My identity was perhaps in missional activity rather than Jesus)
  • You never come on nights out with us. (In first year of uni, my identity was so busy trying to be holy by abstaining, I forgot to love people well, perhaps by staying up to help them when they came home drunk, or in other ways)
  • You get far more passionate about [insert topic] when we talk, than anything else – is that what you value? (Caveat: let’s remember some cultures are more direct than others – let’s not try to “out-Jesus” each other in our speech)

But ultimately it’s God’s Word, applied to God’s World well, that will expose our hearts and convince us that finding our identity and worth in who Christ is, and what He has done, will be ultimately satisfying. Though sometimes God even uses our non-Christian friends to do that through His common grace!

A little booklet written to counter the common claims of “For God and for [insert political identity here]….”

So my prayer for both you and I today, in light of this whole discussion about British identity and culture, is that God will help us travel this earth, in tandem with His heart. And that it will radically alter how we live here on this island. None of us can pretend we’re not enculturated (/bathed in a culture). There are no people who see everything and act neutrally. But there are those who pray that the Spirit would illumine and show them what is their culture and what is the gospel, and seek to live in light of that distinction, deliberately amongst many who are “not like us”.


I merely echo words of many who have more succinctly and beautifully said things before me on this topic. The work of ECONI summarised by a QUB researcher and respected cultural analyst, comes to mind, even if ECONI broadened its views later. I will happily send anyone a copy of “For God and His Glory Alone” who wishes, in the post.

Sounds from round the world

As my last post generated lots of controversy (not something I try to do on blogs posts, nor was it something that ought to have been controversial) and still has discussions ongoing of various natures, I thought I’d post something that we can all have our hearts warmed by, that unites us all.

I love world music, and from a secular level Nitin Sawhney opened my eyes to the spectacular diversity within even an individual culture, nevermind all cultures! His compositions, curations and investigative journeys into other cultures through the world of music, are something I’ve loved over the years. He gives a taste of incredible musicality mixed with his intellectual intrigue here in his TEDx performance.

But from a Christian perspective, I came across this, thanks to a friend who sings in the Sydney Missionary Bible College band “Badminton Road” who are about to launch an EP later this year. What a beautiful glimpse of Heaven! Would it make you want to travel differently in regards to language and visiting believers where you travel? I hope so!

And if I’m allowed to mention the Irish language twice in a row, it’s fantastic to see a verse as-Gaelige.

Identity theft!

(The original story here was changed at the request of one of the characters in it, who had previously identified himself to others by telling the same story to them. I would never willingly/knowingly share a public story of someone identifiable, unless they were willing to be identified in it. The story now here is a conglomeration of several real stories of a similar nature which happened a few years ago.)

The sun was blazing and in County Kerry our Christian summer volunteer team were back running our program for all the family. This afternoon, we were running a kid’s club, as their parents watched on. As we started into learning our Bible memory challenge (a verse from the Bible), I suddenly was aware that I might need to intervene. As many teachers do, we were using a “pointer” to point at each word as the kids were saying it and keep them on track. Only our pointer this time round was a huge blow-up red hand of Ulster such as the one pictured below on the Northern Irish flag.

And for those of you who didn’t know, the red hand of Ulster is a political sign not warmly welcomed in County Kerry (to put it mildly). What was I as team leader to do? The team members largely identified as Ulster people. But it would have completely alienated them from the locals, nevermind taking away from whatever was said later by the team. But then again, making a scene about it would also draw attention to this. I sat back and waited for a subtle moment I could move it, and breathed a sigh of relief. Until…

(I have made many cross-cultural mistakes in the past before! That’s the joy of cross-cultural learning and teams – I would love everyone to have cross-cultural experiences on well-led teams, that allow them the chance to blunder in safe environments!)

Until the story. We often tell stories to teach spiritual truths to the families listening, and as many in (previously) Catholic Ireland, knew all the Bible stories (or thought they did), we sometimes taught other stories with a spiritual meaning. But this one had me nervously twitching again. The fictional story had opened with 2 characters, and one of them was King William riding on a white horse!

And for any who know their history and the Battle of the Boyne, you’ll know who King Billy and his white horse was, and know that he wouldn’t have been all that welcome in Kerry!

A mural in Donaghadee

Two small slips that could perhaps have been not noticed, or could have built a culture that meant the volunteer team was regarded as foreign, and rejected because of their insensitive use of politics, language and culture.

Well, thankfully (given the team was a Christian one) we’d been studying John’s eyewitness account of Jesus’ life that morning, and in chapter four we encounter a situation even more radical than these. A Samaritan woman meets Jesus (a Jewish man) and a show-down ensues. Jews vs Samaritans. The Northern Irish troubles would have perhaps seemed minor in comparison to what was going on between rivals then. Perhaps current day Israel and Palestine moves us closer towards the old scene.

But the thing is, a show-down doesn’t ensue. Jesus, side-stepping controversial issue after controversial issue, takes the woman by the hand (metaphorically) and leads her towards where she can find a true, satisfying identity – in Him. Whatever he says (and he doesn’t completely avoid the issue), helps her get over any confrontation, shame or difference, and makes her run off to the town to tell everyone that He’s the best thing ever to happen.

And so, what did I do when the 2 things above happened? Well the Red Hand, nor King William were necessary to the event, nor was it wise to have them, even if it was publicly permitted and deeply cherished by some team members. In an attempt to follow Jesus’ example, at laying down what is dear to us for the sake of the good news, I quietly slipped the the Red Hand away for the rest of the week, and amongst much positive feedback to the story-teller, suggested that they don’t ever use King Billy and his white horse in a story again.

Sadly though, it was not appreciated.

“We have every right to celebrate our culture. This is part of who I am. It’s hardly as if we’re forcing them to believe our politics by simply using these things.” was the rebuke of one team member.

Similar scenarios have happened with Northern Irish flags on volunteer teams. Here’s the famous video that mocks the ludicrous nature of the “fleg” but never actually says why it is ludicrous.

“This is part of who I am!”

What had I done? Had I really just denied someone their very being? What they felt was at the heart of who it was to be them?

Well, no, because as Christians we have our primary identity in someone who is not of these Kingdoms – in Jesus Christ. All other senses of identity come radically far short of that one, whether national identity, sexual identity, race, language etc. Everything else (important as they are,) flows from the beauty and purpose we were created for. Had I taken their identity? No! Not even the devil himself can take away our identity in Christ and all we were made for.

But these happening in County Kerry really just echo a far bigger problem for Northern Irish (evangelical) Christians. Let me explain…

A more complex identity problem…

I was at a prayer meeting tonight about the liberal abortion legislation about to be forced (undemocratically) upon Northern Ireland. For those not in the know, the devolved government has not met in Northern Ireland now for several years, and so Westminster parliament was putting together some emergency legislation to deal with this, when radical abortion amendments (more than the rest of the UK currently has) got included into it.

Suddenly the pro-life Christians are crying, and rightly so. If correct in our views, we are talking about mass slaughter of innocent life. And there appears no way to stop the ending of thousands of voiceless lives in the womb, unless the NI government reconvenes by October 21st of this year. Highly unlikely.

But what one lead campaigner said to me recently revealed an awful lot of why 20,000 signatures, 75,000 postcards to MLAs, and hundreds of thousands of emails will never work.

“Peter, 2 years ago I would never have traded the Irish Language Act for an abortion-free NI, but now I think I would.”

The evangelical Christian identity is too caught up in protestant politics.

What do I mean?

Well for years, many evangelical Christians were more vocal about their British political viewpoints than they were about being heard and seen to live out the values that Jesus would have us live out – loving our enemies, laying down our rights for the sake of loving others, and seeking to best understand and cherish those who strongly disagree with us. Being Christian for some, was, certainly in the eyes of their colleagues or close friends, inseparable from being British. Or at least there were as many passionate arguments about each of them! They would say their identity was firmly in being “protestant” or following Jesus. But to anyone else looking on, it was a muddle of religion and politics all thrown in together, and often a vitriolic or ugly one at that.

For years, many Christians have voted for certain parties that they thought held to “Christian values”. But in doing so, we’ve ended up endorsing political segregation, with no government. No-one really seems to have minded though, given the impasse in talks. Most seemingly would rather have no Irish Language Act and no government, and watch the province spiral down and suffer economically and otherwise, than to concede and give way to an Irish Language Act and other suggested things. According to them, there are many hills to die on, and most of them are painted red, white and blue.

The old impression that many still cling to, thinking this is a “Christian” nation, which they should be able to enforce Christian values on, is a false one. It is not just this building that lies in ruins. I hope that any perceived notions of Christendom also lie in ruins. God’s Kingdom will flourish when it is not in control.

And now we eat our fruit from our tree of bitter divides. Having voted for parties that would never sit down together and didn’t seem to make a big deal of ending sectarian divides in NI, we have ended up with no government. And in ending up with no government, we have ended up with this abortion fiasco, imposed from outside.

Let me be straight – yes, there are some deluded (and perhaps, evil) people to blame for this, thinking they are acting honourably to free women. But instead of just pointing fingers at “them over there”, could it be that in voting for constant segregation (or people who didn’t consider it top priority to end such attitudes), we are reaping the fruit of our voting?

Or will those in government who claim to be pro-life, finally see that if they are consistent in their beliefs, that conceding Language Acts and other such things, will be NOTHING compared to the loss of life that would occur through abortion?

But I fear the battle was lost long ago, and humanly speaking can’t be won now. Sinn Fein won’t be forced last minute into talks, no matter how many emails or postcards people in the country send.

And so how did we get from a beach in Kerry to here? Well, it’s a more complex version of the identity question. And sadly one that many in the country will learn the hard way. That if you speak up as passionately for your politics as you do about Jesus and His Words/views, then your identity will soon become a blur as well, and tragedies like the one that’s unfolding may occur.

The sun is setting on our chance to repent of our segregated society.

Sadly, there may be an even greater tragedy than thousands of unborn lives being lost too. The type of Jesus that is often held out in Northern Ireland, is dressed up in a British flag, and will be so repulsive to any nationalist that few churches will ever form in such areas and eternal consequences will need to be wept over. It’s why one of the most-reached English speaking people groups (Northern Ireland) sits directly beside the least-reached English-speaking people group (Ireland) in the world. If that isn’t a tragedy largely produced by this identity confusion, I don’t know what is.

But lest I be seen to point fingers here, may I sit with everyone reading and say that politics is no easy game. Just because I have been vocal about segregation in society, and never voted for those who endorsed violence or sectarian behaviour, doesn’t mean I have clean hands. There are no easy options of who to vote for, and I don’t come endorsing one way and condemning others. But as Christians, we must keep our identity firmly in place before letting our secondary views flow in light of it. And that, will mean giving up things that are costly to us elsewhere in life. It’ll hurt. But it’ll lead to our flourishing and the growth of His Church.

And for now, I weep. I pray. And we see what the next month holds…

The art of conversation

“I’m travelling to find myself. To find who I really am. To discover the potential within me. Too experience all the world has to offer.”

Or so many say about travel. And it’s true. But what if you could do the same from home? Would it be boring? What would it look like?

I got introduced to Alain de Botton through his book “The Art of Travel” and several TV shows that went along the same lines. And much as I travel in tandem to a different pulse of life and in a alternative direction to what he tries to persuade us all of, he’s someone I still find intensely thought provoking and wonderfully helpful in life’s paths.

So when I heard that a conversation card pack had been launched by him, I set my usual scepticism aside and bought it. Normally, I would think such things are a cringeworthy waste of money, that could be spent on asking the same questions, without the cards infront of me. But when a church pastor on Twitter who I respect, said he would happily give every ‘Fresher’ (first year) one of these upon entry to university, my ears pricked up.

All pictures copyright and taken off the website: https://www.theschooloflife.com/shop/eu/100-questions-original-edition/

Sadly in our current age, deep conversations are not always had. In Ireland, perhaps not without a pint or two in one’s hand. In other cultures, perhaps at other times, or in other places. But increasingly, the soundbite, technological world that we live in, darts from trivial topic to the next in a line of banalities, and doesn’t often deepen. If people get too serious, or chat about something for too long, jokes are quickly made, and many turn away from such displays of earnestness or knowledge. Do we perhaps fear those we think have a ‘powerplay’ over us and don’t want to be shown up for what we do not know? Or might it be because knowledge is genuinely used for ill, or in a lacklustre way that sends us yawning and reaching for our drink again? Or have we just lost our wonder and awe at the incredible world around us?

For those who bemoan this current state of society, I do wonder whether there was ever a “golden age” in this regard? The old geographically-limited, (often more conservative) cultures or decades, where people spoke only to their family, neighbours or village each day, did not breed the same diversity or curiosity perhaps as modern-day culture allows for.

Nor do I wish to assume that those who can hold conversation on one topic for a period of time and travel deep into conversation with it, are necessarily better off, morally superior or more gifted than those who cannot. Some cultures go direct into a subject, whereas others circle around it. Many tertiary educated people are taught to think in certain ways, but this should not necessarily exude better things than those who do not learn in such ways.

However, if I look at my life and see no deep relationships where I delve under the surface of the superficial and enjoy the hidden mysteries of people’s character, the vibrant colours of their personality or the reality behind why their hearts beat the rhythms of life which they do, then I must pause a moment. Why is it I don’t ever converse on this level? Could I find more our about myself by doing so? Might I learn how to love others better, or to disagree well with those from diverse backgrounds? Dare I suggest, that I find myself corrected, sharpened, encouraged and changed by similar expressions to me?

And that’s where these cards come in. They’re not cheesey, they ask great questions for the western, individualistic mind, and they could both simultaneously reveal far more about yourself than you’d want to find out, and surprise yourself with the strengths and ways of living that you have been gifted in. It could be a step to becoming self-aware. A step to finding who you are.

Alain chooses 9 topics, which are in my mind, perhaps the top 9 spoken of or dreamt about every day on university campuses. You can see them in the picture above. (Has he missed one? Let me know your thoughts.) And of course, “Travel” is one of those top topics the current generations are buzzing about. Here’s a few of the questions to get your juices flowing:

  • are you more attracted to a nomadic or settled life?
  • if you were in a city and had to choose between a good meal and a bad hotel, or a bad meal and a good hotel – which would you prefer?
  • what makes a person a good travelling companion?
  • would you prefer a view of a desert or of the sea? Why?

I could imagine these cards being used in various ways. Some will use them in a formal classroom setting. Others may bring them out for dinnertime conversation. But many will simply read them, and be provoked to ask better questions, or to steal them for everyday conversation!

Like everything in life, you’ll like some of it, and may not like other bits of it, but perhaps it could even be a springboard to making your own cards too? But be warned, Christian traveller – please do not make these a tool to preach at people. If you make your own cards in order to get “better” questions, please do ask yourself why your worldview or thought-process doesn’t like the questions given. Do you not know how to relate to the questions at hand? Do you not understand why such things could be fascinating or wonderful glimpses of a Christ-centred eternal reality? Are you seeing life through such narrow lenses that you only want to ask a couple of questions to everyone? Perhaps I might dare to suggest that if so, these question cards might teach us more than what you think we have to bring to others.

Disagree? Or curious?

Well perhaps you can ask me more and we can listen to each other well. Let’s travel together and chat, side by side, and see where it takes us.

But regardless, can I ask you whether you’re willing to start to cultivate such deep relationships with diverse people? It’s not easy!

For those who like the look of the cards, they can be bought here.

Campus Lights: students living and speaking for Jesus around the world

(Book review: Cawley, Muddy Pearl, 2019)
Disclaimer: As well as knowing the author, I received this book as a free review copy from the publisher, ahead of its release in July. This by no means changed my view of the book or meant that I ought to give it a positive review.

One of the things I love about travel, is the stories one hears from people from all sorts of backgrounds. From adventure stories that thrill us as we start to wonder where truth stops and fiction starts, to heart-breaking tales of messy reality that leave us deeply moved and wondering whether we should be acting differently. Stories inspire, illustrate and capture hearts and minds.

I was looking forward to this book for that exact reason – stories of God at work from campuses around the world. I know the author, Luke, having worked alongside him in UCCF (IFES in Great Britain), and I’ve always appreciated the power in his communication, and his ability to think independently. And I wasn’t disappointed – the opening chapter was of a student evangelistic gathering that was stormed by the Police in a far-off country, and leaders arrested. Boom – I was gripped!

But I was also wary. Have you ever met a traveller who never shuts up? Or someone who really thinks they’ve got incredible tales to tell, but leaves you stretching for you drink to hide your yawn? Having worked in student work and attended conferences and gatherings across Europe and beyond for over 7 years, it’s not just entertaining stories I am after – there are plenty of them around already! But thankfully this book is different.

Launched this coming week at The International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) World Assembly, each chapter is carefully chosen to tell of the values that make a great student movement. But when you’ve only 12 or so stories to pick, it could be easy to pick the best, funniest and most glorious that paint IFES in a wonderful light. But Luke doesn’t. And the book is all the more wonderful for it. Here’s just a whisper of what it contains:

Chapter 2: Tales of Proclaiming Jesus (Indonesia and Middle East)
“Proclamation doesn’t work in our culture” is quite often what I get told in various settings where I visit. Setting aside the easier context of Europe, where tens of thousands are hearing the good news proclaimed through small CUs running high profile events and week of events, and where the IFES Europe “FEUER” conference is training hundreds to do so, Luke takes us to the most unlikely of places. Highly relational, highly Islamic settings, where openly discussing evidence about Jesus being God is forbidden. So how might proclamation of good news there work? In its own messy way, Luke tells us!

Engaging the University – what does Jesus say to what we study or to the culture around us?

Chapter 3: Tales of Promoting Justice (Guatemala and USA)
“We don’t have any justice issues here – we just need to preach the gospel” is a line that I again, often hear on campuses in Europe. But somehow in the south of Ireland, one of the largest Christian denominations is largely Nigerian, yet we see few Nigerians in our Christian Unions – why? And somehow in the north of Ireland we claim that we want everyone to meet Jesus, but we’ll refuse to shape our lives round ending the segregation in society to make that possible. Justice matters. Everyone expected Guatemala to be in the chapter. But no-one thought the USA would be here. Luke tells the controversial story of #blacklivesmatter and how Urbana tackled it – was it wise?

Chapter 4: Tales of Engaging the University (Sri Lanka and Great Britain)
If “reaching every student with the good news of Jesus” becomes our mantra, where is the place of equipping graduates to have a full-orbed worldview, a whole-person discipleship, that looks to have Christians in every sphere of campus life, making a difference and living for Christ? Vinoth Ramachandra (Sri Lanka) has been a long-term advocate of this, though it is not his story that is told. This chapter brings a wonderful depth to a good news that ought to impact every area of life, through humanly insignificant ways of lone students and academics.

Chapter 5: Tales of preparing graduates (Kenya and Romania)
The Kenyan tale was great. A business-man creating a prayerful, spirit-led stir across corporations and borders. The Romanian one, I’d wondered whether Luke (based there) had just written about his Romanian mates (a few of whom I’ve met). But out of the fog, came insight. A story that I wondered about where it was going, turned into God using failure, ‘wrong’ decisions and more, to grow something from nothing. The raw authenticity of the story made it utterly relatable to so many stories here in Ireland. Perhaps a model for pursuing life as graduates.


Training leaders in Ireland.

Here the book takes a turn in emphasis, taking convictions of a student movement, and figuring out to make them sustainable:

Chapter 6: Tales of Leadership Development (Solomon Islands and Mongolia)
What a joy to read something of two messy movements. Both works of God in hard places, but for utterly different reasons. How do we grow leaders from being consumers (or non-Christians) through to leading such movements? Here lies two great examples at varying stages.

Chapter 7: Tales of Financial Sustainability (South Korea and Burkina Faso)
There reaches a stage in every movement where finance is an issue. Luke takes one country that is highly “Christian” but sharply in decline, and another that is used to depending on others for support and shows how things can be sustainable in both, despite challenges. Or rather he doesn’t show us. He tells their stories, and leaves us to work things out – a far better way to help us contextualise!

Chapter 8: Stories from the future (St Kitts)
And before I knew it, 16 hours later (not all spent reading), I’d finished the book. Gripped by many a story. Challenged anew by what I’d read. Even made to think by the way Luke handled the passages he turned to in each chapter in fresh ways.

A new generation of student leaders in Belfast

This was certainly not what I thought it would be – “Shining Like Stars 2″ – a sequel to Lindsay Brown’s great account of God at work across campuses. Nor is it a history of IFES, although it does contain snippets.

But it is both a stimulating read for the thinker, and a call to action. A tale of God working through weakness, and a springboard for us to be used similarly. A collection of apparently random lifestories from round the world, yet of intimately connected, diverse family members who all have a family name written over their doors. And the name is not IFES. The name is Jesus.

I’d encourage any staff member to pick this up and read it, but also any student who wishes to be encouraged by God at work, and challenged by some convictions which they might help shape CU life. And for those of past CU generations? Come, celebrate what God has done and is doing!


Peter is a Team Leader with Christian Unions Ireland in Munster and Connacht and normally blogs on faith and travel, which increasingly overlaps with the culture of the campuses he works on. You can find his book “Travel: in tandem with God’s Heart” (IVP 2018) in ebook or physical format from any major distributor.

Travelling with housemates

In my 7 years in Cork, I’ve lived with 21 other people in a shared 4 bedroom house. This weekend, they were all invited (plus partners/spouses) to a place on Beara Peninsula in West Cork, for a reunion. Albeit the 10 who could make it were from the latter half of that time period, and largely (apart from one in Spain) all still lived in Cork.

Travelling with people you’ve lived with technically shouldn’t be hard – you’re used to each other sharing life in close proximity, right?

But there’s still something different about travelling together. There’s an intensity of expression, between everyone. There’s unexpected circumstances that need to be worked-out in short time period, that come as fresh challenges, even to those who’ve lived for a long time together. And there’s equally joys that come from fresh expressions of love shown within community, in ways that perhaps aren’t seen or thought of, in the ordinary rhythms of home life.

And it reminded me of the great blessing of diversity, and being made to honour others and their ways of thinking and doing things, as we travelled together, even when some of those things irk me.

Apart from the rising cost of rental property in Ireland during the post-recession housing crisis, this is precisely the main reason I urge myself to keep living in a shared property, even if it is hassle to live with others at times.

I’m reminded that my of life, is not the only way. From small ways to bigger ones. Here are just a few of the kinds of things I’ve found overlapping with travel:

  • How do I do the dishes or how often? There are many ways of thinking.
  • What matters more? Cleanliness or hospitality?
  • What are expectations for how much time and energy is spent on communicating with each other?
  • What do people value spending money on? How much is there to spend?
  • What personalities do people have? Extroverts? Introverts?
  • What hobbies do people enjoy individually or together?
  • What time of year or season of life is someone in at the moment? Does this mean they’re looking for a slower or more busy pace as you travel?

Given some of these things are quite deeply rooted in our lifestyles, it can be frustrating for others who see patterns in their friends’ lives as unchangeable. “Oh that’s just Peter – he won’t ever change”.

But it need not necessarily be the case for Christians. There is very little in that list which could not change under the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, the kindness of the Father and the Lordship of Christ.

  • I can see other ways of doing the dishes that please my housemates – its a tiny issue, in perspective, even if its a daily one!
  • I can seek to be cleanly and hospitable according to the measure the Bible places on things, but also whilst seeking to love my neighbour (travel buddy/housemate) and God.
  • I can seek to be generous, no matter how much God has given me to look after. And I can have low expectations of others who have been given less.
  • I could plan in time to suit my more extroverted or introverted friends, and remember that may mean forfeiting other things.
  • I can ask how someone is feeling and what expectations they have, as we set off together.

And so each day, the small differences that so easily could be perceived as larger ones, if we let them, can be things that we can thank God for, as we learn to repent of our self-centred way of seeing the world through our own lenses, and instead look outwards to learn from others and seek to live inter-dependent lives amongst each other.

It’s one of the reasons the answer to the housing crisis (caused in some way by the greed of wanting quick fixes to the recession, and so lowering corporation taxes and creating lots of jobs in the big cities, and nothing elsewhere) cannot be to just build self-contained studio apartments for students or others. The loneliness and exacerbated problems following it, will take its toll on society eventually in a plethora of ways. The richness (and frustrations) of life in shared community is a great blessing to a society that is already polarising itself.

I’m well aware there’s horror stories that could be told about sharing housing, and everyone has their own collection! Not to mention the ridiculous scenarios in Dublin of 3 people sharing a tiny single room, or of renting shared bed-space in a house with someone (unconnected to you).

But all in all the principle is one I’ll still stand on – being forced to see through other lenses is a blessing. For those wanting concrete data behind my intuitionism and speculation from experience, I’ll need to go off and do some research. But for the most who’ve lived with others, I’m sure you’ll agree? Let me know – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

You know you’re in rural Ireland when….

Sheep outside our AirBnb.

(All photos Copyright of Dan Price)

Travelling for weddings

My wedding calendar:
May: London, UK
June: County Tyrone, Northern Ireland
July: County Wicklow, Ireland
August: London, UK
September: Marrakesh, Morocco

And I could go on…

From chatting to other young graduates in the Christian scene, I don’t think I’m unique in getting wedding invitations for each month of the year (though perhaps I am a social creature!). It’s a wonderful thing in many ways, that young people still believe in such radical, counter-cultural principles such as love being a choice that one commits to for life. Love is truly the most liberating freedom loss of all time (even if many of us as millenials doubt it, and struggle to commit – either to God or to a person).

But in other ways, the way the west has individualised and internationalised life and society, means that the way we do weddings baffles me, and our habits of thinking of attending many weddings as a good “Christian” thing to do, also makes me ponder.

I have previously written that in Christian mission, the “good” is often the thing that gets in the way of the “best”, and I want in some ways to say that applies here too regarding weddings in two ways.

Photo Copyright and taken by the amazing www.kristianlevenphotography.co.uk

Firstly, if you’re like me and are always on the road to weddings, and each month are forsaking your home community to do so, there’ll be an impact. You’ll be potentially a quarter less effective or useful in your home church, and it’ll impact your finances. For me who is then away on annual leave, or preaching or visiting family some other weekend of the month, it means I’m not in Sunday church for half the month. (Not a worry to you? Here’s some other posts I’ve written.) But for want of sounding stingey and rather heavy-handed in my implications of community life, let me move onto something that has me thinking more.

Secondly, what is the purpose of attending a wedding?

  1. Because you have to? – yes, sometimes you’re a relative, and relatives culturally often feel they can’t say no.
  2. Because they’re an old friend? – often its being invited to someone who was an influence in your life, or whom you influenced in life in the past.
  3. Because they’re a current friend? – most often we don’t need to travel far to our current friends’ weddings, but sometimes we do still.

So which of these would I consider not going to?

Well, no hard and fast rules can be drawn up, nor should they be, but the vows at one wedding caught my attention:

“Do you as a congregation, before God, promise to uphold and support this wedded couple, in any way you can in the years ahead?”

“We do” came the chant back from everyone enthusiastically.

But did I?

For this couple (a generic, hypothetical couple), they were people of my past life – deep friends from years ago. A couple who were unlikely to ever live in my country, nor to contact me apart from social media. Perhaps if we crossed paths in a city again, we might say hello, but ultimately, I knew things weren’t going to be the same again.

So was I realisitically, before God, going to promise to support them in the years ahead?

a. By prayer? There’s only a certain number of couples, missionaries, individuals and friends I could ever say I pray regularly and meaningfully for. “God bless all marriages” doesn’t quite cut it for me.

b. By contact? Once I’ve prioritised my home church community, my family, and perhaps then my inner circle of friends (non-Christian friends as well, of course), it doesn’t leave a huge lot of time to invest in others in life. I’d want to think twice before promising to God that I’d support a marriage.

c. By not doing anything unhelpful? Well, one could take a very hands-off approach and say that (depending on wording of the vow) that I would be supporting them, as long as I’m not negatively influencing them! But I’m not sure we’d want to be so scrouge with our words as to only allow for this.

Ultimately, I would conclude that weddings that have these vows for the congregation, bring the wedding back to The Church, and ground it in a living community that is geographically located. In some ways, this is very helpful. A wedding is not just a gathering of “people like us” but is a full spectrum of the diversity of Christ’s body, united by Him.

Should I have been there?

Well, again, I don’t think there are hard and fast rules. Christianity is not about creating rules, but our heart response to The Groom (Jesus) as His bride (The Church). These were great friends from my past. But perhaps if I can’t honestly say I’ll support the couple that are getting married, it’s one reason I might consider to not attend, if I’ve a list of 12 weddings in a year!

So could the best Christian thing, be not attending a wedding of a friend?

I would suggest the answer could well be “Yes”! So that it means more for you when you do attend them, so that current church communities thrive without people always being away, and so that it means more to the couple who are having people who honestly support them.

In the big picture of our relationship with Jesus, how important is this discussion? Relatively unimportant! But I hope it helps us think again – it’s often the “good” that crowds out the “best” and hinders our Christian walk.

Making Sense of God: an invitation to the sceptical traveller

There are a few Travel Golden Rules which go unchallenged and are seemingly accepted by all and none, when travelling.

  1. Travel is a great educator that shows you how little you know and how small you are in the universe
  2. Travel helps restore your faith in humanity (soo much good out there)
  3. Travel helps you see that all ways of life can be acceptable – we are all on the same path as humans – we just need to find who we are

And underpinning all of these:

No-one must presume to have exclusivity on how to live a life of satisfaction

Because (correlated to the above 3 points):

  1. We are small and know so little: so stop arrogantly assuming that your way is better than others, or that you know enough to tell others how to live
  2. & 3. There is good in every religion, belief and way of life – humans are in general good at heart, so don’t claim that your way of living is the only way. Just get on, be free, be true to yourself, and don’t harm others.

Tim Keller (A New York Times Bestselling author), writes engagingly to persuade us that although some elements of the above are true, that the general ethos of these statements, are far from enough, to help us make the most of our travels (although he writes in a more general context than travel).

(For those who have heard of or read Keller before: “Making Sense of God” is like the prequel to his bestseller, “The Reason for God”. Not many people these days in the west are motivated to read of the evidence for God – we don’t want there to be a god, and see that god is a dying breed, given whats going on in the west, the advance of education, and the creating of happiness elsewhere in life in far more fun places than religious rituals. So Keller wrote the prequel to try and persuade us that God is something we might like to explore more about and to see that it will be of great benefit to us to do so.)

You can hear Keller summarise his book himself in his talk to Google here.

Keller starts off by making two points (chapters one and two):

  • Religion is not going away. Although it is perceived to be a quickly disappearing thing in the west, that due to birth rates across the world and conversion rates, belief in God is forecast to keep growing bit by bit. So if we want to live in peace in a pluralistic society, we better pay attention, nevermind if we want to explore what satisfies.
  • There is no contrast between a secularism based on evidence and religions on faith. All worldviews rest on evidence and all need faith to accept some of the implications. Not much can be proved by repeatable, testable experiments in life. Even agnosticism (which sometimes tries to claim is a lack of belief, rather than a worldview), still has tenets on which it rests, which it accepts often by faith. You won’t find many people who doubt their doubts, but many who blindly accept a position of doubt.

Given that we can talk about evidence, and religion is not going away, Keller suggests we might like to explore it some more through the following lenses:

3. A Meaning that Suffering Can’t take away from you.
There’s nothing worse than religious people suggesting that you can’t have meaning unless you have god. It’s nonsense. But could religious meaning be more hopeful and real than other meaning? Keller argues that finding meaning in God, transcends events in life like suffering which rob us of many things we turn to for meaning. For those of us who are independent travellers who don’t have suffering in our lives, we might think this irrelevant – we have our meaning quite happily thanks! But suffering will strike us all without exception in life soon enough, if we choose to love or let anyone be close to us.

4. A Satisfaction that is not based on circumstances.
The richer we get as a society, and the more free we are to have sex, enjoy ourselves and do what we want the….happier we are? Statistics would seem to suggest otherwise. Even when we have it all, we seem to feel like there’s something illusive still to come. Keller looks at 2 categories of response: those who keep hunting after satisfaction, and those who resign themselves to seeing it not being possible. And in both of these, he tries to make the case that we cannot find satisfaction while we try and root it in the subjective self.

5. Why can’t I be free to live as I see fit, as long as I don’t harm anyone?
To Keller, unconstrained freedom is impossible, if we are ever going to have love. Love is the most liberating freedom loss ever, according to him. And so it is impossible to have satisfaction with no negative limits. As soon as we love anyone, they demand our time, attention, passions. And so it is with God – when we fall in love with Him, it will be a constraint, but one that flows from the heart of someone who made us and was willing to die for us, so that we could be free.

6. The Problem of the Self
Finding our identity in outer relationships was how it used to be done – who we are married to, what our family name is, what god we worshipped, what tribe we are from. But that limited who you could be, it dwarfed us under poor societal expectation, and led to harmful situations. But finding our identity within ourself hasn’t been easier either. What about a warrior of past centuries who had two desires deep within him – aggression to fight and thirst for blood, and a same-sex-attraction. He would reject the latter (or be scorned) and adopt the former as his identity – he was a warrior! But the 21st century man would do the opposite. Why? He would admit he needed therapy for such violent desires, but would fully embrace the “real him” sexually, because society told him that was acceptable. So really, his decision of the “real” him, was just back to coming from whatever society thought. What if we could be free-d from defining ourselves by any of these?

7. An Identity that doesn’t crush you or exclude others
As an alternative to looking to society to define us, or inwards to figure out which of our feelings should define us, Keller suggests we will find freedom looking upwards, in our identity being something outside of ourselves, but which isn’t performance related (the way our identity in society was/is). If we do badly or don’t live up to expectations, we still manage to keep this upwards identity. Here Christianity is very different to every other “performance based” religion, which demands that one does well in order to gain status, confidence or eternal life. When travelling, the two things people push back on, when I describe an identity outside of myself, is that (1) it means I don’t value anything in myself anymore and (2) it means I create a “them” vs “us” (Christians vs non-Christians) attitude which is bad for society. Keller shows that if Christians have done this, they have misunderstood the Christian message, which holds together self-denial and self-realisation, at the cross, and unites us all together in a shared humanity.

8. A hope that can face anything
Suicide rates across many western societies are rising. The optimism of where society is going is being perceived by many to be unfounded in reality. In this chapter, the author sets forward a case that a personal, concrete and unimaginably wonderful hope, is exactly what is needed. Arguing from intuition, but also from the lack of practical response from any other worldview, Keller sets forward perhaps the least convincing chapter, but perhaps the most heart-warming to those who want to dream of what is to come. Read after chapter twelve, this chapter comes alive.

9. The Problem of Morals
From the least convincing chapter, to perhaps the most logically convincing chapter of the book. How do we get our morals? Keller lays out all the ways that modern western philosophers (and humans!) claim to be able to act morally, and of course agrees that they do! But his main question, is whether there is any way of establishing that we “ought” to act morally. (Atheistic) Evolutionary views, alongside social constructionist views struggle to give us this moral ought. And intuitionism (Dworkin et al.) admit similar short-comings. What I loved about this chapter is that Keller is once again at his best, quoting atheists and top [atheist/agnostic] philosophers who come to these conclusions, rather than standing over things and declaring them himself.

10. A justice that does not create new oppressors
“The goods [of churches] may outnumber the abuses, even by far, but wrongdoings lodge more deeply in the memory and consciousness. In the end it would be better to look for other grounds on which to explore the relationship between religious faith and justice”. And so this chapter mainly focusses on how one can have “human rights” without oppressing those who disagree about the standard. Ultimately, Keller points to the fact that the Biblical metanarrative continually exalts the underdog, and has at its heart, a Saviour to follow, who comes to die for the people. His followers are called to be transformed into His image, not dying to re-create a Christian culture, but to love all people, even their enemies. Such radical transformation, if it works, would give a basis for justice, that does not oppress.

Finally, in the last two chapters Keller concludes with some evidence for all the above being found in a belief in God, and where we can turn to examine that. He finishes with a powerful story of a Japanese internment camp, and a secular humanist, who believed in the good of all humanity, and the lack of evidence for God, and how the material his chapters (long before they were written), led him to belief in our need of God.

You can hear Keller summarise his book himself in his talk to Google here.

For any thinking traveller, I would urge you to give this a read, with the caveat that Keller writes for New York professionals, and whilst it isn’t littered with complicated language (in fact, Keller simplifies and summarises many ideas very helpfully!), it will still reference all the top thinkers and their ideas, and deal with them, in a way which may seem daunting to those who haven’t been familiar with other ways of thinking.

The joy of travel is that it will inevitably cast questions into your mind and life, and this is a book which will help process those.

**My thanks to the blog “doesgodmakesense.com”, for the image which I have used for the header on this post. Their graphics simply borrowing from Keller’s original.

4 Irish provinces, 4 peaks, 24 hours!

Potentially the clearest view we got all day from any mountain!

The Irish 4 Peak Challenge (but in 24 hours)

4 mountains (3634m – over 40% the height of Everest)
4 provinces
24 hours (12 hours running): 18-May 00:00  –  19-May 00:00

Saturday

+ Carrauntoohil, Kerry (1038m/3406ft) 00:00

+ Finish 04:00

+ Mweelrea, Mayo ( 814m/2671ft) 08.30

+ Finish 10.30

+ Slieve Donard, Down (850m/2789ft) 16.00

+ Finish 19:00

+ Lugnaquilla, Wicklow (925m/3305ft) 22.00

+ Celebrate! 00:00

I’m not sure we quite realised what we were in for, when Dan Ross (The Rebel Cyclist, famous for his year-long adventure cycling home to West Cork from New Zealand) suggested to John Daunt and myself that we do the Irish 4 Peak Challenge. 4 peaks seemed very reasonable. Most Irish mountains are fairly easily done, and we’d done a (small) bit of trail running in the past before.

Should I have thought at all beforehand (what’s the fun in doing that?!), I might have realised that there’s a reason that when one Googles “Irish 4 peak challenge” that all the results seem to describe people doing it over the course of a weekend, rather than 24 hours. Apart from the obvious reason for such (running 4 mountains is a tad difficult), we have since come up with a few more:

  1. There is 12 hours driving between the four peaks, not to mention the few hours to the first one, and the few hours home again! This, in all honesty, is probably as hard as climbing them! We decided on a dedicated driver (there is NO way it would have been safe for us to drive too), who thankfully had expertise in sleeping in cars (don’t ask!) and driving long distances. Despite including him in all the planning chat, it seemed he didn’t quite realise the hire car needed to cross the border, that meals didn’t grow on trees near the mountain car parks, and that we couldn’t stop at a leisurely pace. Perhaps we ought to have chatted beforehand more! Despite this, he was incredible and the challenge would have been impossible without him.
  2. Working all day Friday is not the ideal preparation for 24 hours of sleepless running/driving. Unless you’re incredible at sleeping in moving cars, in confined spaces, while loading food in and changing clothes, I suggest that sleep may be better had before you leave. But that means taking a day off work, and adjusting your sleep rhythms. Sadly, I didn’t, and so this was an awful lot harder! We could have done it on Sunday, but then you’d face the same problem at the other end – work on a Monday morning, 4 hours after returning home!
  3. The overall height ascended and difficulty of the ascent, while not to be sniffed at, is still not much compared to other records set during the same time we were up, but it’s the stop-start nature of the Irish 4 Peaks which adds to the difficulty. Despite hiring a big estate car, 3 people, their stuff and a driver take up most of that space. And so you sit fairly cramped for long periods after every intense mountain experience. It’s not a great way to treat your body!
  4. The chance of being held up by weather is hard to predict. Unlike doing an event or challenge in one geographical area, summiting peaks in 4 different mountain areas on an island, is always going to provide challenges! Whilst not getting amazing weather, we were still fortunate enough.
  5. The chance of not finishing due to traffic jams is an unfortunate risk to take. Imagine summiting all 4 mountains in record time, but then not completing the challenge? With 12 hours driving involved, this is what you might risk, which quite frankly, is why many probably don’t bother.

But despite these challenges, we loved every second of it! Here’s how it panned out over the 24 hours:

8pm Pick up the hire-car
9pm Pick up passengers and pack the car – remember to leave the key things behind, like maps. Wake up our driver.

Just a few of the things packed for me!

10pm Set off on the road. It starts to dawn on our driver where we are about to go…
11.42pm We get bored waiting in the car park, have our friends with us to run the first one, and decide to leave early (don’t tell anyone!)
11.56pm The novelty of running in the dark with headlights wears off. Well, at least it entertained us for a few minutes.

01:15 at the summit of Carrauntoohil, in the dark – yeah John was there – promise!

02:30ish Arrive back down at Lisleibane car park to wake our driver for the second time that day. Head off for Mayo!
02.55 Get dry enough that we could start putting on clothes again! We’d never thought that we’d still be dripping enough, that we couldn’t put fresh clothes on until 30mins after completing each mountain. Thankfully no on-lookers were harmed in the making of this 4 peak challenge:

05:45 Hunt for somewhere in Claregalway that will be open to feed coffee to our driver.
05:49 Realise we’re in Claregalway. Not a chance.
06:14 Stop at a petrol station to ask for jacks. Get told there are none, but there’s a spot on the back wall of the building not covered by CCTV.
06:16 Thank the helpful man on the till

08:00 Head off to start Mweelrea

08:15 Get distracted by general banter, forgetting directions, and the whole hour we had already saved on Carrauntoohil.
08:16 Start doing laps of the circumference of Mweelrea.
08:50 Realise that doing laps of the circumference of Mweelrea is not what we’re meant to be doing. Start deciding between options: head straight up the slope beside us, or go back and take the path up.
09:00 Stand depressed at the choice.
09:02 Decide to go straight up the mountain:

The terrain, by all means, was reasonable. The degree slope, not so much.
The pleasant views made the climb eminently doable, of course.
We made it! Albeit tired, depressed at losing an hour of time, and angry at myself for such a rookie error.

09:40 Summit of Mweelrea.
10:30 Bottom of Mweelrea…yes, you’re right – 40mins later. It really wasn’t far, albeit it was all over bog.

Far more tired than I ought to have been at that stage, and mentally facing the fact that if we fail the challenge by an hour, I should take responsibility for my poor navigation skills!

11.30 Stop in Westport, because we feel bad for our driver who hasn’t had any breakfast. Debate the likelihood of the Car Park attendee getting enough money from people not paying car parking charges, to pay him. Decide that a local man would never fine his fellow citizens. Leave.
12:00 Attempt to sleep in car. Fail. (x10)
16:06 Arrive at Donard Car Park, after only one lap of Newcastle’s one way system. Minor achievement.
16:08 Get honked-at by a load of teens in a souped up, tinted windowed car, doing noisy laps of the car park. Also bump into Share Uganda founder and trustee (Chris) who says he will join us up Donard. Perhaps it was actually him the teens were beeping at. Unlikely but…
16:10 Start Donard.

For a brief second, John caught sight of clear skies (unknown time).

17:00 Stop to moan to Chris
17:01
Restart
17:05 Stop to moan to Chris again
17:06 Restart
etc etc…
17:50 After a lot of walking and no running whatsoever, we all summit Donard.

Yes, it is that steep John!

19:00 We’re back – after an hour or so of sprinting down the mountain, we’re back waking up our driver again.
19:30 Sleep time! I finally was soo tired, I nodded off in the car on the Emoticon pillows (don’t ask – they were taken at the last minute…instead of the maps?! Great choice there Peter, great choice.)

22:00 Arrive at Lugnaquilla (Wicklow) exhausted but knowing we only have to summit this one to complete the challenge. 1 hour 42mins would do it. Dan had previously run it (fresh) in 55mins – surely we couldn’t miss it?
22:20 2 miles in, I give up running (for life? Perhaps. Or so it felt at this stage)
22:40 We have fog so solid around us, that all we can see are the “Beware of the military firing range” signs that illumine on either side of us. We have half the ascent (height-wise) still to do.
23:05 The pace slows.
23:33 We have 500m of climb to go, but we can’t see the summit due to fog – it could be anywhere!
23:41 We stumble across the cairn and stop our watches. FINISHED! With 1 minute to spare.
01:41 We then spend 2 hours attempting to find our way back again (no-one mentioned this part to us!), and getting lost in the fog and wind several times.
01:42 Take a mandatory finishing photo in the dark

3 final thoughts:

  1. Humans are resilient creatures! I can’t believe how our bodies just kept going, despite circumstance, and despite us not being regular hill runners. If we needed to have gone faster on the last one, could we? Perhaps so, though it didn’t feel like it, and my (Type 1) diabetes does rather limit things on top of normal limitations – I’m still trying to work out how exactly.
  2. Good character is a joy to see. I hang out with many adventurous people, but few of them also have a gentle, patient and encouraging character. I’m thankful to Dan, John, Chris, Hollie, Nic and Tasso for all being folk who never are so competitive that they trample on weaker people (often me!), but seek to encourage and help, even when the whole goal is at stake – what a joy!
  3. Share Uganda is a worthy cause. I wasn’t originally thinking of doing it to raise money, but many people said it was a worthy thing that they’d give towards. So here’s a link. Share Uganda is a fantastic sustainable project in healthcare and education, empowering local people to make a difference. None of the money goes on western salaries or otherwise. Please donate generously!

Peter normally writes on this blog about travel, faith and how to make the most of travel. You can read some other Irish mountain related posts here.

Travelling for a Beach Mission Team

Approach someone to talk with them about Jesus, on the street in the city that I live in, and you’ll get rejection after rejection. Everyone has places to be, things to do, and people to meet. But approach them when they’re chilled out and sitting about on holiday, and most people are up for chatting! Or so the founders of one organisation saw.

And so every year I travel to do United Beach Missions, to reach out to people who are on their holidays. Here’s one sample of them in action:

“Beach Team” (as often affectionately called by the locals), has done 3 things in my experience:

  1. Beach Team trains.
    UBM has trained me in personal evangelism better than any organisation, church or experience. From the age of 15 on Beach Team, I was encouraged to have God’s heart for lost people. Whether through building up friendships with 5 year old children and their parents on the beaches, giving short evangelistic talks at events, helping run literature tables, speaking, singing and interacting on the street or on the beaches, or facilitating others to have these opportunities – Beach Team has given me training, let me have opportunity after opportunity to make mistakes and improve, and given me feedback to help me in that.

    Beach Team has given me great experience of Biblical evangelism, which is word-centred, relational and focused on proclaiming the person of Jesus, his life, death, resurrection and second coming. It is partly Beach Team that got me first thinking about Unreached People Groups and coming to live in Ireland and be part of the small evangelical church scene here.
  2. Beach Team shapes unreached countries/areas
    UBM has reached places in Ireland where there was no evangelical church, and in some cases, has helped partner to establish churches there. Whether that be the decades that UBM were in Ballybunion before Listowel Christian Fellowship started, or the decades of outreach in Tramore before Tramore Bible Church came into existence. Or simply playing a significant role in strengthening churches like Youghal Methodist that were in a very different place to where they are now. The impact of decades of prayer and witness to the same people, in similar places, should never be taken away, and has left a visible impact. One church planter in north Dublin said this to me, after I told him of the disproportionate numbers of people who’d I’d found in Cork who’d come to faith from the tiny village of Ardmore. “I’d be surprised if there wasn’t correlation between the decades with thousands of people praying, and the people who come to faith in the same places. Prayer works, and we so rarely persist in it. There seems to be correlation with Ballybunion anyway.” (paraphrased from memory)
  3. Beach Team reaches thousands with the gospel year on year Through proclamation, evangelistic literature, friendships developed over years with holiday-makers, and one-off encounters, Beach Team has seen fruit each year of people coming to faith and joining churches back home where they are from. Although its focus is one faithful seed-sowing to thousands, there always has been an eager question from leaders and team members of how best we can follow this up relationally. One Ardmore mother told me that she’d been up to the Shankill Road in Belfast for 3 weeks of her summer after she professed faith! Another who remained part of her local Catholic Church in east Cork said that a team member wrote to her and sent her Biblical booklets for twenty years after she came to faith.

United Beach Missions does have its weaknesses and flaws, just as I do, as a leader of UBM, but ultimately it is one of the best ways to spend a week of your summer, regardless of your age (from 15 – 95!).

  • it takes all sorts of personalities and gifts to help run a team – you don’t need to be the world’s best evangelist! There are behind-the-scene roles too. Cooks, musicians, kids workers, grannies to chat to grannies etc.
  • The accommodation has got better and better (for insurance reasons) and now most centres have normal beds, showers and great facilities. So if you’re older, or even have a family of your own, why not still come?
  • This year, it is half price to join a team! 30 euros will pay your team fee for your first team, and 25 euros for the team after that – BARGAIN! (There is a minimal annual registration fee on top of that)

Join me: Ballybunion 27th July – 3rd August

Do go onto their YouTube channel for more testimonies from the likes of UCCF Director Richard Cunningham, who give similar stories of how it shaped their early evangelistic experience.